Eric Burdon and the Animals were a favourite of my father. “We’ve got to get out of this place,” released in 1965, was his theme tune for years. We were going to move to Cornwall when I was twelve. Of course, we never did. As the years passed, he might have sung, “I’m not going to move out of this place.” He became a skilled procrastinator, content to live his quiet life in a quiet place, determined not to move on, even if he never actually said so.
If a song about getting out of the place expressed the mood of the times, another song by The Animals was about as far from our lives as could be imagined. “When I think of all the good times that I wasted having good time,” expressed the sort of life enjoyed by the people who appeared in pop charts and glossy magazines. When I watched them on television or listened to them on the radio, I thought that it was unlikely that many of them would have had much idea of what it was like to live in a council house in a tiny village far from anywhere.
Thinking that life was something that happened to other people who lived in exciting places, I became an expert at wasting good time not having a good time, in fact, I was an expert at not really doing anything at all.
Looking back, I wondered why I wasted just so much time.
My mother has been reorganising the bookshelves, putting my late father’s books into order, and I realised that, compared with many people, we had many books when I was young – added to which we went to one of the local libraries, Langport, Street, or Bridgwater, at least twice a month. When there was so much reading that could have been done, why did I sit doing nothing?
Why did I spend every evening watching programmes on one of the three channels in which I wasn’t even interested? When there were small towns and villages that might easily have been explored by a teenage boy on a bicycle, why did I spend hours just standing and watching out of the bedroom window?
Sometimes, I used to think how much more profitably all those wasted hours might have been used, all the things I could have done, all the things I could have learned. If I had spent the time studying, all the things I might have achieved. It’s always to be wise in retrospect!
It was George Bernard Shaw, or maybe Oscar Wilde, who is supposed to have said, “Youth is the most beautiful thing in this world—and what a pity that it has to be wasted on children!”