Here’s a fun weekend activity for you: find your old photo albums – you know, those big picture books from the olden days that document all your embarrassing haircuts, fashion decisions, and run-ins with zoo animals – and take a look through them.
I did this a couple of weeks ago. I was at my mum’s house, enjoying the type of weekend those of us in our late twenties can still just about get away with i.e. going back to our parents, doing absolutely nothing except eating, sitting down and occasionally being asked to help with something they don’t understand on the computer, when I decided to take a gander through my old things.
My mum – like so many mothers whose houses are dominated by their children’s dusty keepsakes – has been trying to get me to throw some of my belongings away for about the last ten years. And I’ve done it in stages. The cuddly toys went first (I couldn’t watch as they were carried into the charity shop), then the clothes I’ll never wear again, including my All Saints-inspired low-waist khaki trousers (never ever has a trouser felt so low…), and then my boy band CD collection (after I uploaded them to iTunes). And now all that’s left is a few books, some greetings cards, and my photographs.
It’s a shame that it’s not in a hairdresser’s job description that they must have the ability to look into the future and foresee the regret their customer is going to feel five, ten, or fifteen years after they request a new do. My word I made some bad decisions.
But aside from the questionable haircuts, the other thing that struck me about my trip down memory lane was the number of pages of my photo albums that, at some point previously, I’d decided to rip out.
In between the pictures of my sixth form ball, birthday parties, and whatever else we celebrated to pass the time between puberty and real life, are numerous torn edges of pages that used to be. And it’s the same in my university photo albums too – sure the multi-coloured Reef bottles are there (if you don’t remember that drink, you are lucky), and there’s evidence that I did indeed own skirts so short that, as my mum pointed out, it’s a wonder I didn’t get piles, but, judging from the gaps, there are a few things missing too.
And I know what they are. They’re the pictures of things I regret – friendships that didn’t work out, relationships that never quite got off the ground, and hair, clothes and make-up choices that I’d rather pretend never happened.
But of course I know that tearing up a photograph isn’t equivalent to building a time-machine, travelling back to 1998 and explaining to my 13 year-old self that actually, no, the Posh Spice cropped look isn’t going to work out for me. It all still happened. The friends and the boys and the hairdressers still existed.
But that’s OK. The odds of anybody being able to look back on their life without a single regret or a grimace is pretty unlikely. But as long as we learn a thing or two then it won’t have done us any harm – particularly if one of those lessons is that tops that show off our midriff are best left in the nineties where they belong.
I’m pleased to say that this time around I didn’t feel the need to rip out any more pages. I just left them as they are, ready and waiting for the next time I fancy marvelling at how young I used to be, and to remind me that there really was a time when I could bear to go outside without a coat.
If mum doesn’t mind, I think I’ll leave them there a little bit longer.