A few days before Christmas, and a café in Lockerbie. I’ve missed my train, a few hours to kill before the next one, and with the rain falling in sheets I need somewhere to hide; this will do for now.
I order a coffee and fire up the laptop, halfway amused that Wi-Fi has made it to rural Scotland. At an adjacent table an elderly couple – he wearing flat cap, she in headscarf and mackintosh – they drink their milky teas in silence as behind the counter, the staff parade their bored expressions to whatever the radio is playing. McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ (pass the sick bucket). ‘Fairytale of New York’ (which no-one needs ever to hear again, although since when have radio playlists been confused with originality?). Then, before the commercial break: ‘Keeping The Dream Alive’ by Freiheit.
“Tonight the rain is falling, full of memories of people and places. And while the past is calling, in my fantasy, I remember their faces.”
My ears prick up at this – although not because it’s in any way a decent song; the mawkish sentimentality is smeared on with a trowel, like a drunk bricklayer over-enthusiastic with the mortar. Then again, that’s what happens this time of year; all that enforced joviality, plastic bonhomie and naff festive ubiquity carries on its flipside a seam of melancholia that grows quite pronounced should you be inclined to reflection. Lost love fits the narrative; it’s why East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’ still receives airplay, despite being even more self-pitying than ‘Keeping The Dream Alive.’
Sitting in a Lockerbie café with my laptop open and an old song playing on the wireless, and I like to think that I’m way above overt sentimentality. But of course I’m not – why else has my attention become occupied by a cheesy slice of over-earnest Europop? “The hopes we had were much too high. Way out of reach but we have to try.” I haven’t heard this in years; had forgotten how ridiculously syrupy the orchestration sounds; how awkward Stefan Zauner’s vocal delivery sits (the track was an English language re-recording of what was originally called ‘So lang’ man Träume noch leben kann,’ released under the band’s German moniker Münchener Freiheit). But I do recall the time and place of this record. Christmas 1988, and the evening that Pam Am Flight 103 dropped out of the sky.
This isn’t a case of drawing lines between unconnected events; it’s chance that I’m in a town that endured tragedy whilst, almost twenty-seven years to the day, a radio plays something that was out at the time (and were I waiting somewhere else, with something different as soundtrack, I wouldn’t be musing upon such trite parallels). But here am I, with but a song and a quiet elderly couple for company, the rain cascading beyond the windows and the train not yet due, memories of being fifteen swirling uselessly…
“The game will never be over, because we’re keeping the dream alive.” And I’ve got a train to catch.