LIBRARY PICTURES

A hidden track on his first solo album and a single that understandably failed to pick up much in the way of airplay, ‘Running the World’ by Jarvis Cocker achieved modest notoriety via its catchy chorus, which repeated the simple phrase ‘C***s are still running the world’. One could argue the lyrical sentiment of the song should qualify it as a far more apt number to be covered by a multi-artist ensemble for victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster than an obvious, irrelevant anthem like ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’. But what else can we expect when a clueless cretin like Simon Cowell, a man for whom music is merely a means to a big car and a big house, is the mastermind behind assembling so many practitioners of the vocally histrionic and emotionally sentimental under one roof?

Yes, it’s been a good year for c***s so far. One I’ve referenced in the odd past post, instigator of divorce proceedings that labelled me as an ‘adulterous unknown’ and somebody who also hired a mate from the Met to trawl through my private records without cause or permission, has proven himself king of the c***s yet again with recent actions, though that’s neither a surprise nor something I can elaborate on, unfortunately. But the Karma Police will get him in the end (woah, going backwards to the previous post for a mo there, sorry). Anyway, the wider world has its fair share of the C U Next Tuesday brigade, whether they subscribe to Radical Islam or the EDL, so why go on about it if we all know, eh?

No, I’m not here to moan or whinge or dwell on the dark side; I thought I’d let a little glimmer of hope slip through the bleakness for one post at least. The image accompanying this post was one I captured on camera earlier today, having passed it yesterday. I don’t know who is responsible, but they deserve a medal for making me feel all is not lost, for their glorious creation served as a reminder that, even if c***s are still running the world, some of those not running it are bloody marvellous.

A wooden cabinet attached to a post fixed into the grass beside the pavement, and inside the cabinet, two shelves of books. Seemingly hand-painted in exquisite florid bird motifs, the cabinet announces itself as a ‘Little Free Library’; the only other words on it are ‘Take a book’ and ‘Leave a book’. Apparently commonplace in some corners of the world – friends in Canada tell me they’ve come across them in their neck of the woods – this innovation is new to me and it made my day. Put simply, what a lovely idea.

A couple of hundred years ago, libraries were the province of the academic and the wealthy, incorporated into universities, civic buildings and country houses that excluded the common man, and not just because more often than not he couldn’t actually read. Then came the Victorians with their evangelical zeal for self-improvement in both body and mind; it may be easy and fashionable to mock them, but boy did they leave a hell of a legacy behind them. The Public Libraries Act 1850 was arguably one of the greatest pieces of legislation to come out of the nineteenth century, enabling local boroughs across Britain to establish free public libraries, opening the book of knowledge to all. Further amendments to the Act within a decade of it becoming law extended the reach of that knowledge so that a public library became one of the fixtures and fittings of every village, town and city in the UK; a settlement would appear as incomplete without one as it would without a church, a pub or a post office.

We take libraries for granted at our peril, and it’s no coincidence an army of volunteers has regularly stepped up to the job of running them without payment when the local library has been threatened with closure; and a hell of a lot have been threatened with closure in the last decade. The attitude of our so-called superiors in government is that public libraries, as with the Arts, don’t really matter unless one attended the right school or university, probably because enriching one’s intellect isn’t necessarily related to making a profit, which of course matters more than anything else. Alan Bennett compared the closure of public libraries as tantamount to child abuse; he was quite viciously criticised and condemned by philistine Ministers entrusted with the job of closing them, and while his description was possibly a tad melodramatic the sentiment behind the statement was understandable. For a child, free access to books is as important a right as free access to education.

I became a member of my first local library aged around seven, a majestic Victorian edifice with a Gothic clock-tower; and throughout my childhood, whenever my mother ventured to the ‘town street’ to shop when I was at school, she’d pop into the library and pick something up for me she reckoned I’d like. When I was in my teens, this library was one I visited alone, selecting books from the shelf that reflected my changing tastes. Ironically, this was actually the very same library that had been Alan Bennett’s local one when he was growing up, one he returned to in a recent biography on BBC2. I haven’t been there myself now for the best part of 25 years or more (it’s no longer my local), but I’m pleased it’s still there and hopefully providing the next generation of readers with their introductions to the magic of the written word and its occasional illustrations.

