Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Rose-tinted spectacles

I've been doing a lot of contemplating on the subject of life in general over the past few weeks. I seem to have found myself in a rather reflective and at times melancholy frame of mind.

I wonder if it's normal and healthy for us as people to spend time reminiscing about the past, "the good old days" as we often refer to them, or whether we should be always looking forward. The fact is, I think I've been using the phrase "the good old days" since my mid-twenties which means either my life has gone progressively downhill since then or I'm just looking through rose-tinted spectacles at a golden era that probably wasn't as great as I remember it. Perhaps our minds subconsciously choose to remember the good bits and tune out the bad ones.

Let's look at a couple of examples. Firstly, work.

Last week, on Facebook, one of my old colleagues from Nielsen started a thread which quickly turned into a nostalgia fest. Over a few days, I had plenty to chuckle about. So let's look at then and now. If I was looking on the pessimistic side, I could look at it this way. Back at Nielsen, the humour and banter in the office was second to none. I guess that's why I've loved watching "The Office" (US version) so much over the decade since I left - it reminds me so much of what used to go on. I can honestly say I have never laughed so much as I did some of those times, whether it be in the Foodservice department with my colleagues there, or on a Friday night out in Oxford with various boozy mates from across the company, they were some of the happiest times of my life.

Compare that to now, where I write for a living, I'm on my own most of the day and have very little interaction with other people, and I can start to feel quite depressed about the situation.

But - then I think about it from another perspective. For all those laughs in the office with my mates there were countless other moments of sheer drudgery. Of sitting at the desk performing endless repetitive tasks at the computer. Of stressful client presentations, being thrust into the lion's den in front of the top brass of big companies, hoping they wouldn't tear you to pieces over the validity of the data. Of sitting in endless boring meetings listening to endless bullshit. Of sitting in traffic trying to get to work. Of looking out of the window on a lovely June afternoon watching another summer of my fading youth disappearing. Of feeling utterly demotivated and powerless to do anything to shape my own destiny.

Whereas now, I work for myself, and have done for many years. Firstly as a DJ, and now as a writer. Not an easy thing to succeed at, but I'm hugely proud of what I've achieved. I've done it all off my own bat, I can work when I want, in the way I want. I'm my own sales, marketing, and production department all rolled into one, I have no boss to answer to and I can put all of the skills I gained in my years as an employee to good use. And after the success of my three novels over the past year I'm seeing some very healthy royalty cheques rolling in now too - such a difference from being employed in a job where you get paid the same every month regardless of how much effort you put in.

So which is best? Well, I'm glad I've had the chance to experience both. I wouldn't change anything - but if I could jump in a Time Bubble, I would love to go back and see my old pals for some quality banter. Perhaps I won't need to. There has been talk of a reunion.

The other thing I've been thinking about a lot lately on the nostalgia front are all the great years I spent in the pub. What an exciting thing the pub seemed to be when I was young. Lunchtimes in the Duke Of York in Oxford when I was doing my A-levels were a must - simpler times and happy ones. Later, here in Bicester there was The White Horse, The Plough, The Hobgoblin, Six Bells and many others. There was a time when I could walk into any one of them and be assured a warm greeting and a happy evening having a laugh and a chat with my mates.

The good old days! (No, I'm not that old, honest)

Now I hardly ever go out. Why not? I'm not sure when the change occurred but over the course of my 30s I went from a man who was in the pub almost every night to one who hardly ever frequents one. In fact, so far in 2015, I have been out twice. So what's led to this change? Well, having kids, obviously, but that's not the only reason. I just found that it stopped being as fun as it used to. All those people I used to drink with every night in the 90s disappeared over time for various reasons. They had kids too, moved away or simply grew out of it or couldn't afford it any more. The cost is a big issue - it is so much more expensive to drink in the pub now than at home compared to a decade or two ago. When you are young with money to burn, who cares, but who with young children to feed and clothe can justify several pints a week in a pub at between £3 and £4 a pop? Not me, that's for sure.

Even so, if it was still like it was, I would go out more, but the last time I went out on my own, I wandered around town and into three or four pubs one after the other. I didn't see a single person I knew in any one of them. Now that is depressing. I never went out for the drink, I went out to socialise. There is no point whatsoever in wasting time and money in the pub if you are not getting anything out of it. Thankfully that night was not ruined, as I knew that there was a karaoke on down at The Nightingale, so I went down there and was relieved when I saw a few old friends there.

I really ought to try and get out more often - it is very easy to become isolated very quickly when you are out of the loop for any length of time. It's hard to ever imagine having a local again, full of community spirit, they seem to be dying out sadly, but it's still possible to have a good time if you plan it properly. I think the days of just popping out for a pint are long gone, though, for me at any rate. And there's other complications to just popping out as well - like having a contact lens the size of a flying saucer in one eye (don't ask) which can play up at any time causing me no end of problems. I must be getting old, I am starting to complain about ailments. Still it gives me something else to talk about other than the weather, I suppose. I'd better start mugging up on hip operations, I expect that'll be the next thing.

I do in fact have two invites for nights out coming up in the next two weekends, both of which I am going to try and fulfil. So look out for me at The Nightingale this Saturday and at The White Hart the following Saturday. After that I might need a few weeks to recover. That's another thing that takes longer as you get older!

Jason Ayres is the author of six books, including his brand new novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

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