The world is full of ‘lost boys’. I’m one of that unfortunate crowd. We drift through life, not feeling any real part of society, sometimes even the human race itself. Part of me has enjoyed being different from the average person, with all the quirks and eccentricity, but a huge part of me yearns for just plain old normality. A world not ruled by anxiety, depression and out-of-the-box thinking.
As I write this now, I long to go back and change the world that I grew up in. No longer do I want the pain of the past - the drunken, violent, abusive parents who destroyed all but tiny fragments of my confidence and self-worth. I want to go back and reassure the young ‘me’ that things will work out, and I will make it through the torturous times.
To do this I must travel back through time. Some say it’s impossible, but to us lost boys it’s a gift we have. Events of the past are not just memories, they are moments frozen in time that can be visited or tapped into, whenever we choose to do so. All that is needed is the individual key to each moment to allow entry into it.
This time, I choose to travel back from this point in time of writing, 2019, to visit my seven, going on eight year-old self, in the year 1972. I want to stand in front of that little boy, put my hands on his shoulders, look him in the eyes and tell him that his future-self is right here, looking after him, guarding him, advising him - and that everything will work out. The presence that I knew and felt back then who was always with me was indeed my future-self, my guardian-angel if you like, trying to steer me in the right direction, away from harm. Many times I didn’t listen to the advice given, but through time I learnt that the entity I knew as “my strange companion” was real, tangible and was a genuine force for good.
Let’s do this. 1972 here we go…
I began the year 1972 aged seven and finished it aged eight. I was a gentle kid, frightened by the outside world. My parents had created such a hostile atmosphere in my own home that my logic turned to the perception that if it was as bad as this in the place where I should feel the safest, namely home, what horrors were out there in the world beyond the ‘safety’ of my own family unit?
I was in year four or ‘P4’ in Nettlefield Primary School, a small school with only a few hundred pupils which sat in a backstreet in east Belfast. Everybody knew each other. It was that kind of school - all kids from the local area who went to school together and came from the same streets.
By the age of seven I was discovering that I was a handy little football player, with a natural, fearless ability to make a ball do what I wanted. When I got my foot on the ball, I would be instantly transported to that other world of magical creativity, in which the only moment that mattered was NOW. I could carve my way through a bunch of opposing players with an ease that surprised me every time, even though I knew I could do it. Playing football to me was like an artistic dance of self-expression. Give me the ball and I was at one with the world. In later years playing football would be replaced by playing and composing music. The purpose and effect was the same - it gave me an escape from a world that I struggled so much to deal with on a mundane, everyday level.
1972 was also the year I was beaten in the school sports-day sprint final by Diane, a girl from my class. I was devastated. How could this happen? Beaten by a girl?! In front of a a packed playground full of kids and parents. As I stood, balling my eyes out, I want to take the opportunity now, to go back to that moment from this year, 2019, to that boy, and pull him to the side away from the crowded playground, to tell him, “It doesn’t really matter that you lost a sprint race to a girl. It’s all GOOD.”
To do this I need the keys to access 1972 from now.
Let’s got to directly to Saturday, 4th March 1972. It was the day of the Football League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London. Stoke City versus Chelsea. The match finished at 2-1 to Stoke City and the winning goal was scored by George Eastham. The sound of Brian Moore’s commentary on the game still rings around my head as he shouted “The Old Man Has Done It!”, as Eastham, who was 34 years old at the time slid the ball into the net. I go back to seven year-old me, the boy lying on the floor, head resting on hands, watching this game on TV. I’m an invisible presence, sitting right beside him.
Let’s drift to another point in time, to Saturday 25th March 1972 and The New Seekers singing the song, ’Beg, Steal Or Borrow’ as part of the Eurovision Song Contest. I watched this show on television in our next-door neighbour, Mrs Nelson’s house. I’m guessing my parents were out on the lash and she was babysitting for me. I recall sitting beside the small fireplace watching as Luxembourg won the contest. From the year 2019, I sit invisible in that room in 1972, with Mrs Nelson, her son, Brian, and me. My presence is that of a Spiritual Guard.
As I delve further into 1972, I have to stop and consider how there are certain defining moments that happen in your life that stay with you, and go on to influence your future life in a major way. These beautiful foreshadowing events happen innocently at a particular moment, but their magic is cast out into your future universe to influence the you in the years to come. One such event happened on Thursday 6th July 1972 - Top Of The Pops was a Thursday night ritual all over the UK and Ireland.The show started in the year of my birth, 1964 and ran for many decades until 2006, when music itself had all but disappeared from the public psyche as being something that mattered, and had transformed into a digital, internet-based form of entertainment. Back in 1972, music was a vital thing in the lives of people and Top Of The Pops was a weekly fix of who was at the top of the singles chart in the UK.
On Thursday 6th July 1972 David Bowie appeared on Top Of The Pops singing his new single ‘Starman’. I watched, transfixed by this odd-looking guy with weird reddish hair wearing a multi-coloured cat-suit, playing a blue guitar. He sang and pointed to the camera “I had to phone someone so I picked on you-hoo-hoo…”. That was me he was pointing at. I’m sure he was. He was confirming that he was like me, an odd, not quite fitting in lost-boy. That was the moment that I wanted to be a musician, (preferably a Rock-Star), just like David Bowie. In the future I never made it to Rock-Star status, but I became a humble musician, continually inspired by Bowie and that moment I unwittingly experienced on an average Thursday evening in 32 Ravenhill Avenue, Belfast.
I go back to that moment now, and put my arms around that seven, soon to be eight year-old boy and tell him, “You’ll be playing guitar like that one day. Heck, you’ll be even writing your own music, just like that guy on the TV.”
See? Time-travel is real. Use the keys to gain access to moments from your past. Feel the feelings. Hear the sounds.Smell the smells, Touch and taste the days before. It’s easy. Just for 1972 alone, I’ve got loads of keys to moments built up and catalogued in my mind. The same with every other year.
The Wimbledon Mens’ Singles Final, played on Sunday 9th July 1972. Stan Smith versus Ilie Năstase, It was a five set marathon. I sat glued to the TV, cheering on the rebel, Năstase. He was the baddie, Smith was the straight-laced good-guy. Smith eventually wore down his opponent to win 4–6, 6–3, 6–3, 4–6, 7–5. I recall him jumping over the net to shake hands with Năstase. Back then Wimbledon winners often jumped over the net, like a tradition. It doesn’t happen any more. The world has moved on.
On Friday 21 July, 1972, Rod Stewart released his album ‘Never A Dull Moment’. My older brother brought a copy home and I played it until I knew every word and every nuance of the music. As the record played on the turntable, I would stare at and absorb the cover artwork, and the sleeve notes. Music allowed me to drift into another world in which nothing really mattered except what was happening right now. The past and future didn’t exist - there was only right here, right now, and Rod Stewart was singing “…and you wear it well…”. That’s all there was, and it was perfect.
I sit beside that seven year-old boy hugging my knees just like him, in a Belfast living-room that smells of tobacco smoke, with whitish, nicotine-stained wood-chip wallpaper and brown furniture. He can feel my presence. There’s no communication, just the two of us and Rod Stewart’s ‘Never A Dull Moment’ playing. What more could a boy want?
You may read this and think it’s insanity to attempt to communicate with your past-self. The lost-boys know different. We, the not-quite-right folk of this world have the gift of secret keys, that the average mortal will never attain. This gift is the price of suffering. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.
Goodbye, love and blessings to 2019, all the way back from 1972, and vice-versa.