The good old days?

By Tim Craine

As a child I was actively encouraged to try a range of musical instruments. On one occasion my dad even purchased some bagpipes as a ‘family present’. Mercifully the cheap price was explained by the fact that there was a large hole both in the bag and our ability. I think they went out with the rubbish.

My mastery of the clarinet was something else entirely. An immensely patient primary school teacher worked hard to narrow the gap between Mozart and Tim Craine, until a sad moment when the instrument was damaged beyond repair, when left near the rear wheels of a reversing car. For some reason the instrument was not replaced and lessons never resumed. If it were not for that event, there was no doubt in my mind that a professional career of musical greatness awaited.

Some years later, a generous neighbour donated an old clarinet after clearing their loft. It was around Christmas time and when we decided to make some music as a family, I looked forward to confirming what I had always known, I was indeed Mr. Clarinet! To my shame (and the obvious enjoyment of my brothers) even in the context of the family’s very low standards, I made such an appalling racket that even my grandmother (an almost cast-iron supporter in the face of obvious inability) was heard to say ‘I think thats probably enough dear’.

We all have the tendency to don our rose tinted glasses as we recall and reinterpret our past experiences. Whilst considering these events we often muse ‘Weren’t they the good old days?’. Our memories generally flatter us, put us in the right and others in the wrong and make us feel that in days past we had certainty and today only the unknown.

Only weeks after their escape from the enslavement to a cruel regime in Egypt, the Israelites sat dejected in the wilderness, sunburnt and thirsty. Almost laughably (and totally without factual basis) they said to one another; dewy-eyed, ‘Did we not eat plates of meat and fine food in Egypt’? Wasn’t yesterday perfect and today dreadful?

There is no denying that today we face socio-economic, health, political and environmental challenges, exacerbated by the current pandemic, with the temptation to conclude that ‘things have never been worse!

Apparently I look like my great grandfather, and it is true we do look similar in photographs. The likeness between me and George Bullock is perhaps underlined by the fact that he was not much older than me when his ship was torpedoed and sank off the coast of Trinidad in the Second World War. My grandmother (his daughter) was born two days after his death: one of millions of individual stories of loss and personal pain in the context of the vastness of war. Every generation faces challenges, but there was perhaps a greater desire and willingness in times past to turn to God in the face of challenge and not simply to blame Him.

However many times we reinvent our past experiences, things have never really been perfect. I never could play the clarinet properly, there never was a summer when the sun shone every day AND the grass stayed lush and green, but God our help in ages past, promises to be with us now and through all that is come. ‘No pit is so deep that God’s love is not deeper still’. It is He who gives us grace enough to see the day through and hope of a truly perfect future with Him, does that not make even our greatest memories and current fears pale into insignificance?

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