Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ ‘I won’t back down’ was played. A few moments were spent trying to place the record in a time context. ‘Where was I when that record was around?’ The mind drew a blank. It was a track that brought with it a sense of feeling young; a different time. Was it 1970s or 1980s? Google revealed it as 1989, maybe the last year of being young, but it did not feel like a 1989 song. It felt indeterminate, a timeless tune that was about mood rather than date.
Indeterminacy is a good place to be. In times when we drove south through France on summer holidays, there were stops at service stations that were nowhere we knew but inspired a sense of irrational exuberance. Destinations frequently did not match anticipation, but that never detracted the following year from a sense on the southward journey that the indeterminate places were special. One year, the thought occurred that upon retirement a journey through the indeterminate would capture a sense of being free at last. The contemplation progressed to the point of silliness, we would drive back to Ouistreham for the ferry and would then say, ‘No, I don’t want to go home’, and we would then turn the car again southwards to revisit the anonymous places that had so filled the mind with contentment and expectancy.
Perhaps a fondness for the indeterminate is indicative of some deep rooted insecurity, but there are smells and tastes that capture and convey that sense of optimism. Wright’s Coal Tar Soap, which the best beloved has banned from our house because of its aroma, immediately conjures the summer of 1976, but also many other summer moments since. Its smell brings thoughts of holiday time and sunshine and friends and days that last forever. Unplaceable moments from years long past become yesterday; their indeterminate nature allowing them to become any time the mind might wish.
The taste of vinegar on chips could be any moment in forty odd years of remembered summers. Sarson’s Malt Vinegar was the taste of seaside cafés with formica topped tables and aluminium teapots. Ask which café in which town, and the question is unanswerable; a handful of possible places arise, but to be definite is not possible.
Flicking through photograph albums, pictorial documentaries of holidays, and it becomes clear that even the memory has its own indeterminacy, places visited in one year are filed by the mind under another. Remembered sequences are not possible.
Perhaps it is the beauty of indeterminacy that certainty of time and place do not matter; it is not what is on the outside that is important, it is what is felt on the inside. If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers can evoke a sense of teenage enthusiasm, what matter if I was 28 or 29 before the record was released?