Saturday, 16 April 2011

Reclaiming the past

Life is lived forwards, and you shouldn't try to do it as if the past is ever-present, and nothing has changed.

The facts that you are older than you were, and have had a few more experiences, will alter your viewpoint. The mere passage of time distances and insulates you from past events and past acquaintances, and gives you a changed perspective on them. Maybe better and more perceptive understanding.

Up to a point, it is true that 'time heals': at any rate, it takes away the immediate sting of a bad event, even if the pain of it lingers on forever as a dull ache. Perhaps temperament plays a part; there do seem to be people who can sustain the full first intensity of such things as anger and grief and shock. But not everyone. As George Harrison said in his song, All Things Must Pass.

Which brings me neatly onto today's topic. Having now reacquired the ability to sit properly in my computer chair - as opposed to slumping in it, because my swollen bits wouldn't allow a normal posture - I've been spending some time adding to the tracks on my mobile phone.

My Nokia E71 makes a very good music player. Not only is the built-in music playing application easy and convenient and satisfying to use with earphones, the quality of the stereo loudspeaker is such that you can listen to clear, hi-fi, high-volume sound without earphones. In that mode it's my music player of choice when dilating. And with an 8GB memory card on board, there's plenty of room for all the tracks I could want to play. I'm fairly picky, and confine myself to music that means something to me, music that I especially like: and so I don't simply transfer entire albums onto the phone. I just use the odd track here and there, so that every single song or instrumental or symphony that I install is really worth listening to. I don't bother with playlists now. I leave it all in one huge sequence and play it all at random; and I don't know how the E71 does it, but I never get two songs that sound the same back-to-back. It's therefore an interesting, varied experience that makes dilating-time pass quickly and enjoyably.

I've been expanding the music collection on my PC from about 700 to 1100 tracks - all hand-picked, as I say - and setting them all up on the phone.

One thing I don't claim is good taste. If you watch Top Gear on BBC2 or BBC4, you'll know that they have a resident tame racing driver called The Stig, whose identity remains a secret because he never takes off his helmet. Another thing about him is his appalling taste in music. Whenever he puts a car through its paces on the circuit, he's got some ghastly CD going in the background - The Best of Brenda Lee or similar.

Well, dire though that might be, my taste is worse. It ranges from Perry Como and Petula Clark through Roy Orbison, The Wombles, Amen Corner and Status Quo to The New Seekers, The Hollies, Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Sweet and Wizzard. Not to mention Tom Jones, The Tremeloes, Gary Glitter, David Cassidy, Dusty Springfield, Reperata and the Delrons and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. Oh yes, somewhere in there is Jimi Hendrix, Pulp, Oasis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, ELO, Tubeway Army, The Verve and Madness, but if you want to dismiss me as a sad case with the sounds of the 60s and 70s on my brain, well, it's hands up and I'll come quietly! When all said and done, I like all this stuff, and if ever Top Gear make me The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, I will have the music to skid by.

And the point of mentioning all this? Well, having dusted off my compilation CDs - Sixties Classics III or whatever - I came across a number of tracks that hitherto had possessed bad associations. I basically liked them, but perhaps they recalled an especially oppressive summer at school. So, because they dragged me down, I'd not included them in my collection.

But now I was surprised to find that I didn't mind any longer. They'd been exorcised. They had lost their negative power. They might still be awful tracks, but at last the offerings of Lovin' Spoonful, Herman's Hermits and Donovan could join the pantheon of megastars on my phone, up there with Simon and Garfunkel, 10CC, Hawkwind, Cliff Richard, Stevie Wonder and Robbie Williams! Something else to wiggle my toes to as Little Joe and Big Jim have their way with me.

What did the exorcising? What's changed?

All I can think of is the surgery. It's clearly life-changing in more ways than one. It's drawn a line in the sand or something. It's enabled some part of my mind to confront past sadnesses and irritations and depressions and taboos and things I was afraid of doing - and beat them.

OK, a change of comfort-level on a pop tune of yesteryear is one thing. Does it extend to damaging or super-embarrassing past confrontaions with actual persons? Can I now examine these without flinching? And can I now handle things I once thought were way beyond me, or made me sweat with fear? Time for a little experimentation!

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Lucy Melford