Navigating lockdown doldrums on a sea of nostalgia

Cat James

To while away the latest interminable lockdown, I’ve been playing an unusual game of Tetris. Remember that computer solitaire, all the rage in nineteen-hundred-and-ask-yer-nan? Solo players would rotate descending tiles to fit into gaps left by preceding tetrominoes, creating a full line which then disappeared in a puff of points.

My particular version of the game commenced with gusto but, before long, arrived at the regretting I ever started it stage. For I am clearing out that cupboard. You know the one – we all have them. Yours might be a sideboard stuffed with assorted dog-eared letters, ends of string and photos of long-deceased and now unrecognised relatives. Perhaps it’s a cabinet in your bathroom or kitchen, cluttered with out-of-date unctions and ingredients. If you are really unlucky, you might have an entire shed which needs attention and, if that’s you, you have my deepest sympathy.

Initially it was rather fun, getting elbow-deep in my dusty archive. Before long I was a castaway on a desert island of nostalgia; cross-legged on my lounge floor, lapped by a sea of clippings, old utility bills, and documents relating to a car euthanized at Cliftongrade many years ago.

Inspired, a friend has also undertaken his own stock-check. “Look,” he messaged, “Barry Sheene‘s autograph!” In his childhood autograph book, among the pencilled inscriptions of classmates – plus, rather incongruously, that of the Bishop of Liberia – he discovered the signature of the motorcycle racing legend.

I reciprocated with a personalised photo of comedian Les Dawson. A pal and I met him in the music section of a department store, where he was tinkling one of his trademark out-of-tune recitals on an upright piano.

“Your mate’s really ugly,” Les whispered, glancing up at my friend as he signed the picture.

Pretty rich coming from a man with a face like a melted welly.

Deeper and deeper I delved; through layers of time, like stratas of paper-based geology. Back to the early 1970s. I tipped up a long brown envelope, tagged with a pink 2½p stamp. Out fell a photo of four long-haired lads, all wearing skin-tight clothes and sultry expressions. I scanned the accompanying letter: Dear New Member, it began, Welcome to the Sweet Fan Club.

A third sheet advertised ‘Brian Connolly’s Pop Kiss’, a rubber stamp fashioned into a pair of lips, planting printed kisses from my adored favourite glam rocker, the flaxen-haired Brian, lead singer of Sweet. The advert showed his red kiss branding writing paper, a cotton handkerchief and even decorating a lampshade.

I reflected that by the time I’d saved enough pocket money to buy the pop kiss, my allegiance had transferred to Slade. Sighing, I returned the letter, photo and advert to their pouch; they’d earned their stay of execution.

Not so lucky the documents relating to my dead car and a long-closed bank account; they ended life in my greedy shredder. All reprieved papers I filed neatly in boxes. From there the business of stacking them back in the cupboard, Tetris-style, began.

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 12 March 2021 and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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