I did an experiment recently where I agreed to go offline and not use my smart devices for 24 hours. I’d like to say it was easy and required no real adjustment besides a shift in mindset, but I found myself pacing the sittingroom in distracted agitation as my phone continued to chime with notifications.
Still, I completed the task. And though I jumped back online the second I was allowed, there was one clear benefit. For the 24 hours that I was offline I was fully present. Not just there in person but actually present in the moment. That evening, when the younger children looked around to see if I was laughing at the same parts of the movie that they were, I caught their glances. They didn’t have to remind me to watch it with them. We were watching the movie together. I wasn’t just sitting in the same room while the movie played, eyes half on the TV and half on Twitter, just in case.
That’s the funny thing about trips down memory lane. Sometimes you discover your memory left out great big chunks of stuff. Or perhaps, because you were a child, you instead remained wonderfully oblivious to some things, no matter how tuned in you believed yourself to be
One child in particular loves to watch things with me. Strictly Come Dancing is our programme of the moment. He likes to predict what points the judges will give. He also likes to hear what one judge in particular, Craig Revel Horwood, will say. So it has become our Saturday-evening ritual. It’s nice, in a busy household, to have these quality moments of one-on-one time.
[ Jen Hogan: I tell my children lies — lots of them ]
Recently he was feeling a bit under the weather, and as he lay on the couch beneath a blanket, doing his best dying-swan impression, he asked if we might watch something together. As I scrolled though the options he spotted a programme called Made in the 80s: The Decade That Shaped Our World. “Weren’t you alive in the 80s, Mum?” he asked, emphasising “80s” as if it was like referring to the Jurassic period.
“I was,” I replied. “Can we watch it, then?” he said. I happily agreed. Sure what better than a trip down memory lane? And everything was better in the 80s anyway, wasn’t it?
That’s the funny thing about trips down memory lane. Sometimes you discover your memory left out great big chunks of stuff. Or perhaps, because you were a child, you instead remained wonderfully oblivious to some things, no matter how tuned in you believed yourself to be. It was a British programme, so the emphasis was on how the 1980s were across the water. But a common theme prevailed, and that was the fear of a nuclear attack.
My memories of the 1980s revolve around Raleigh Strikas, 10 kids piled into the back of a Ford Fiesta with not a seatbelt in sight, Christmas decoration chains hanging across the ceilings, playing outdoors for hours on end, neon socks and clothes, Ray Houghton’s goal in Stuttgart, sunny summers, The Snowman, De Loreans and flux capacitors.
Finding out what was going on in the world happened when the paper was delivered each day, or when you overheard your mother. There wasn’t a constant bombardment of news and information from all directions
Finding out what was going on in the world happened when the Evening Herald was delivered each day, or when you overheard your mother talking about things you weren’t supposed to hear. There wasn’t a constant bombardment of news and information from all directions, so parents could control a little more easily the kind of information their children were exposed to.
That perhaps sounds better than it was. It meant some of us relied on Judy Blume and Just Seventeen magazine to answer our questions on boys, periods, sex and how to apply eyeshadow to maximum effect.
[ Jen Hogan: This was supposed to be the year I got my work-life balance in order ]
But nuclear war, that one hadn’t been on my radar at all until, one day, the teacher rolled the TV and VHS stand into our classroom to whoops of delight. Hooray, thought we, at the realisation that we were going to watch a video. Then she pressed a button, and Threads began to play on the screen.
I can’t really describe the trauma that followed watching that film, about the impact a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union has on life in Britain. It’s the sort of thing you think you’ve put behind you until you’re watching Made in the 80s with your young son and there’s a throwback to clips from the film. Wide-eyed at the scenes, my son asked if there had been a nuclear war in the 1980s. “No, no,” I reassured him, scrambling for the remote, keen to distract him. “They were just a bit worried.” A clip quickly followed of When the Wind Blows, the animated film based on the Raymond Briggs book about an elderly couple in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. “Okay, very worried,” I corrected.
“Do you think we’ll have a nuclear war now?” he asked innocently. “No,” I replied, keen to shut down his line of questioning. “Let’s watch Back to the Future instead,” I said. “Sure, that’s what the 80s was really all about.”