This week I wanted to write about the one topic that’s really gripping the nation this week. Obviously that’s season 2 of Derry Girls. When I say nation, I mainly mean lots of people my age, who look back on the 90s as that blessed time of Britpop, Father Ted and portable CD players with a glow of fondness, familiarity and longing.
It comes to something when you realise your teenage years now qualify for costume drama status. I realised this when the glorious Derry Girls came onto our screens a year ago – a riot of perms, floor length button-through pinafore dresses, teenage angst and an exceptional soundtrack of songs I didn’t even know I’d forgotten.
If you haven’t indulged in this delight, it’s a Channel 4 (costume drama) sitcom set in 90s Derry, centred around a group of teenage girls and a boy. Set in a community at the height of its Troubles – scary times when I look back on living in England then, never mind Northern Ireland – but The Troubles aspect takes a backseat in comparison with the far more pressing difficulties of being a teenager.
Apart from being hilarious, the show’s popularity lies in a huge nostalgic appeal for the younger Generation X-ers and early Millennials that’s hard to resist. The music is frankly awesome – Oh Carolina, anyone, or perhaps a little Ace of Base? – and music itself has its own magical properties of course, unlocking doors to memories and feelings with unrivalled speed and ease. Just a few bars of these tunes have taken me straight back to travelling home on the school bus, or listening to the Top 20 countdown on a Sunday afternoon, trying to record the songs without the DJ talking over the fadeout.
So much of Derry Girls is achingly familiar. Why does looking back on the era of your youth come with such a rosy glow that can become almost painful if you dwell on it too long?
Nostalgia has evolved from its Greek roots, which mean “homecoming pain”. Looking back on a time of fewer responsibilities, when it seems that life was simpler, with a longing to return to it, does feel a bit like giong home. But imagine if you could go back, though? I’m not sure I’d really like it, and I definitely wouldn’t like being a teenager again. I know I didn’t think I was living the best days of my life, at the time – I’ve still got the diaries (cringe), and it’s all laid out there in an unformed teenage hand, in blue and white biro – so why do I look back with such fondness?
Maybe what we nostalgia sufferers are all feeling is really a desire to have back that first flush of youth and energy, when adult life was all still before you, and having the chance to redo some of the things you did based on the knowledge you have now. After all, you know how things turned out – so if you could just go back, maybe you could take some shortcuts to where you are now, cutting out some of the less positive decisions you made – or undoing some of the things that went wrong, if you’re not so happy with the way things are now.
But an often-wise man said to me just yesterday that it doesn’t do to look back with regret. Everything you’ve done has shaped who you are today, and if you cut out the bad bits, you’d be worse off now anyway.
So I will try not to poke too hard at the happy nostalgia wounds that Derry Girls reminds me of, and instead revel in those bodysuits, double denim and every single one of those beautiful Cranberries tracks (I still know all the lyrics – because I recorded them off my friend’s albums on my white double tapedeck, and played them for the entire summer of 1997).