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Wednesday, 22 November 2017


Back In Our Day
Stephen Clements

The Blackstaff Press 2017

Some time ago I was listening to a singer/songwriter who declared that he detested nostalgia, that there was no point in looking back. Life, to him, was about the present and the future – and then he went on and on about all the things he did in the past. Go figure. In recent times, I have been looking back into some family history including memories of my Belfast childhood and even though there have been sad moments, they are far outweighed by the happy times.

So it was with much delight that I noticed a new book out by broadcaster Stephen Clements and it has been such a joy to read it, to share his memories, some of which triggered things in my own life that I had forgotten, and to wallow in something that should never be detested - nostalgia.

It is part autobiography and part scrapbook. The presentation is lively as is the writing. Stephen talks with enthusiasm about caravan (burnt orange and chocolate interior) holidays in Portrush and Newcastle, salivating about fish and chips, amusement arcades, kids’ chocolate (finger of fudge) and adults’ chocolate (Fry’s Five Centres). In later years, there were ‘forn’ holidays to the likes of Corfu.

There are memories of a ring-fenced Belfast City Centre in the bad old days of The Troubles. (I worked in British Home Stores in those days and queuing to get into work really was a pain in the backside.) It was a time of fire and bomb damage sales for obvious reasons and buying singles and LPs from Woolworths, ‘the place for music’. Sexy girls on the covers of Top of the Pops albums seemed to be okay back then.

And long before Halloween and Christmas became commercially monstrous, kids could have fun in a time before gadgets. Halloween was about masks, costumes and, in retrospect, pretty tame fireworks. Rockets were about the whoosh, the bang and lighting up the sky and as Stephen recalls back then it was “the most exciting light show I’ve ever seen’. Apart from the excitement of Christmas Day with all the presents and food, the big event was the festive edition of the Radio Times. I remember it in our house. It started off in pristine condition and by New Year it was a ragged mess having been well-thumbed and thrown around a lot.

The section on eating brought back memories of The Skandia restaurant where I took my girlfriend at the time. It felt posh. I think she was impressed. Chicken Maryland was exotic to Belfast taste buds. As was Chinese food and there is a particularly funny anecdote about ordering food and another about the near-lethal combination of cider, Chinese food, Polo Mints and vigorous teeth cleaning. It is one of those ‘you had to be there’ stories but thank your lucky stars you weren’t.

There are so many recollections here from schooldays to holiday cassette tape mixes to lager cans named after girls that to list them all would spoil the surprises in the book.

Stephen Clements has written a thoroughly enjoyable book, illustrated with many family photographs. Although these are universal experiences and reminiscences about growing up, I think there has been an advantage in my case as a Belfast kid, to find many personal connections in the stories. Buy it, read it and be entertained by it, and use it to trigger your own memories from back in your day.

I loved it. You will too.

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