Even with the revolutionary arrival of Penguin and their sixpence paperbacks in the 1930s, the price of books has always been beyond the reach of many, meaning public libraries remained the main route to reading for great swathes of the population. But, of course, they also existed for pensioners to go somewhere warm and scan the daily papers on cold winter mornings; more recent decades have seen them expand their portfolio to incorporate records, CDs and DVDs as well as housing photocopiers, printers and the internet – all of which can provide an invaluable service for so many that to write them off as expensive luxuries unworthy of investment or maintenance is to raise earthly bread over heavenly bread.

That one unknown individual or group of individuals took it upon themselves to plant their own miniature library alongside the pavement, offering a wonderful alternative to the dog turds, dried sick and broken glass lining that pavement, is such an inspired and touching gesture that it’s almost enough to restore one’s tried and tested faith in humanity. And that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

© The Editor

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BACK TO THE TEACHER

Okay, so it’s been a bloody grim week so far, and as a means of combating the worst elements of the twenty-first century, I’ve been retreating into the selective embrace of the past in the shape of programmes for schools and colleges produced in the 1970s. Thanks to YouTube, over the last 48 hours I’ve sat through 40-odd year-old editions of ‘Look and Read’, ‘Words and Pictures’, ‘How We Used to Live’ et al. If I dip into my desk drawer and pull out a copy of the Radio Times from the same era (the copy in question dated 31 August-6 September 1974), the centre pages provide the most striking contrast between television then and television now, for they contain a four-page guide to that autumn’s educational schedule across BBC TV and radio.

And the variety on offer in this schedule is all the more eye-opening because these series are all primarily aimed at adults; there isn’t even room for cataloguing the myriad of programmes produced for schools during this period. Got kids? Watch ‘Parents and Children’ on BBC1; like football? Listen to ‘Behind the Goals’ on Radio 3; just qualified as a social-worker? Watch ‘Developments in Social Work’ on BBC2; interested in ‘news-making, decision-making and forms of loyalty’? Watch ‘Focus’ on BBC1 – and that’s not the flute-based, yodelling Dutch prog-rock band, despite ‘House of the King’ being used as the theme tune to numerous educational programmes in the 1970s.

You can learn to speak German, Spanish, Russian and Welsh, learn to become a mountaineer, rugby player and gardener, learn how to understand economics, the National Health and local government, not to mention ‘systematic thinking in action’! Arts, sciences, languages, the community, home and leisure, work and industry, teaching – all fall under the umbrella of public service broadcasting in 1974. Despite his reservations over the one-eyed monster, no doubt Lord Reith would have been proud his original remit remained relatively intact.

Today, what used to be viewed as television down-time is filled during the day with cheap and cheerful antiques/cookery/house-buying and selling/quiz show formulas and late at night with rolling news, interactive game shows and repeats of daytime fodder with a man in the corner of the screen aptly gesticulating his way through ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’. In retrospect, it’s amazing how a TV landscape that switched-off around midnight seemed to cram more into its limited broadcasting hours than one that never sleeps. The adult education programmes described above could usually be found hidden away last thing at night or presented together in a large chunk on a Sunday morning, sandwiched between a religious service and farming news; space in the listings may have been at a precious premium, but the schedulers always found a space to educate and inform as well as entertain.

Then of course, there were the twilight hours that were occupied by hirsute men in spectacles with little or no evident experience in front of a camera – the Open University. Who could forget that eerie, unnerving jingle jolting the armchair snoozer back to life far more effectively than a car alarm would do today? And who could forget programmes for schools and colleges? For anyone who was of school age in the 60s, 70s or 80s, they were amongst the few breathers from the classroom tedium on offer. What a ritual that was, being ushered into the library and watching the teacher wheel-in a huge telly, waiting for what felt like an aeon for the machine to warm-up, and then being greeted by some unsettling Radiophonic Workshop ditty accompanying a pulsating diamond or a circle of disappearing dots before the actual programme began.

It’s worth bearing in mind just how many hours were given over to schools broadcasts as well. An average BBC1 week during term-time would begin around 9.38am and would sign-off not long after midday; following a dinner-break for the test card, the news, ‘Pebble Mill at One’ and ‘Watch with Mother’, schools TV would open its gates again for another hour or so at the precise time of 2.2pm. That’s not even including BBC schools broadcasts on the radio, when the VHF wavelength on Radio 4 would be used exclusively for them between 10.00 in the morning and 3.00 in the afternoon.

