While queuing at the tills in Aldi I noticed a jocular exchange between a customer and a cashier. The customer, a man in his late fifties, was a bit of an extrovert. He wore his greying hair Elvis-style – long sideburns and a quiff – and spoke confidently, as if used to performing on stage. He had presented the cashier with a £50 note and she, having been obliged to check its authenticity, was handing him his change, along with a few words of apology for the personally uncomfortable moment of institutional mistrust. An older lady waiting her turn joined in. “Well,” she said, “I’ve never seen a £50 note before.” Elvis turned to her with a cheeky smile and said “You’ve obviously not met the right fellas, love.” As he pocketed his cash and swaggered off, I fancied I saw the old lady’s eyes follow him wistfully, as if contemplating regretfully the truth of his observation. Still, there’s no use in having regrets – or so they say.
That incident assumed a degree of poignancy for me, probably because my birthday is about to roll around again and contemplation of a past tinged with regret is front and centre in my consciousness, placed there either by my own fond reminiscences or by those of friends and relatives eager to recall the good old days. It’s probably not a coincidence, therefore, that I have revisited (specifically) 1974 twice in the past few days. One occasion was when I ate at the same Chinese restaurant as I first did 43 years ago. In the intervening years I may have been there once or twice, but I will not do so again: the menu has not changed at all, nor has the internal decoration which, never more than adequate, now appears neglected and grubby. Moreover the food was barely edible and what little of it I did eat gave me indigestion later. I ask myself whether The Happy Seasons was always the same and, if so, why is it still popular? (We had to wait for a table.) I conclude that the business has a winning formula catering for an unsophisticated audience and that it sees no need for change. If that is the case I can credit myself with having moved up the ladder of culinary expectation, if only by dint of age and experience.
Then there was a showing of the film The Wicker Man (which, even at a mere £3 admission, seemed costly compared with original ticket prices). I went with a male friend who, like me, was interested to see it again and who, also like me, recalled virtually nothing of the film bar Britt Eckland’s nude scenes and the closing shot of the flaming Wicker Man. What a revelation it was then to discover that the film presented not just a shocking (for the time) depiction of dark pagan practices but also a serious theological argument against the beliefs of the Christian faith (as represented by the leading character). Admittedly, by today’s slick standards of cinematography, the film felt clunky – it even raised derisive laughter from the audience at times – and the decision to cast Britt as a native of the Outer Hebrides had clearly been taken solely in the interest of box-office appeal.
But the film certainly wasn’t just about sensationalism and visual titillation, although my younger self did not see it at the time. If I had known then what I know now, I would have benefited more from the experience and, to that extent, I am regretful. Let’s just say I was a callow young man, too wrapped up in myself to see the wider picture. And, as John Ruskin observed, when a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.