In last week’s blog (Hasta la Vista, Baby) I ventured to be critical of the manner in which, having scored the winning goal, the Lionesses shut down the Euro final against Germany. I sent a truncated version of this to The Herald, conscious of the fact that I was entering a mine field and laying myself open to attack. Well, I got published, with the banner headline “Women’s football is selling its soul as it treads the sordid path of the men’s game”. Sure enough, the counterattack appeared the following day. “Reading Dr Campbell’s letter, I despaired…” He should have read another Campbell, Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul in Friday’s West Highland Free Press, who went further than I did, and quoted George Orwell:
“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.”
But I can’t say I was inclined to write further on the subject. I flicked over to The Herald’s obituary columns. When I used to scan the “matches, hatches, and despatches” in the days of my youth, I never recognised any of the names, but now it seems to me as if I know all of them. I was saddened last week to read of the passing of an old friend from bygone days of music making in Glasgow. Bernard Levin once made the observation that he could not get used to the disappearing act that many of his friends seemed to be performing with increasing regularity. The funeral is tomorrow. Unsure of the precise location of the church, I took a turn into Glasgow, its streets and pavements a riot of weeds and litter. I paused to post a letter at a row of shops opposite my old school in the west end, and took a moment to cross the road and stand before the school entrance. The last time I crossed that entrance was more than half a century ago. There on the wall before me was the old school motto – Spero meliora – I hope for better things. Things can only get better. At least they didn’t try to tell you that your school days are the best days of your life; that would be non spero meliora or, this is as good as it gets. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. My recent sojourns around Glasgow’s west end have usually been accompanied by a sense of nostalgia, but this was quite the opposite. I experienced a strange, vertiginous moment of near syncope, and a conviction that I was back exactly where I had started, and that the intervening fifty years had merely been a hallucination. Time and space, maybe they are entirely imaginary. All that hyperactivity was an illusion, and a delusion. In reality, I have never moved from this spot. I almost ran back to the car, started her up, and got out of Glasgow.
I used to think that it would be quite nice to pass through that school entrance and take a look around, anonymously, maybe at some public event like an open day. But I’ve changed my mind. Never go back. I would be terrified that once inside, I would discover that the great surprises of my life – aviation, medicine, New Zealand, and the people who populated these worlds – had all been a dream. I never got out. What a nightmare. If truth be told, school for me was a desert. The primary school was okay. When I came out, I could read, write, and count. After that, all you really need is access to a public library. But I never learned a thing in secondary school. Well, maybe I learned to play the viola, but that doesn’t count; that was an extra-curricular activity. As for the rest, the excruciatingly monotonous drudgery of nine to four, it’s all a blank. I spent six years of my life in a state of preoccupation and free-floating anxiety, listening out for the clang of the bell. I would have been better off being a brick layer’s apprentice. Winston said the same.
I’ve grown suspicious of nostalgia. It’s a means to avoid living in the present. It’s a trick our memory plays on us. It’s a narcotic; it’s anodyne – a drawing down of blinds. Old men playing pétanque in the blazing afternoon sunshine. Aye, we’ve seen the best of it.
Thou hast nor youth, nor age,
But as it were an after dinner’s sleep
Dreaming on both.
So tomorrow I will pay my respects to an old friend, and perhaps run into a few still in the land of the living, though whether I will recognise them, or they me, is another matter. But I don’t think I’ll hang around. That was the week that was; it’s over, let it go.
Spero meliora. I really do hope for better things. Hope. It’s a kind of nostalgia for the future.