We should also remember that ITV – yes! ITV! – played its part in the television education of the nation’s children as well. Even though commercial considerations freed them from a less rigid public service commitment than the Beeb, their weekday schedule ran from 9.30-12.00 and produced some of the most memorable schools programmes of them all. There was even an advertising armistice during these transmissions.

Calculate just how much of pre-24 hour TV on both sides of the British broadcasting divide was given over to educational programming and it’d be pretty impressive. It’s indisputable that many were cheaply-made on shoestring budgets, especially the Open University broadcasts; and some were uniquely dull in a manner that elevated visual boredom to a level that now seems quite radical, on a par with the worst Warhol movies or a contemporary art installation But I’d still be more bored sitting through an edition of ‘This Morning’ than an episode of Granada’s austere schools science show, ‘Experiment’.

Noble ventures are not something one would now really associate with British television. Most 21st century TV execs would probably regard ‘Comic Relief’ or ‘Children in Need’ as such, and in their own way, they are. But annual or bi-annual telethons, when the normal schedule is set aside for one night only to accommodate a good deed, are different to the noble venture that was educational television. It was a product of a period in which the people who ran television regarded it as a tool of communication that amounted to more than a ratings-chasing commercial cash-cow or a daytime sedative. Much like the internet is today, TV then was viewed as a multi-purpose medium capable of all that life can afford.

So, where did it go? Firstly, the advent of the VCR hailed the death-knell of schools programming in its traditional slot; secondly, in the mid-80s BBC TV schools programmes were shunted over to BBC2 in preparation for the launch of daytime BBC1 and the arrival of cosy sofa chinwags about child abuse and the menstrual cycle. Not long after, ITV transferred their schools schedule to Channel 4 in order that Richard and Judy could do likewise, paving the way for menopausal gobshites and underclass-baiting bullies. It is ironic that a slot once reserved for mind-expansion is now reserved for the gradual erosion of the brain cells, and after-dark telly today is no less retarded. It does seem a shame that the increase in broadcasting hours doesn’t seem capable of embracing the same breadth of broadcasting available when less was more.

© The Editor

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LAUGH? I NEARLY PAID MY LICENCE FEE

Anyone ancient enough may find the title of this post evokes misty memories of a half-remembered comedy series from a good 35 years ago; the truth is I nicked the title from the programme, though the title sticks in the head more than the content. From what I can remember, the satirical sketch show in question starred Robbie Coltrane before he became a ‘serious actor’, and followed a similar path to a predecessor called ‘A Kick up The 80s’, which had given an early break to Tracey Ullman. These BBC2 shows from the first half of the 80s essentially revamped the format of mid-60s TW3 sequels like ‘Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life’ and ‘BBC-3’, produced at a time when Alternative Comedy had gatecrashed the Light Entertainment fortress. TV welcomed it with open arms and an open mind.

If you perused yesterday’s post, you may have also viewed the video tagged onto it, which was my ‘satirical take’ on the upcoming General Election, using the well-oiled vehicle of the party political broadcast. Some of the comments that accompanied the video on YouTube repeated a complimentary phrase I’ve received on previous occasions, one I mention not to boost my ego, but because it has a relevance to this particular post – ‘You should be on the telly.’

The telly’s comedy schedule the day I posted this video on YT consisted of Keith Lemon and Paddy McGuinness on ITV, whereas BBC1 offered Michael McIntyre and Mrs Brown. Of course, comedy is subjective; what causes one person to soil their Y-fronts causes another to reach for the remote, but the view I personally have of these comedic offerings from the mainstream is that they are today’s equivalent of the Bernard Manning/Jim Davidson/Frank Carson working-men’s club school that Alternative Comedy reacted against at the turn of the 80s. If ‘comedy on the telly’ is what ITV and the BBC were serving up on Saturday evening, and that’s the company I’m supposed to crave, I’d rather not bother.

It’s hard enough trying to get a book published, so I’m certainly not prepared to promote what I consider to be a sideline by bombarding TV producers and then having to be funnelled through focus groups and committees; neither am I prepared to go to the Edinburgh Festival and spend a fortune playing to three or four people in a tiny theatre. The comedy circuit in terms of live performance remains a provider of new faces for television, but those who make up the numbers on endless panel shows are the Ed Sheeran’s of comedy; their ultimate aim is to play arenas, and it’s evident in their routines. For Irishmen and mothers-in-law as subject matters, substitute ‘My girlfriend/boyfriend said to me the other day…’ It’s what Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer referred to as comedy for parties of office workers – comedy intended to make the audience echo George Osborne’s belief that we’re all in it together.

