What's Nostalgia Got To Do With It? —
Mementoes From The Trash Bin Of History
Vol. I, Issue I - April 2010

It's a saturday afternoon in the autumn of 1984. My dad’s just come through the door carrying a non-descript brown cardboard box. For a nine year-old, that’s a pretty big deal. It’s hard to see what it is, but it’s marked with the letters ‘VCR’.

“What’s a VCR dad?”

“You can just wait and see.” He hasn’t got the first fucking idea.

We don’t wait and see. We tear the box to pieces like a gang of angry hamsters.

Even unpacked it’s not immediately obvious what a VCR is, or what it does. This one’s silver, it frontloads something the size of a pack of Findus Crispy Pancakes, and has loads of buttons on it, including one marked ‘Tracking’.

“What’s ‘Tracking’?”

“Never you mind.” If only.

Turns out the VCR plugs into the telly, and lives underneath. They look made for each other, like old friends, reunited in the corner of our living room. I’ve heard about these, they’re the future. Apparently you can watch movies on them.

We sit there, and look at it for a while, in abject wonderment.

Then somebody suggests that we really push the boat out, and hire something to watch on it.

Everybody bundles into the car for the ten-minute drive to Video Crazy. This is family at its best – rallying together, full of enthusiasm and excitement, no real idea what we’re doing.

Inside the store we’re overwhelmed by rack after rack of contemporary cinema. Sure, two racks might not seem like much now, but back then it was dizzying. An argument later and we’re on our way home with a copy of The Dark Crystal, testament to the fact that the intersection of taste is a dreadful little place called Mediocrity . It’s a turgid two hours, watching small elfin creatures journey through faraway lands, enduring the terror and torment of having Jim Henson’s hand shoved up their puckered elfin behinds.

It’s enough though. The potential is all too evident. Besides which, I’ve heard about this other movie. People at school are talking about it. Nigel Blowers says he’s seen it (which is possible, they have a VCR, and his mum’s completely blind. Life’s so unfair.) It’s called First Blood. But people just call it Rambo. And it’s just come out on VHS.

* * *

The year is 1989. I’m on my bike, coasting past the bowling green in our local park, making the all too familiar Sunday afternoon pilgrimage down to our new local, Video Express, to drop in our Saturday night movie.

I spot a friend of mine on the swings, in amongst a crowd of kids in a state of collective denial about the imminent demise of yet another weekend. I dump my bike on the grass, and wander over.

We exchange notes on our respective weekends. Pretty soon we get to doing what we do best; talking movies. Specifically, the movie I just watched. Three times in one weekend.

It’s a true story, a western (much better than the spaghetti westerns my dad watches, which go on forever, without anything ever really happening) – I’m talking about a film so good it stars Charlie Sheen AND Emilio Estevez. In one movie! They’re so good they could be related.

Even as we talk it all over some little shit is stealing a copy of Young Guns from my saddle bag. By the time I find this out for myself it’s too late. Forget late fees, this is serious. Seventy five quid serious. That’s more money than I’ve ever seen, enough for my parents to pretty much ban me from renting or watching or doing or saying anything ever again.

Standing there in the park, the video long gone, the light fading and the clouds stealing in over a glorious weekend that’s fast going to its grave, somewhere deep in my confused pubescent subconscious I am already planning my revenge.

One day, when VHS is no longer state-of-the-art, I will recoup the this loss ten times over, by buying all my movies on VHS from the charity shops to which this ageing format will ultimately be consigned.

In doing so, I will re-live the story of my early life through the prism of cinema, savouring the memory of the films that shaped me, relishing all the flaws and fuck-ups that made my world such a perfect place.

I will become #VHSMovieClub.

* * *

It’s May 20th 2009. The newswires are buzzing. Patrick Swayze’s dead.

In the headquarters of #VHSMovieClub (which is to say my headquarters, which is to say my head) plans are already underway for Swayzefest, a season of films celebrating the career of one of Hollywood’s most innocuous talents.

I’m clearing Saturday morning for a circuit of all my favourite charity shops and flea-markets when word reaches me. Swayze’s still alive, a victim of attempted murder by misinformation.

In some part of me I don’t want to admit exists, watched over by a miniature version of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, I can’t help feeling a tad disappointed.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. After all, he is terminally ill. Might as well start laying the groundwork.

* * *

The month is August. My two year-old daughter Ruby and I are tucked away in one of the darker corners of Brick Lane’s Sunday market haggling over a VHS player.

Our incumbent TV & video combi has packed up, abruptly, and completely. Just to put this into context, our upstairs toilet has been on the blink for more than a year, and I still haven’t found the wherewithal to replace its dithering innards. Yet I am on the brink of replacing the combi within just three hours.

“How much do you want for it?”

“Forty quid.”



“I could buy a DVD player for less than that.”

“Ah,” she tells me, like the keeper of all the universe’s innermost secrets, “But this is VHS.”

