Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The happiest of happy times - David Bowie and the remembering of childhood


And we were a happy crew, me and you
We were a happy crew, me and you

Now this isn't a piece about how important David Bowie is to me and how my life will never be the same now he's gone - the great man's relevance to my life is about happenstance, about the fact that he was there at a happy time.

I've written before how the presence of David Bowie in my life was only realised some while after that presence had ended - for the simplest of simple reasons. The great man was still to be great and his nascent stardom wasn't of interest to a nine year old. But now, when I think about Bowie it's not a memory of a concert or how his music and lyrics meant something but of a time and place when I was part of a happy crew.

And this is how remembering works. It's one thing to speak of the influence and importance of a man just gone - if nothing else, within his genre Bowie was both influential and important. It's quite another for that passing to bring about a recollection of our own life and experience. I guess this is why those closest too us are mourned (and missed) most.

This remembering - informal, emotional, connected remembering - is even stronger when, as is my case with Bowie, when the recollection is of fun, happiness, joy and pleasure. I described the time I met Bowie like this:

For us boys this was brilliant - we weren't interested in the presence of the rock god but in the prospect of jungle adventure, tree climbing and the discussion of those things that matter to nine-year old boys. And we were looked after in that slightly offhand but rather sweet way of hippies. Someone fed us - usually something slightly spicy and pasta-y, probably vegetarian. It might have been Richard's mum, or the couple with a little toddler called Siddhartha, maybe even the rock god himself, this didn't impinge on us - we just welcomed the food.

Richard Finnegan and I were - in Spirogyra's words - a 'happy crew, me and you". And my remembering those happy times - and for me being ten was great - was triggered by the sad death of David Bowie. So in writing that they were the happiest of happy times, I have the child of a little tear in my eyes. Both at the death of a man who, in the tiniest of ways, was part of my life and also at remembering something fine that cannot be recreated - there's no going back to being ten except in that remembering:

When the subbuteo men broke (and finally refused to be re-glued) we played the game with my sisters farm set – minutes to go and it’s Sheep 2, Cows 1…

And climbing the cherry trees and digging for Roman remains in the garden (which of course we found in abundance)

Playing cricket with a big plastic ball and the roses as fielders – and ducking my Mum’s sandals when we knocked a flower off

Back then bikes were old, slightly rusty and lacked brakes – but we still raced down The Glade (with my little brother in the old pushchair – and that didn’t even have steering)

I hope - and know it's probably, mostly true - that today's nine and ten year olds have the same happiest of happy times. And I know that there will be something, not always a sad thing like a death, that will trigger the memory of those times, will bring the recollection and reflection - even the ghost of a smile to their lips. For me the opening chords of 'Space Oddity' will always take me back to that garden on Foxgrove Road, to the hippy bloke with the beard doing yoga, to Siddhartha (who'll be in his late forties now) and to our happy crew crashing through the undergrowth hunting aliens or seeking lost treasures.


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