Sunday, 17 August 2014

Summer on the estate - a daytime Moon.

I love seeing the Moon in the daytime. It makes it seem stranger and more fantastic than what it already is. Generally, it's a night-time object, it belongs to the night, in the dark. So when it's there in bright blue sky, it is incongruous and hauntingly mysterious, it hangs there like an unknown spectral body that has just appeared and no-one can explain what it is, or why it's there. When I saw it there while wandering idly across the outlying fields of my council estate childhood, I was immediately transported back to July 20 1969 when I sat in the living room of one of these houses (just out of shot here behind the bush to the right), in front of the TV watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Like most kids at this time (I turned nine a week before the landing) I was obsessed with space. One of my favourite books was The Ladybird Book of the Night Sky.

It was not so much the information this book gave me, even though it taught me for life the names and positions of the stars and constellations at any given time in the year, it was the illustrations by my favourite Ladybird Book artist, Robert Ayton.

These books were ubiquitous in the childhood lives of many of us who were born in the 1950s or 60s, and there's a great post by John Grindrod on his blog Dirty Modern Scoundrel here about how Ladybird Books in particular depicted postwar society, building and reconstruction in a breezy and optimistic but also direct and purposeful manner. 

Illustrations such as this one (again by Ayton) from The Story of Houses and Homes (1963) quite rightly attract a lot of fond and, I'm sure, heartfelt nostalgic attention in this retrofitted age, but to me now they represent much more than that. The nostalgia I feel for these books, the world it depicts and, indeed, my 1960s childhood and the council estate where I spent that childhood, is not soppy or maudlin. It is also a nostalgia for clarity, truth and objectivity, qualities that are as distant as that Moon is today, in a world that now dissembles and flatters to deceive in an increasingly meaningless manner. I look back at this once new and progressive world - of high-rise flats, brand-new council estates, and of space, and the Moon landings - with a fond and wistful nostalgia, but it is also a nostalgia with critique, a nostalgia that can be used with real intent and purpose in these shallow and unravelling days.