It was as if I'd stepped into a pageant of the rural past when we left the car park at Goathland. There were Morris dancers on the village green and a Ford Anglia parked outside the souvenir shop. The tea-room played second-string sixties hits. Steam trains ran on the railway line thronged by spotters and snappers.
History was repeating itself as the worst possible kind of kitsch.
Goathland is also well on its way to becoming Aidenfield, home of TV retro-fest Heartbeat, which is mainly filmed there. Every shop is full of souvenirs and the pub proclaims its dual identity as the Aidenfield Arms. Nick Berry's face stares out of tea-towels in windows like a benign Big Brother.
Why does a village deny its own identity to become a living fiction? The obvious answer here is money. There are plenty of pretty (if austere) villages in the moors like Goathland, but Aidenfield is its unique selling point. And the absence of any actual services and shops for the residents underlines the point that this is less a functioning community, more a rural tourism retail centre.
It suits Goathland to sink beneath its fictional alter ego.
So what? What does it matter if indulging ourselves in an imaginary Sixties provides a momentary distraction for middle-class tourists and a living in a hard-pressed Moors village?
Channeling my outer hard-headed economist (I've not managed to locate an inner economist, but count several among my good friends), I'd suggest the Aidenfielding of the countryside is a false solution to a viable rural society. If we're serious about jobs, about food security, about villages that work as places of local commerce and community, then we have to offer more than cream teas and Heartbeat paraphenalia, even if there's no dishonour in the tourist trade.
On a more personal note, I also find something distubing about the senility of cultural memory on display in Goathland/Aidenfield, itself a debased version of the slick sixties nostalgia peddled by Heartbeat. In Heartbeatland, we can gloss over the social conflict and politics of the period, never mind the present, and return to an imagined era when everyone knew their place. When threat, change or conflict is resolved or reconciled with the whole by the end of each episode. Where everyone is white – I saw not a single exception in my visit, and the souvenir shop sold gollywogs.
Yep. Gollywogs. There are no words...
And what does it say about us that we're seduced by this imagined village? Nostalgia has always been with us, but it needs to be offset by a vision of the future, a prospect of hope, in order for us be psycho-culturally viable and equal to the challenges of the present. I bear Goathland no ill will, but as a microcosm of the way we live now, it feels like part of the problem rather than part of the solution.