Friday, April 13, 2018


Who was it that said ‘you can’t relive the past’? That’s right, I remember. It was Nick Carraway talking to Jay Gatsby, telling him more or less that it would be foolish to try and reincarnate a situation from the past with Daisy Buchanan. Did Nick mean it only in a romantic sense? Or a more general one? Another reference. Van Morrison and Them sing a song called Don’t Look Back, also about how you cannot recall or relive the past- done, I think, originally by John Lee Hooker:

Don't look back to the days of yesteryear,
You cannot live on in the past,
Don't look back.
And I've known so many people
That still try to live on in the past,
Don't look back, oh no.’

So what does Van do when he’s older? Well, maybe a bit older, but not much more, he starts singing about the neighbourhood he grew up in, East Belfast. Writes songs like Cypress Avenue, for instance. And when he’s much, much older, songs like Memory Lane:

I stop a while and ask some strangers
Is this the place that was once called Memory Lane
I don't know where I am, don't know what I'm after
I'm stuck here back on Memory Lane’

And it gets me to thinking about the past, about childhood and a little beyond, and I think about whether or not it’s a good thing, and at what age do you have to be before it’s all ok to do this, like Van Morrison does all the time, and Paul McCartney probably does, and people like Justin Hayward, looking out of his boyhood bedroom window at the spirits in the sky that led him to the USA and his future dreams:

Out on the horizon
The west wind sighs
A beautiful adventure
Waiting there
In the western sky.’

So I get to thinking again, is it ok to think about the past somewhat, not to dwell in it, but to think about regrets and accomplishments, and good times and bad, and think less about the uncertain future, to see my father in that nursing home and the rest of the family growing old, and me changing as well, and trying to stay young, spirited, but preferring, at times, to think about the glorious and not so glorious past, to good times and missed opportunities, and times when you were bold and achieved something, and times when you were hesitant, or shy, or stumbled, or made a pretty bad error which even now doesn’t exactly haunt you but you think it might have turned out better.

All those relationships, and people you might have been better not hooking up with, and others where you might have but missed that chance, and times you look back when you were stumbling along with somebody and you think back ‘man, what was I doing?, and other times where relationships did occur and you got a lot of out of them and you remember they weren’t a waste of time.  Then there are those others, slightly regrettable, that went too long and you became stuck, or you took things way too seriously and you were naïve, or looking back, it wasn’t ever going to go anywhere.

And I guess looking back isn’t all about relationships. It’s also about other crossroads of a different type, like where you were living, and who with, and what you read or where you went out and how something did or didn’t work out.

There are many good things about the present but I still find myself thinking a lot about memory lane. About what things used to be like way back when and how it have turned out quite good in some ways but not so good, if I am going to be totally honest, in others. How much of life can be an adventure? I envy those people whose life is one long adventure, from when they were little and way into middle-age and beyond. In a way it can be like this for many of us. We can just take off if we feel we are up to a risk enough. There’s no need to leave everyone behind, but an adventure for me is a change in almost everything. Sometimes we need to feel rejuvenated. Otherwise we are marking time. Eventually we might have this epitaph on our tombstone:

‘ He was born in….
He died in….
In between he lived a mostly sedentary life.’

Perhaps the two places are a matter of a short amount of miles or kilometres apart. Perhaps the in between places took you to far away distant lands. Perhaps you might add, on the tombstone, he took this risk, or he took that risk, or this is where he stumbled and fell, because he was under confident, or too hesitant, or too shy, or he was trapped in some way, or those bricks and mortar were jammed way too solidly around him.

I’m wandering around those streets sometimes, searching for memory lane. I’m thinking about what I did when I left school and chose the safer, narrower option for what was available to me. I’m thinking about some of the risks I eventually did take and how the memories are mixed, but are all important ones, and then I’m thinking again about how I found safety and security, and how life became satisfying in lots of ways, but also sometimes predictable and cocooned in this web of security, sitting like a smug, self-satisfied spider, except dreaming rather than looking for adventurous options. Sometimes you can be ‘retired’ for years, creating this personal mosaic or knitted jumper where the pattern keeps repeating as you keep pulling along the wool.

Take me back, take me way, way, way back
On Hyndford Street
Where you could feel the silence at half past eleven
On long summer nights…’
sings Van Morrison on another track.

So where do I want to be taken back to? I will choose this sunny one week holiday I had in Wales. Farm stays, meeting Welsh people, seeing lambs in green meadows, walking along old, ancient streets, marvelling at ancient rocky harbours and rows and rows of old Georgian townhouses, climbing Mt Snowdon in Snowdonia, seeing all the old little Welsh villages along the way, the Black Mountains, the Brecon Beacons, Abervagenny, and then further up to Gwynned, Conwy, even the place names make you shiver, and the little towns of Betws-y-Coed and Llandudno and the Conwy River flowing through the glorious towns of Trefriw and Llanrwst, and on and on and on…

In my dreams and imagination I go back there and regain the sense of freedom and beauty and an intoxicating sense of adventure and security at the same time… and healing. And the pattern changes. New colours for the mosaic thrown into the mix. New wool and new patterns and different outcomes.

And we walked the pagan streams
And searched for white horses on surrounding hills
We lived where dusk had meaning
And repaired to quiet sleep, where noise abated
In touch with the silence
On Honey Street, on Honey Street
What happened to a sense of wonder
On yonder hillside, getting dim
Why didn't they leave us, alone
Why couldn't we just be ourselves
We could dream, and keep bees
And live on Honey Street
And we walked the pagan streams
In meditation and contemplation
And we didn't need anybody, or anything
Then, no concepts, being free
And I want to climb that hillside again, with you
One more time
As the great, great, great, great, great, great, great
Being watches over
And we repair, repair, repair, shh, repair, shh, we repair
To Honey Street, to Honey Street.’

Van Morrison, Pagan Streams.

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