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Saturday, 2 May 2009

Nostalgia: the Bandstand

Well, I've been wanting to write this post for ages, but I really wanted to take my time with it. This post is about something very precious and important to me.

The church I went to growing up was boring. Dull, dull, dull. Don't get me wrong: I love it very much, and it will always feel like my home, but it was just impossible to get excited about singing those dirges from the 19th century. It was geared towards the older people, which made sense as there were loads of them, but for the kids... well, it failed to thrill us.

Which was why the Bandstand was so special.

That's what it was called, the Bandstand. It felt like a separate world. It happened in the summer, late on a Sunday night, and it was like nothing else I've ever experienced...

(I'm speaking, of course, with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia perched on my nose. That's often how it goes with things that end before you grow up. I'm almost glad it did; doubtless it would never have been the same if I'd gone there as a teenager, sulking and scowling my way through the hymns...)

This is how it would happen: our mother, not wanting us to get tired while we were there, would insist that we take a nap beforehand. Let me tell you, never in my life was it harder to sleep than on a beautiful summer day before the Bandstand. Mum would close the heavy yellowy-gold curtains of our bedroom, and there in the yellow-gold light, we'd try (and often fail) to sleep.

Then we'd go to a little park in a little town on a little island. The birds in the aviary would chirp and sing as we passed, walking towards the river. Bright lights would illuminate the stepping stones, the beautiful plants, and the magical, elusive little fish that flitted through the water.

Most of my siblings fell in that river at one point! when it was my turn, it was a consequence of a selfless act... one of about three I committed before the age of 12. Maybe that's why I remember it. My brother was sailing a little leaf-boat past the stepping stones, reaching out to catch it as it floated past, until (inevitably) he let it go beyond the reach of his little boy arms. So, me being on Big Sister duty, I stretched to catch it... and fell in. The lights made everything so strange and beautiful, and I swear that in that half a second I saw the bright orange fishes swimming around me.

Stepping stones

We weren't allowed to stay on the stepping stones, or to climb the trees, or to play in the park for long, though. Because over by the bandstand structure itself, in front of a little raised and covered platform near the trees, a tiny congregation would gather in the fading light as the night grew colder, singing from a little booklet of hymns. A friendly man with a goatee played the keyboard from the platform, playing the songs that we rarely sang outside of this one special occasion. I often wondered how the people who were so stiff and formal in a building on Sunday mornings, could be so at peace in the breathtaking wonder of nature?


Three or four minutes away from those harmonies that rose above the enthusiastic midges, was a playpark - a magical place for us kids. We'd go there every time, pretend the roundabout was taking us to places that only existed in our imaginations. And the swings! When you got them high enough, right at the top of the arc, you could see over the hedge to the edge of the world, where the sun set over neverending ocean, and nothing else. Just sea and sky. For those brief seconds, I could rise above all the world and be so completely free.

Even if there was never a God, that would be enough.

I know these songs will mean nothing to you, but to me, they mean so much. If you want to hear them, and you've got Spotify - I've only managed to remember / track down these three - click this link:

This is a really long shot, but there was one song I remember the most. It was the one people would always be so eager to sing, another song that was unique to that time and that place - so much so that it's not online. Not anywhere. I've written what I remember of the lyrics below... if you can tell me anything about it, I'd be so grateful!

It's a new life, oh how He changed me
A new life, He rearranged me,
A new life, richer and fuller,
It's a wonderful, wonderful life!

Gone is the old life and gone are its chains,
Gone are the wrinkles and gone are the stains,
Gone is the darkness and gone is the night,
I have found Jesus, the truth and the life...

I went back once, years ago, and took these pictures. So although it wasn't the same - how could it be? - I at least have these reminders.



  1. Wow, you sound like Ann of Green Gables growing up in Prince Edward Island. Come to think about it, you grew up on an Island, and your name is Anna.
    This material has book potential.The novel Ann of Green Gables, still sells all over the world. People from Japan flock every year to P.E.I. to see her house.

  2. keep writing more memories.

  3. It sounds like a lovely place to have for a memory. Take Care

  4. What lovely prose. Thank you. Your story is like a song itself.

  5. Just reading that put me back there - swinging up high on the swings(it it's so true, you felt you could see to the ends of the earth), crossing the (what seemed at the time) big stepping stones, the birds, the atmosphere, the first stars that popped out, the sun setting...and of course those songs.

    That one at the back - something about those words. I remember ending on that song one night (possibly more) and just feeling so different, I didn't understand it as a kid.

    It all seems so distant and we probably just sound like we're making up a wonderland story. How wrong that is - it was all real!

    Amongst all this was a central character, He was with us all the time there...and He is one awesome guy. From the swinging to the singing, He was in it all!

    ...that's the longest reply I've ever done.

    The memories...

  6. Thankyou all for the wonderful replies; I felt like I was being a bit self-indulgent with that one, but it's been on my mind for weeks... and John, you're so right, it feels a bit made-up doesn't it!

    I don't doubt that it was one of my earliest experiences of proper heart-and-soul worship. I hope I feel that again soon, it's been quite a while...

  7. Thank you for sharing Anna!

  8. I used to feel that way about the old Queen's Arcade. The lights, the shops, it was wonderful!

    Maybe I'm getting old, and my views are admittedly tinged with nostalgia, but in those days shopping centres were all unique, possessed of their own magic and joy. Nowadays, once you've seen one shopping centre, you've seen a mall.

  9. Pfahahaha... why Mr X, you're quite a card! (Yes, today I am a lady in a period drama. Not that kind. Ew. EWW. That kind of period drama would be hella gross.)

  10. Off-topic, but felt I had to share... since you're into beatboxing, have you seen this?

  11. It's a great life
    You'll never lose it
    A great life
    Do not abuse it[?]
    A great life
    Why don't you choose it?
    It's a wonderful, wonderful life!

    I'm sure there was another verse, but no idea what it said!
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. The hardest decision of my life was bandstand or oasis; and, given the choice again, I'm still not sure which!

  12. What is the thing that looks like an orange pringle in the top picture? Is it a leaf? A fishy?

  13. Heheh the reflection of a light like the one in the 3rd pic.


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