My friends Robert has just purchased his first car, it is blue and has two seats. My first car was a racing green Triumph Dolomite and she was beautiful. Until she rusted, when another whole Dolomite was bought to replace the bits on her that were turning that glorious shade of orange. I then gave up both cars as a bad job and bought another Dolomite with slightly less ‘flake’ about it. This one also went to the great garage in the sky and I then got a more modern car which I didn’t fear for when the air outside became damp. But my first car, she was beautiful in a way that no other car since has been. Firsts are important.

I remember my first pair of trainers (bought from a catalogue) and they were Reeboks, my first jeans (Levi), my first ‘designer’ t-shirt (poco loco) and the first time I tried sun dried tomatoes (mana from heaven!). I then pondered if things that aren’t firsts ever have the same sort of impact?

I then remembered a particularly spirited discussion I had with someone. I have been something of a Nirvana fan since my teens (when Kurt Cobain was still breathing) although I never saw them live, which retrospectively was a disappointment. I made the statement that seeing a band live was the most authentic experience that you could have of them. The other person contended that a fan is a fan, irrespective of anything else.

Being a fan in that ‘first wave’ is more authentic experience than what future generations could have. This isn’t to say that supporting any band that is no longer in existence makes you less of a fan (most of what I listen to isn’t exactly ‘current’) but being around at the same time as a particular band does give you a different appreciation. You are living through the rest of what is being offered in the current music scene, along side the current political and social scenes as well. Retrospectively we can all have an appreciation, but it will never be the same experience as living through something. It is a different sort of ‘first’.

Then I think back to my car, and realise how different material things are to experiences that we have. I wasn’t the first person to own the car, didn’t own the car when they were first released and were a common sight, so I guess that I lost out on the camaraderie of that. Which would make my friend right, as I likely loved my car as much as everyone else who owned it. But the experiences that I have had, the bands I have seen live, this will always be a more authentic experience to me than anything second hand can create.

The older I get, the more I value authentic experiences. Maybe this is a mirror. The closer I get to my authentic self, the more I crave this same immediacy elsewhere.

Map Point. What is my definition of authenticity?




Little fluffy clouds

I first went on an aeroplane when I was eighteen. I was on my own and bound for Sweden. I was studying environmental sciences at the time and had managed to get a work placement through my mum’s company (a paper manufacturer) over there for a week. I was massively excited as it would be my first time out of England and also, equally terrified for much the same reason.

Somehow I felt that go abroad would make my eyes wider, allow me to see things from perspectives that I had not yet considered. A friend took me to Heathrow Airport at stupid early o’clock and even being at the airport, at the time, felt to be an incredible experience. I was seeing the world at a whole new time of day, in a place that was connected to almost everywhere else, a place without an alarm clock, a fixed time for breakfast, time almost seemed not to exist there.

Being on an aeroplane to me could just have easily have been a rocket ship. Seeing the white fluffy landscape, moving from a dark rainy day into a clear sunlit sky was magical. The rolling white clouds felt to me like a new sort of ground, a new realm of possibility. Seeing the expanse of the fjords as we flew over the edges of Sweden looked like frozen arteries to an as yet unseen body.  I received food on a tray, each with its own compartment, its own place to be. And when I stepped into the terminal and found my driver, I had entered a new world.

The landscape from the car was unlike anything I had previously seen. Over the week I saw forests and factories, lunch halls and offices. I went to the cinema (watched ‘In the name of the father’ with English subtitles), a pub (bought a bottle of ‘Newcastle Brown’ with a label saying that it was imported which made me smile), went horse riding and saw the most marvellous machines that could cut down and strip the braches from trees. I saw snow floating on the rivers with gentleness and grace. It was also the week that Kurt Cobain died, MTV being the only tv channel that I could find in English, which gave the week a strange duality, Nirvana being my favourite band at the time.

I think that I did arrive home a different person. Seeing things with my own eyes rather than through other peoples was liberating. I was experiencing high anxiety at the time in my more usual life and a week somewhere else, a week that I didn’t have to have any of the confines of English me, was so peaceful, so calm. It gave me the knowledge that I would change.

Map Point. Where do I feel most peaceful?