Where did I put those keys?
But it's also because every time I venture down Memory Lane, someone emerges from a house and starts shouting abuse at me over the hedge. I'm sure they must have me muddled with someone else, but...
I recently mentioned a get-together in Oxford back in the summer of 2004, one of a series of such events (three, or was it four? Ah, I remember it well ...) which are themselves slowly disappearing into that all-enveloping mist, and turning into a single, jumbled memory. But I do vividly remember one very hot June afternoon at the Trout Inn, sat around several garden tables with a cohort of friends, comrades and, um, others. And I particularly remember being buttonholed by a woman I thought I barely knew, now apparently something quite senior in the legal profession, despite once having had all the gravitas of Goldie Hawn.
"You were really obnoxious, you know!"
"Yes, you were always dressed as a skinhead, and were very rude to people!"
"Yes, you always had braces on your trousers ..."
"Ah, true, sometimes..."
"... And you always wore bovver boots ..."
"Those were ordinary Dr. Martens..."
"... And you would say the most appalling things, just to upset people! Totally obnoxious!!"
"Guilty as charged, Ma'am. Though I am now much reformed. Where did you buy those ridiculous sandals, by the way? Poundland?"
A company of obnoxious rogues. The sharp-eyed may spot the man
recently crowned "The Prince of Press Regulation" by Private Eye.
Well! I'm just a soul whose intentions are good... But, sadly, you have no control over other people's memories. If they remember you as totally obnoxious -- truly laughable though that is -- there's no point in arguing the matter. Obnoxious it is!
But the point is: the past has gone. Really gone. You cannot revisit it, or pass through it on your way to somewhere else, or stumble into one of its forgotten suburbs. I am especially conscious of this as much of "my" physical past has literally gone. The house I was born in: demolished and built over. My primary school: demolished and built over. The block of flats where I spent my adolescence: demolished and built over. All constructed in the utopian dreamtime of the 50s and 60s, all wrecked in the cynical aftermath.
Which is not to say that the consequences of the past do not live with us every minute of every day. But there is no Tribunal of Truth or Court of History where the accuracy of competing accounts can finally be settled by omniscient recording angels, and there never will be. I think many people find this one of the hardest childhood illusions to shed -- it's a last vestige of naive religiosity, but it's also one of the wellsprings of our innate sense of justice.
Which brings us back to Thatcher, naturally.
Now, I really am not going all the way to London on Wednesday to shake my fist at a corpse. After all, I spent a good part of the 1980s shaking my fist, at an endless series of protests, mass demonstrations, and picket lines. A lot of people now claim also to have done so, but I don't remember seeing their faces. A lot of fantasists claim to have been at Goose Green and Port Stanley, too. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't.
Perhaps they were all really shaking their fists at a TV screen, which is not, I believe, generally regarded as an effective form of political action. Who knows, maybe if a few more people had just turned up back then things might have turned out differently? Perhaps a lot of the current fist-shaking, chest-beating and hyperventilating over the Wicked Witch is actually guilt and regret: I could have done more, but chose to concentrate on my career, my family, my personal projects. Curse you, Margaret Thatcher! It's all a bit reminiscent of the statue of Saddam Hussein coming down.
Margaret Thatcher, as the apologists asking for some respect to be shown say, quite rightly, was merely a single human being, who rode her luck and played her political cards well. It takes the acquiescence of a whole society to bring about the sort of wholesale changes that happened in the 1980s. Did you or your parents buy your council house? Did you or your parents collect shares in de-nationalised utilities? Did you or your parents even bother to vote in 1979, 1983, 1987, or 1992?
"Obnoxious? Who, me?", Thatcher must have said to herself, from time to time. "I merely did what I thought was right. I have no regrets. How about you?"
Your blogger assembles a magic totem, ca. 1979.
"Out, demons, out!"