I was nine when my father brought me to his office for the first time. My stomach was in a knot as we drove up Nutley Lane. I was the luckiest boy in the world. Some kids' dads worked in paperclip warehouses or counted traffic cones for a living – mine worked in RTÉ .

My cheeks burned as I met people "from the telly" that afternoon. Professionally unsmiling newsreaders smiled at me and shook my hand. I discovered they even had legs or, in the case of towering Charles Mitchell, stilts. Snow-capped Don Cockburn wore bicycle clips as he saluted us from the shadow of the radio mast. Maurice O'Doherty's magnificent deadpan face creased into a grin as he traded affectionate insults with my father.

Then there was the Wanderly Wagon. It stole the show. We turned a corner and it practically "yahooed!!" at us, all showy bright paint, parked beside the slick glass TV building. Judge and O'Brien's caravan was taking a break from its adventures and I was allowed to touch it.

"Is Judge inside there?"

"He's probably in the canteen having his tea."

Over 30 years later I can still recall the excitement of seeing Wanderly Wagon glistening in the sun. Moments like those bind fathers and sons.

Last week, 1974's Safe Cross Code TV ad, featuring the Wanderlies, was relaunched. All together now: "One, look for a safe place. Two, don't hurry…" I was brought back to sunny summer holidays in Laytown. It never rains in your memories, nostalgia is a great umbrella.

Last week, the boy in the ad was 'outed' as Fianna Fáil TD, Chris Andrews. That's handy: when times are rough in the Dáil he can start singing and all will be forgiven in a swell of nostalgia.

On Thursday, his cousin Ryan Tubridy dipped into the past too. He told how Gay Byrne had advised him about the Late Late. The nostalgia chord was struck. Is he the new Gaybo? We were told that the original theme tune was returning, revamped. Nostalgia as a sales tool – if you forget that Gay's show was insufferable at times. Just because we associate something with our youth doesn't mean it was any good.

The same could be said of Oasis, who have announced their split. Last week I played 'Don't Look Back in Anger' in honour of my 20s. Memories of the '90s, and the Tiger party kicking off, came tumbling back. Nostalgia. Only the party is over and now we have Nama to cure our hangover.

As I moshed about in my past, another generation recalled theirs, watching Ted Kennedy's funeral. Poor Teddy. Bereaved brother, raconteur, peacemaker – he came good in the end. Nostalgia can make heroes of us all. Even if we have a dead girl in our car, or years wasted philandering.

Another American hero returned last week to re-run news reels in our heads. Ali, still handsome but almost entombed by disease, came to meet his cousins. "Float like a butterfly…" I remember crying when he lost to Leon Spinks in 1978.

Nostalgia makes gods out of heroes, despite their flaws. Ali nearly destroyed arch-enemy Joe Frazier with his cruel "Uncle Tom" taunts. He nearly broke his own wife too, when he flaunted his new girlfriend on TV in Manila while she watched at home. A hero with feet of clay. Cassius Clay.

Nostalgia is the opiate of the masses in post-boom Ireland. Instead of facing the present, we're constantly looking back. This is because the past is a Nama-free country. There are no repossessions when you live in a Wanderly Wagon or parking fines on our Safe Cross Code roads. There are no greasy politicians like John O'Donoghue, just prodigal statesmen like Teddy. There are only heroes, like Ali.

We turn to our childhood because it's preferable to being a grown-up at the moment. We want someone older and wiser to make things better. That's why so many people listened to Garret FitzGerald when he backed Nama last week. He represents an heroic age, spent battling recession and CJ Haughey. Garret is part Ali, Teddy and cuddly Wanderly Judge. Most of all, Garret is the nation's grandad. "If Garret says Nama is okay, then…"

Nostalgia makes the hero infallible. It also masks his failures. Garret made one of the greatest unforced errors in political history. He brought down his government by trying to tax children's shoes in 1981.

Nostalgia makes us forget the Messiah is human. Maybe that's a good thing, though. Maybe, by blinkering us, nostalgia helps us fulfil a human desire to start trusting again. Maybe a leap of faith with Garret is what we need – we're potentially knackered any way you look at it.

When I was 11, I was tall enough to finally see over the half door of the Wanderly Wagon. I climbed up, trembling with excitement. My dad watched my heart crash through the floor. There was no Judge, no O'Brien. There wasn't even a table and chairs. Just bare wood. Wanderly Wagon was a shell, an illusion.

Thirty years on, Safe Cross Judge is back on TV, teaching a future politician how to cross the road. Thirty years on, Fianna Fáil still has muppet advisers.

Considering the past, that's still one hard illusion to shatter.