The Beaches Of Our Youth
Updated: May 19, 2022
The actor Rupert Everett was on the radio recently, talking about ‘the beaches of his youth’, those places we regress to when we feel a little defeated by life and in need of escape.
How pleasant it is, he mused, to allow ourselves to daydream about childhood holidays especially when we are no longer drawn to those things that once seemed so important; which for Rupert included sex, recreational drugs and celebrity 'friendships'.
As our new reality of Covid and lockdown looks set to continue into the winter and beyond, it may come as no surprise that many people dream about moving to the coast or countryside, or perhaps somewhere they associate with childhood such as the village or community they grew up in.
This wistful pang of nostalgia offers a sense of security and comfort and whilst the reality may not be so straightforward, the appeal is strong. The word nostalgia comes from a Greek compound consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning "homecoming", and a Homeric word ἄλγος (álgos), meaning "pain" or "ache", and was coined in the 17th-century to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home.
Those same Swiss mercenaries had probably dreamt of running away from their small town lives at one time, and there is an irony that nostalgia is often associated with a time or place we could not wait to escape from.
And whilst a life dominated by nostalgia may prevent us from fully engaging with the here and now, there are many good reasons why the occasional Proustian 'tea dipped madeleine moment', may be a good thing; it may increase connectedness, positive self regard, existential meaning, creativity and psychological growth.
My nostalgic place can be a pile of old Puffin paperbacks or the 'Good Housekeeping' recipes my mother cooked for me as a child; dishes such as chicken paprika and brown bread ice-cream, which I still rustle up when I need something comforting. And then there is Abersoch in North Wales. It is somewhere I have not been for more than 30 years, yet the memories of it are still vivid and sun-drenched, as every summer seemed to be in the 1970s.
It was here that I got married. I was 5-years-old at the time and the vicar was thirteen, she wore teeth braces and we nicknamed her ‘Jaws’; our honeymoon was an afternoon blackberry picking along sleepy country lane hedgerows. It was here that I learnt to swim and nearly drowned; and it was here that I first encountered Dracula, a BBC TV drama from the 1970s that all us kids in the hotel had sneaked downstairs to watch whilst a summer storm thundered outside. The beach was a vast golden arc, though nippy and windswept, and dotted with jellyfish. The scent of pine needles and sun-drenched gorse was heady, as was the aroma of cigarillos and morello cherries in the hotel bar in the evenings.
For Kylie Minogue, immersing herself in the nostalgic feelings of her 70s childhood was the creative process she needed to record her new album Disco.
In an interview with The Guardian she says, ’it’s becoming more apparent that one of my happy places is melancholy always just slightly outweighed by hope’. I love this! I suspect Kylie has done quite a bit of psychotherapy.
With lockdown putting the kibosh on her plans to record in the studio, she bought the studio to her kitchen. The result is a wonderfully indulgent album of floor fillers, which according to Kylie evokes ‘those little cosmic things that happen - all those lonely moments, knowing there is someone else out there who understands your loneliness or stops your loneliness. The need for love, the longing for love.’
This may be just what we need at a time like this, and it is perhaps no surprise that other artists such as Dua Lipa, Jessie Ware and Lady Gaga have all had disco inspired hits this year; 2020 has undoubtedly been the year of the 'kitchen disco' album and of course Sophie Ellis Bextor has taken that quite literally with her weekly glitter ball discos, in her enviable kitchen. ABBA are releasing new material this autumn, though with no sign of that so far, it has been left to Steps to pick up the mantle with their aptly titled album What The Future Holds.
So what of the future? What can we expect from a post Covid world? Will it be a golden age of creativity and artistic endeavour? Perhaps we are in for a ’roaring’ 20s, like after the First World War and flu pandemic where people embraced jazz, marcel waves and the modern. Just like Kylie, I prefer my melancholy and nostalgia balanced out with hope.
Here's to dancing around the kitchen. If you enjoy that you may like the following:
Kylie Minogue: Disco
Jessie Ware: What’s Your Pleasure
Steps: What The Future Holds
Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia
Lady Gaga: Chromatica