I’M digging around in my past, sorting through some stuff in the house – pictures, books, etc – and up it comes: a picture of me aged nine, in school, sitting, dutifully, in front of my teacher Mrs Simon. I look at and think: it’s 40 years ago but in some ways I haven’t changed, not really. People sometimes tell me, in anger or exasperation, ‘You really must change, Mark’ and I’ve certainly suffered for refusing to. And yet on I go: trying to prove that change can be fought.

But I may have a point, in some ways. There are other nine-year-olds in that old school picture of mine and I remember them well. One of them, Alex, is standing next to me, scowling out from beneath his fringe. Much later, when he was grown up, Alex became a heroin addict and was hit by a car while he was high and killed instantly, aged 35. I only found out years later, when someone mentioned it to me, casually. Did I know Alex was dead?

There’s change for you: a bit of my childhood broken off. Alex and I had a difficult relationship. He could be bit of a bully to be honest, but he was only nine and so was I, and one day, when we’d got into a fight in the playground, I suddenly got the better of him for once and pinned him down and said, “What you going to do now, eh?” and that was that; the fighting stopped and we became friends. Sort of.

I find another picture. 1978. The year before the school photo was taken. Oldmeldrum Highland Games in Aberdeenshire, warm, sunny, happy, and there in the middle of the photo, driving towards us in an open-top Rolls Royce – in Aberdeenshire! in the 70s! – is the actress Diana Dors – in Aberdeenshire! in the 70s! I didn’t know it then of course, but the reason Diana Dors was at Oldmeldrum Highland Games was because her career had hit the skids and she was opening country fetes for cash. I thought it was exciting. She probably felt dead inside. But there’s change for you: she was a film star once.

I put the pictures in a pile and sort through some books that need organising and there’s a copy of Michael Palin’s diaries from the 1970s and 80s, my childhood. I flick through them and change seems to back off again. There’s an entry from November 1978 that’s like a Monty Python sketch: Michael is in a book shop in Edinburgh and an irate lady mistakes him for the shopkeeper and tells him she feels cheated because the book about angling she bought for her nephew has two pages stuck together. Maybe the woman was Terry Jones in a dress doing the Spam voice. These pages are stuck together! It’s a scam, scam, scam!

But it’s the other entries in Palin’s diaries – interesting, anxious little snippets from the past – that really hang around in my brain. He mentions Scottish politics and says that he hopes that, one day, Scotland will be independent. December 1st 1974: “I would like to see Wales and Scotland as independent nations and I think it’s going to happen as people gets less and less satisfaction from being part of a big international wodge.”

He also rages against the Tories. April 1st, 1986: “Sensitivity, tolerance, understanding and conciliation is a spirit utterly alien to the Thatcher-inspired politics of the 80s,” he writes. And elsewhere in the diaries, despite all his success in comedy and films, he worries that he might not be good enough.

None of that has changed, has it? We’re still angry. We still worry. At one point, Palin notices how much his face has aged – and that’s a change that certainly cannot be resisted – but the Tories are still the Tories and worries are still worries and, reading the diaries, I feel the connection from now to then and the sense of what hasn’t altered at all. There they were: all those people in 1978, including Michael Palin, complaining about the state of things and wanting reform, and here’s 2020, with lots of people complaining about the state of things and wanting reform. It’s the thing that doesn’t change, ever: the desire for change.

And now that I’m back in the 1970s and 80s, rummaging about in the years that have gone, I remember something else about that picture of me at school in Torry, Aberdeen, in 1979. 1t was the year I created a school magazine. I appointed myself editor (naturally) and chief writer (naturally) and commissioned myself to write a review of The Krankies at the Capitol theatre and a story about a pair of magic skis. My writing was cobbled together and amateurish and childish and (joke approaching) some people say it still is. You see: nothing changes.

So, I tidy the pictures away, and put Palin’s diaries up on the shelf, but the photograph from 1979 – the one of me next to my teacher and Alex, the boy who died – is staying out on my desk. It’s propped up against the wall where I can see it and it reminds me and warns me. It reminds me of the stuff that changes and the stuff that doesn’t. And the warning is clear: if I want change, time is running out.