THINK of a classical pillar, a lone ruin marooned among sensuous and unkempt vegetation.
That is nostalgia and our view of ourselves as upright upholders of a more civilised past.
Yet nostalgia has a bright future, if a new survey is anything to go by. Internet search engine Ask Jeeves invited 1000 citizens to pass judgment upon modern life. Where it had it gone? Where it always goes – downhill.
The past is a different country. They did things better there. Or so we like to think. Personally, I could do without the Colosseum and smallpox. But, hey, maybe that's just me.
Please have my seat as we note that politeness is the thing we miss most about the past. Not only that but the weather, pubs, schools, banks and buses were better. So were children and doctors.
Well, how far back do you want to go? Not to yon Stone Age, I'll wager. Nor yet to the Middle Ages (poor bus service). I suppose that, these days, we're looking to some vague conglomeration of Edwardian house design, 1950s tweed jackets and, at a push, mid-1960s television when even the proles spoke proper.
Nothing wrong with any of that, ken? Nothing lasts long and, as the song says, you don't know what you've got til it's gone. In other words, everything moves so fast we hardly get the chance to get anything right at the time. It's like sitting an exam at which you know you could have done better – under more relaxed conditions.
Sometimes we do things better now than we did then. I'm a fan of prog rock, the 1970s meandering and thoughtful musical style, and some bands now do it better than the real deal did back in the day. The trouble is that, often, if feels cold, even clinical. That's because it's a simulacrum. It's dislocated, too, from the surrounding social factors of the time.
But some of it is super and worth persevering with. It's a mistake to give up what's good and to move on with the new for its own sake, just as it's a heap big error to blunder forth blithely paying no heed to the past.
Nostalgia has a distinguished history. Classical Roman writers were particularly prone to it, contrasting a supposedly simpler, more rural, chaste and ethical life with the savage sophistication of their own times.
But you can bet your last denarius that in simpler, more rural, chaste and ethical times, they were pining for the days when better people wrote the rule book for simplicity, rusticity, chastity and morality. Oh, and the weather was better too, Ice Age or no Ice Age.
It's difficult to get this in perspective. Until recently, I too assumed manners must have deteriorated. You're all decent people, right? Right? OK, maybe not that gentleman at the back with the word "Stan" tattooed on his forehead. It was meant to be Satan, but the tattooist never excelled at school.
As decent people, particularly male, you've all experienced this: you hold open the shop door for someone. And they breenge through without a word. As does someone else and another after that, yea, even unto five or six people. The worst are those who take ages about it, as if you'd nothing better to do than wait for them to waddle forth.
But someone eventually says thanks. Often, it's just shyness that stops them. Our privatised world foments this. There's more anomie, a disinclination to respond, a hope that callers will go away, a life lived more fruitfully online, a crossing of the road rather than the horror of saying hello, a fear-fuelled ignorance about how to behave in smelly old reality.
And yet, door-holding apart, when folk do collide, manners often emerge. There's no shortage of please, thank you and sorry at the mall. Much of it may be commercially driven, but it's present too in chance encounters with civilised punters.
Scottish pubs are better than they were, the weather's the same (rotten), doctors aren't so Olympian. Mind you, the buses throw you about more. The truth about the present is that it's a mixed bag. As was the past. As will be the future.
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