When I Were a Lad a Guest Post by Echo Cycle Author Patrick Edwards

‘It’s the greatest thing that’s happened to us since Maggie took us into the Falklands.’ This is the voxpop that sticks in my mind: a Benidorm resident quizzed on Brexit, one of many in the days after the 2019 election and just before our EU membership expired quietly in a corner with barely a whimper. Never mind whether the Falklands was triumph or absurdity nor whether Thatcher was hero or villain. What surprised me more than anything was that he didn’t look old enough. He spoke like someone who’d been a part of it, not (by my snap estimation) a teenager at the time. When I turned off, I wondered if I was wrong: perhaps he was older than I thought, perhaps he had strong ties to the Forces. But perhaps was there just a chance that his worldview was constructed on uninterrogated nostalgia?

We’re all prone to it, regardless of background. Every one of us will look back on a time in our past and remember it as being good and pure and, crucially better than now. The whole Romantic period in art and literature harks back to an idealised past and how many of us have talked about the beer being cheaper, the kids more respectful of their elders? We don’t want the ever-evolving story of our selves to have awkward kinks, no ‘well, it was alright I guess’ – we’re shaped by movies and books and music (and our parents) to want to star in our own Stand By Me and our unconscious makes it so with such power that only painful introspection can see past it. And who’s a fan of that?

When I heard that sentence on the news it felt like an encapsulation of the Leave spirit: Make Britain Great Again. It edited out Poll Tax riots and the destruction of industry. It ignored national discontent, not just in the youth but even Middle England – Diana Gould was in her 60s when she took Thatcher to task over the Belgrano. People lost their lives in that war and families has to grieve. Every edge of it, every awkward nuance is omitted to follow more closely an idealised narrative.

This is the spirit that I imagine has run rampant in my book Echo Cycle: a triumphalist, exceptionalist fable stoked by the media in the face of evidence and pragmatism. It’s perhaps a bit mean of me to bring back food shortages, pollution and rampant poverty but it seemed a natural extrapolation: if, in this exaggerated world, people were so keen on going back to the halcyon days of the 50s than let them enjoy all of it, the rough and the smooth (there turns out to be very little smooth).

It’s easy to fall into, as I said. I find myself looking back at pre-2016 and thinking ‘Wow, we had it good.’ A proper historian would present a more balanced view: Obama, for all the hope he inspired, was still ordering drone strikes; we had to cope with a financial crash for the ages; those communities that brought political upheaval were genuinely marginalised. I have to hold myself to the same standard of introspection.

But music, though, that was just better when I was young. I’ll fight anyone who claims otherwise.