Why Do I have to Wait so Long for Now to be Then

I had many writing deadlines today and so this is hurried even by my standards. 

This summer’s weather has been so good that even the most conscientiously trained Englishman would be unable to say, “well we didn’t have much of a Summer really, typical eh?”

Now the weather is changing, we can ready ourselves for the soothsaying newspapers to read their goat’s intestines and predict an imminent apocalypse, just as they predicted the dry soil cracking open as the camels roamed Cornwall shortly before the sodden summer of 2012. 

This has been a summer of instantaneous nostalgia, of experiencing the pleasure of remembering even as the day is still spreading before you. Sitting on a sandy beach, a sand speedboat being fashioned in front of me, a vaguely gritty cheese sandwich in my hand, I wondered if I was actually framed on the mantlepiece in Martin Parr’s house –  a snapshot briefly sentient. 

When playing young audiences, I would sometimes say, “you are so young you have never experienced nostalgia, you’ve just experienced ‘remembering things’. Nostalgia is remembering things and then fearing you are too old for them to ever occur again.”

I am attempting to train myself out of that malaise that leads to people living a life of excited expectation and fond remembering, while always finding the present hideous. Once that hideous present is filleted and re-edited, it will then become part of the fond past. 

“oh I can’t wait to go on holiday, when will the holiday come, hurry hurry, at last, oh the people are ghastly, the food is vile, I think that bug sting has gone septic, when will it end. Argh, back at work, the horror of Telford, oh to be back on those sandy beaches”.

As my train left a station, I looked at the Pumpkin Cafe and wished for a moment that I could have been in one of those railway cafes you see in black and white movies where English is spoken so properly and precisely you presume that everyone’s skin was teak. 

But in those smoky, ham roll, heavy tea days, did everyone sit and contemplate their good fortune that they lived in that particular now, or were the chairs splintered, the ham slippery and the conversation isn’t really all about the state of the modern novel or cricket? 

Anticipation and memories are easier to enjoy than the present. I am not suggesting you should sit in the Pumpkin Cafe thinking, “YES!YES! this is my life, let me not wait to fondly remember this poor coffee and sharp-edged bun, let me revel now”, this may well have been a bad example. 

So at this point I was going to do some stuff about living in the present and being unfashionably excited by things. 

Sometimes I wish that I could break into a brief tap dance down steps of libraries, museums or unexpected trams, but I have neither the ability or confidence.

Moments of instantaneous nostalgia include reading My Friend Mr Leakey to my son, followed by some brief Star Wars argument where he tells me I am saying Tattooine wrongly, before the first moments of watching him reaching sleep. 

Sitting in a diner just off 5th Avenue, reading a Harvey Pekar book and knowing the coffee need never end apart from the revolt of my own body to all that caffeine, that was instantaneous nostalgia. New York is heavily blanketed in instantaneous nostalgia partly because you can mix your recall of watching old men playing chess in Central Park or eating salted popcorn in a bar with all those movies you’ve seen. We’re all background players in New York all the time.

I find most trips to the zoo have similar immediate nostalgia, a confusion of my present with a child and my past as a child. All train routes that travel next to rural coastline have a similar effect, the journey to the Edinburgh fringe, but not from.

I often harp on about nonchalance towards progress. The ability to flick a switch and have light, to plug in a device and have it powered immediately is just what happens, it’s no longer a wonder and joy, it’s merely a must. Trying to see the excitement of the mundane, what lies behind it is a hobby that I am trying to cultivate.  The problem with being an anticipatory animal is, for all its advantages in making shopping lists and renewing household contents insurance, it throws up thoughts of gravestones. Who hasn’t imagined their own funeral, drawing the perfect picture of laughter at your memory and the howling and gnashing of teeth that you’re gone. “we’ll never see his like again”, you try to imagine them saying in your self-indulgent illusion. 

The advantage of taking your existence to be finite is the time for moping, cynicism, being a shit and being shit on, doesn’t seem to be time worth spent. It doesn’t mean I have to rush around like Fotherington-Thomas all day, but maybe I should book myself some tap lessons.

I am on tour with my show about Darwin, Feynman and bananas. From Edinburgh to Exeter, with Aldershot, Croydon, Newbury and Shoreham as the nearest to now dates. Details here

The new Cosmic Genome update is here with Richard Dawkins and Dave Gorman amongst the latest additions here 

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2 Responses to Why Do I have to Wait so Long for Now to be Then

  1. sam says:

    Belief in accumulated progress in science makes sense, but to believe in accumulated human progress does not. Have you noticed the moon landings seem more amazing by the year, not less as predicted. I feel we are returning to the more historical norm of ancestor worship

  2. “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”
    ― Kurt Vonnegut

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