I’m tempted to tell her she’s on drugs, except that she plainly is.

“I’ll give you twenty.”


It’s more than I should be paying, but it’s harder than you think to get a good working combi in the East End on a Sunday morning. Besides which, I have the rest of the weekend given over to working through a growing backlog of vintage VHS goodness.

Speaking of which, I can’t help noticing a huge cache of cassettes tucked away in a corner of the lock-up.

“Mind if I have a look through those?”

“Go for it. Fifty pence each, three for a pound.”

* * *

It’s September 15th 2009. The newswires are buzzing. Again. Patrick Swayze’s dead. And this time, he’s serious. I’ve given him his own shelf. It features everything from the really low-hanging stuff–Ghost, Dirty Dancing, Point Break–through to some stranger fruit; the moronically violent Roadhouse; a transient bid for credibility in Donnie Darko; and Red Dawn, in which Swayze leads a clique of horny hick kids defending the entire mid-west of America against Soviet invasion. Suffice to say the brat pack come out on top, but not without a good measure of assistance from Powers Boothe.

But even this is just the tip of the Swayzberg.

I want to go deeper. I want to find the defining performances. I’m talking about Next of Kin. I’m talking about Steel Dawn.

I found them both at the back of the lock-up. From the sleeves alone, I know I’ve broken new ground. Here, finally, is the bottom of his career barrel. And the backbone of a serious Sunday night Swayzefest double bill.

First up is Next of Kin. Swayze stars as Truman Gates, ‘a Chicago cop with hillbilly roots sworn to avenge the murder of his younger brother Gerald’. If ever a movie was written to play well in the cinemas of Fuckstick, Colorado, this is it. It’s only a matter of time before the whole Gates family comes to town, on two legs and four, hankering for vengeance upon the city’s pathetically incompetent Mafia (among whose number is a youthful Ben Stiller, demonstrating all his comic talents in an unerringly serious role).

Next up, Steel Dawn. Swayze plays The Peacemaker, ‘a great warrior of the future sworn to avenge the death of his friend and mentor, Cord’. So a post-apocalyptic Next of Kin. This is a film that describes itself as ‘in the tradition of Mad Max’. That’s right. Describes itself. In the absence of any kind of positive critical response, that’s the best it can manage on its own behalf. It might as well describe itself as ‘like Mad Max, only shit’. Which is exactly what it is.

And this, right here, is the business end of #VHSMovieClub. It’s about unearthing the films that time forgot. It’s about watching them on the format the fickle gods of popular entertainment intended. It’s about picking up a piece of the past and finding the pleasure in it, even if that’s only to raise a smile, and to remind you of all stuff that came along that was like other stuff, only shit.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, really shit.

* * *

It’s 7.30pm last Monday, at the ScooterCaffe in Waterloo.

About twenty people have gathered downstairs in the stylish basement bar we’ve borrowed for the night. Some of them I know, some are complete strangers. All have answered the call of the first open-invitation #VHSMovieClub.

And all are now sitting patiently, having watched me fuck around with cables for the last forty-five minutes, working my way steadily towards the end of my tether. I can’t get the VHS player to work.

Somebody’s on their way with a copy of John Carpenter’s The Thing on DVD. We’re screening The Thing because it was my cousin Max’s favourite movie. He passed away in his sleep in November, aged just twenty-nine.

The day I heard he had died, in a state of alcohol-addled shock, I became obsessed with finding a copy of Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic on VHS. Four pints, five charity shops and several hundred cassettes later, I found it. Virtually the last tape, on the last shelf, in the last of my not-for-profit last-chance saloons.

And now we can’t watch the bastard thing. Not unless I can get this VCR and that projector to start to tango in the next two minutes. Not unless... hang on. What’s that little button. Haven’t pressed that yet. It’s marked ‘Super P’.

What the fuck is ‘Super P’?

You little beauty.

* * *

Some people buy a Ferrari for their mid-life crisis. I bought a television and VHS combi.

See, I’m through with the cult of consumption. I’m not buying the economics of waste. So what if our consumer instincts are what keeps the Free World™ turning, maybe we need to learn to consume ideas, without the packaging. What calls itself new and improved is so often just new, which is all it seems to need to be to take its place in the good old circle of shelf-life. Sometimes it’s new and rubbish, and it still gets a run at the market. If we’re not careful, when my generation finally gets old – I mean proper old –we’re going to be down our local supermarket discounting ourselves and hiding out in the bargain bins, rushing to meet our own calculated obsolescence.

Not me. I’m not resigned to the inevitability of my own redundancy. Sure, I have my limitations, but I like to think I’ll stand the test of time. I might get a little more temperamental, and certainly a good deal less standards-compliant, but with my own story to tell.

I am that story. And the medium of its telling.

I am the idea, and the format.

I am #VHSMovieClub.

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