IT TAKES distance to see life clearly. To look back and see how all the pieces fitted into place to make the nearly completed jigsaw.

Perhaps it takes geographical distance too; to be always slightly on edge, always looking for the meaning of it all.

There is of course a danger in all this. Too much introspection can squeeze the joy, if there be some, out of the present.

And looking back is always suffused with sadness and the knowledge that although the days seemed interminably long when young, they are painfully short in galloping late age.

Looking forward with all the heart-pounding excitement of what may be to come is/was so much more exhilarating. Like being poised on the edge of an untrammelled field of snow, lifting one’s foot for that first break in the crust. Anything, everything, was possible.

Looking back is to understand that, for the lucky ones, it was, but came at a price.

Nothing has ever shown all that so clearly and poignantly as 63 Up, the latest in the 7 Up series first shown in 1964.

The original premise was to take the Jesuits’ mantra: Give me the child before he is seven and I’ll show you the man; particularly in the class divide and levels of expectation.

And we’ve watched them grow from open, confiding children to the sometimes troubled, often damaged adults they’ve become. As the camera intersperses then with now, the ghosts of their many faces presented to the world flicker across their aging features.

Who could forget Bruce, the prep school boy already boarding at seven? His earnest little face filled with sorrow as he spoke of how his dearest wish was to see his daddy who was 6,000 miles away.

Already he was marked with suffering solitude as, in his grey, too tight uniform he did a PE routine as a cruel, slightly older boy kicked and pushed the others of his age.

Or big-eyed Paul, a glowing, apparently charmed, child who skipped to school and planned to be an astronaut…or a coach driver.

And who could forget his metamorphism into a stumbling, shuffling outcast trudging the bleak roads of Shetland – homeless, troubled but helped by the one boy who cared – Bruce.

As Bruce grew, finding work as a teacher, it seemed love had evaded him but no, he has a wife, teenage children and we sighed with relief he’d found a safe harbour.

But always, as his wife confirmed, he remained distant, slightly detached. He had learned early it was the safest way to be.

The giggling girls turned into all they’d predicted for themselves but one was now missing; the first of the group to die. Divorce, heartache, hard times, death.

Rosemary Goring: My clothes have few outings and get a great innings

Few of us will have the record they have of their growing. For one girl it was already too much and she declined to participate for it reopened places within herself she had no desire to revisit.

What struck me most though was how all had been redeemed by love. The two Barnardo’s boys, who wanted so little out of life, now luxuriated in being surrounded by children and grandchildren who would never know the miseries they’d silently endured.

Yet not once did they blame their parents, excusing them for everything with a generosity that survived all that was thrown at them.

The two prep school boys, insufferable at 7, have turned into decent human beings giving back to community and charities; aware and no longer just accepting of their great fortune in life.

Watching it, alone, as always, I came away pondering how my life would have looked in a similar filmed experiment. How indeed the pieces of my jigsaw had placed me here in rural France without either the conversation I crave or the friends I miss.

I acknowledge that I’ve always sought distance and detachment, but from people not places. The cruel gods added places I think as a punishment for all the times I’ve blithely walked away without ever looking back.

And, with the buggered lungs, they’ve added the extra refinement of preventing me ever again cutting and running; prevented me from looking forward.

For one who has actively discouraged roots, it’s the ultimate cruelty to now be so firmly rooted.

All these thoughts were running through my mind as I watched the three episodes. To watch them is to accept that although each one of us is unique, we’re not special.

All of us deal with the same hopes and fears – we just articulate them differently.

But all of us, even those who cast it aside, need love. It was the strongest message of all from the children who of course still live inside these 63-year-olds.

And, for those fortunate enough, family.

It was a joy to watch the east end, Jack the lad, taxi-driver Tony reign supreme over his dynasty, having dodged his away out of trouble, marital scrapes and health problems.

Perhaps the full series should be shown in schools with subsequent discussions on expectation versus hope.

But then again, no. It’s the not knowing what’s to come that’s the exciting bit.