It's strange how something from the past can take you completely unawares, unleashing a depth of feeling you wouldn't have believed possible. The death of Helen Madden, known to a generation of children simply as 'Miss Helen' from UTV's Romper Room, has prompted an outpouring of affection and memories.
Many in their 50s and 60s were instantly transported back nearly half a century to lost living rooms where it's always early afternoon and a black and white television set is flickering in the corner. Where they're just in from school and sitting on the floor, watching rapt as Miss Helen goes through the familiar format.
She was like a cross between a favourite primary school teacher and your mum in an exceptionally good mood. She was a bit posh too, but that never really mattered because gathered round about her would be a gaggle of children - the envied few who made it onto the show - and most of them talked just like you.
In those days Northern Ireland was a grotesquely abnormal place for children to grow up in, but Romper Room offered idyllic escape from that. When one little boy famously wanted to sing The Men Behind The Wire, Miss Helen seamlessly steered him towards Mary Had a Little Lamb instead.
Anyone unfamiliar with Romper Room and relying on the few clips on YouTube would likely think it all rather basic stuff - a story, a song about being a good little Do-Bee and a prop called a magic mirror through which Miss Helen could see her young audience at home, calling hello to some of them by name.
They might even scoff: "Don't be ridiculous! It's obvious she couldn't see anybody apart from the grizzly cameraman!"
But the children believed she could. That was the magic.
In market town semis, on hillside farms, in Malone mansions and terraced houses they waited eagerly and hopefully for Miss Helen to look through her magic mirror at them: Simon, Emer, Paul, Sean, Joanne, David ...
And when they heard their name sound out from the television, they were entranced. Their connection with Miss Helen was a thing of wonder, and one that will endure beyond her sad passing.
There's a phrase that's popular now: "I see you". People often use it on social media to signify a specific understanding of someone's position, opinion, sensibility. To let you know they have noticed you. That you matter.
When Miss Helen said your name on TV all those years ago, that's exactly what she was doing too. She was seeing you in your home in Sion Mills, Newry, Richhill, Downpatrick, Magherafelt, Belfast. You were very small, just four or five years old, but in an instant your existence had been confirmed.
Crucially, Miss Helen never saw your parents, even if they were sitting beside you. She only saw you. And now you were a person in your own right though you probably weren't quite old enough to define it as such.
It's a kind of contract of the heart and it's one that Helen Madden honoured for the rest of her life. Whenever she was asked about those Do-Bee days, she never belittled, dismissed or joked about them. She never expressed a desire to put it all behind her, to be known as someone else.
Even though she did reinvent herself, moving on to substantial other achievements as an actor and writer and becoming a humanist celebrant, she always kept the faith with her Romper Room audience. She knew that for a generation she was Miss Helen forever.
Romper Room was probably the only children's TV show of the era with Northern Irish accents, which only added to its allure.
But there were other series which also wield a particular pull across the decades too. Why else would men not far off pension age, every time they pass a fire station, still mumble the Trumpton mantra "Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub"?
For me, it's Rainbow. It's not just the theme tune that sounds in my head, it's the outworking of those characters that has remained with me. They are universal psychological profiles. In any work meeting you could glance round the table and spot a Zippy, Bungle, George or Geoffrey.
And who hasn't watched the Twelfth go by, with all those bowler hats, and not thought even fleetingly of Mr Benn? Though he didn't go just to the field every year, but visited a fancy dress shop, changed into a costume and slipped out the back door into endless exotic adventures.
My all-time favourite is Bagpuss, "the most beautiful, the most magical, saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world". He lived in a shop where nothing was for sale. Its stock was things that people had lost and a little girl called Emily had found. You could put our childhoods in its old-fashioned window now, but like everything else in there you couldn't put a price on them.
And that's the rub. Life, if you're fortunate, happens. Along the way you meet with good and bad. You experience, as the poet says, triumph and disaster. Fortune shines and luck runs out. There is joy and grief.
But through it all there are the friends who never change or let you down. Who, unlike some of their successors, weren't jailed for assaulting under-age girls or beyond the grave unmasked as a monster who used their celebrity to abuse their young prey.
Instead, they remain now as if preserved in amber. Barney McGrew, Bagpuss, Mr Benn, Zippy ... As unchanging as the test card that used to fill the screen when they ran out of children's programmes. A constant touchstone of a simpler time when you were just discovering what it felt like to be alive and your story was largely untold. When you felt safe, happy, noticed.
This week we looked back the other way through the magic mirror. We see you Miss Helen. We see you.