Lawrence Miles (an excellent writer) sums up exactly my own take on the recent 40th anniversary of Sgt Pepper. I wasn’t so much celebrating the album as remembering watching a documentary on it in 1987:
in 1987, ITV broadcast a documentary called It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, marking the twentieth anniversary of Sergeant Pepper. In those days, 1967 seemed to exist in the same “times that never really happened” bracket as Jason and the Argonauts or films about dinosaurs fighting cavemen, and probably featured stop-motion hippies courtesy of Ray Harryhausen. But a few months from now, it’ll be twenty years since the documentary, forty years since the album, and – logically – sixty years since Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. It wouldn’t be so bad, if I’d actually done anything useful in those twenty years. I turned thirty-five last month, for Christ’s sake, I’m entitled to a midlife crisis.
I feel the same when I watch old episodes of Doctor Who (which is the link between me and Lawrence – who I just realised is a year younger than me but in many ways seems to have had the life I was supposed to, the bastard). Take Robot, Tom Baker’s first story, which I saw on DVD the other day. I remember watching that when it was first on, about 8 weeks after my fourth birthday. Do you know how sad (in an emotional, not, you know, ‘sad’ way) this made me feel?
Not long ago I saw Logopolis, Baker’s last story and again it made me sad, both in an ‘end of an era’ way and in a more complex mathematical way.
Let me see if I can explain. A few months after they first showed Logopolis, the BBC did something we Doctor Who fans could only dream of in those days: they showed a season of old stories beginning with the very first, An Unearthly Child from November 23 1963.
Now to someone born in 1970 (hello) 1963 is, as Lawrence puts it: ‘in the same “times that never really happened” bracket as Jason and the Argonauts or films about dinosaurs fighting cavemen’. In 1981, 1963 was nearly 20 years ago (you see, I can do maths!) which was pre-history as far as I was concerned. So last year, when I watched An Unearthly Child again (on DVD – you get the impression I was lying about the ‘sad’ don’t you?) I couldn’t help working out that (and stick with me here) the gap between my first viewing it and seeing it now was actually longer than the gap between it first being shown and my seeing it in 1981…
I remember when my dad turned 40 and we thought he was old. Apparently, 60 is the new 40 which is just as well – this is one goal post I don’t mind them moving. But like Lawrence I reckon I had my midlife crisis far too early (unless it’s God’s way of telling you you’ve only got another 30 years to live in which case I may cash in my pension now). Why do we seem to have our mid-life crises earlier than ever, despite the fact our life expectancy is longer? Simple. It’s down to cheap TV channels showing programmes you dimly remember from your childhood, and it’s down to the BBC releasing its entire archive (the stuff it didn’t wipe to record new episodes of Hetty Wainthrop Investigates) on DVD.
I’m looking at a video of the entire series of Willow The Wisp that a friend bought me one Christmas because they presumably thought I was of the age that I would find it amusingly nostalgic, when in fact it made me want to go and bury my head in a pillow and cry like a baby.
People ask me why I teach, or what I like about it. They rarely ask me what I don’t like about it. It’s the fact that every year, the people I teach become 12 months more detached from my own experience. I used to use the rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star to introduce the concpet of project management (try it: produce a Gantt Chart of the rescue plan) but I stopped doing that when the number of people who’d never seen Star Wars came dangerously close to making me faint.
I was on the phone to a friend yesterday reporting on a recent visit to the doctor. ‘It was frightening’ I told her, ‘suddenly all the leaflets I used to ignore now seem to be aimed at me’. The day you reach 35 the list of things you have to be worried about, check and stare at before flushing away increases dramatically.
So maybe this is why I haven’t played Sgt Pepper in homage to its creation. Not because I don’t like it (I do) but because I can’t stomach the fact that the first line ‘It was twenty years ago today’ might be a temporal jolt too far.