This is the kind of comedy TV commissioners want. Nobody in their position today would commission something as alien to the ‘communal comedy’ mindset as ‘Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out’, let alone Spike Milligan’s ‘Q’, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ or even later ventures into the surreal such as ‘The League of Gentlemen’. Every generation once had its comedy series, though just as the music scene seems to have abandoned its old practice of ripping it up and starting again, the expectation that each decade would produce one defining comedy series no longer applies. And the reason appears to be that television has lost its bottle. Even when it tries to do something moderately daring, such as the ‘Real Wives of ISIS’ sketch that appeared on the BBC’s ‘Revolting’ earlier this year, the conservatism of an audience raised on the lame comedy of the last ten years produces a hostile reaction that causes commissioners to stick to playing it safe. The fact that an established home for unconventional comedy such as BBC3 is now solely online speaks volumes.

Yet this situation has only really arisen in the past decade or so. As recent as 2002 and 2005, BBC2 produced ‘Look Around You’, the brilliant parody of firstly 70s schools programmes and then early 80s ‘Tomorrow’s World’ from Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper. I can’t remember the last time I saw either on mainstream TV; but they’re active online. Another occasional compliment I’ve received in the comments section on YT has been ‘Are you Peter Serafinowicz?’ – which is incredibly flattering, but perhaps reflects the fact he and I are operating in a similar area, the area being not merely making videos cut from the same cloth of humour, but the fact we’re online and not on TV.

Yes, there are undoubtedly many amateurish and pretty unfunny attempts at comedy on YT as there probably are on the telly, if not more; but at the same time, there are some very talented comic performers whose work is only available online; you rarely, if ever, see them on the goggle box.

Steve Riks is an impressionist who specialises in impersonating rock stars and putting them in unlikely situations; one of the most recent videos of his I watched was a short sketch in which Jeff Lynne rings up both Roy Wood and Noddy Holder, neither of whom want to speak to him. It was funny and simultaneously supremely silly, and Riks played all three parts. He’s also a dab hand at John, Paul, George and Ringo; but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on TV and I don’t really expect to. How would he even pitch a premise like that to a TV commissioner looking for the next Michael McIntyre? The days when Galton & Simpson would be offered 13 weeks in a prime-time slot to write whatever they wanted are long gone.

Opinionated news reporter Jonathan Pie, who launches into a rant on politics when he imagines the camera has been switched-off, is another comedian whose work is only known to me via YouTube. The Russia Today/RT logo always appears on his videos, so his shorts may well be broadcast on the channel; but it’s not exactly the mainstream, is it? As with music, I no longer believe television is the definitive showcase for comedy today; by relying on the tired modern-day music hall-in-its-death throes vacuum of the comedy club, TV commissioners are looking in the wrong place.

© The Editor

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THE LONG WEEKEND

In terms of exploiting the inherent avarice of children and subjecting the nation to a relentless retail bombardment, Easter has always been the poor relation of Christmas – the high-street boutique to Yuletide’s designer catwalk. Every child receives the same present at Easter, with the only difference being the brand of egg; unlike Christmas and its great divide between the have’s and have-not’s, every child is therefore uniquely equal, as though Easter had been hatched by a Soviet committee. Festivities span a handful of days and then it’s as you were again. If only December’s month-long consumerist tsunami could be over and done with as quickly. Easter is short, sweet and largely unobtrusive. In essence, the perfect break from the norm.

Although there must have been wet ones, childhood memories of Easter are inevitably soaked in sunshine. Sometimes, this meant the dreaded car journey to a caravan park or camp site, with the latter location very much dependent on the unreliable British climate as to whether or not the holiday was remembered for healthy outdoor activities or indoor boredom, re-reading the same issue of ‘Shiver and Shake’ over and over again whilst parents played cards. The height of spring that Easter represented would also usher in the summer sports like cricket, and the football season was winding down with the imminent Cup Final (as the FA Cup Final simply used to be referred to then) bringing the curtain down on the beautiful game until August.

In contrast to Christmas, TV schedules weren’t unduly drenched in seasonal-themed fare. Yes, there’d be the traditional morning repeats of children’s classics on BBC1, and there would tend to be a ‘Jesus movie’ airing at some point whilst news bulletins would be cut short to accommodate Billy Smart’s Circus; but there was no real genre of ‘Easter specials’ when it came to regular programmes. Sure, there’d be the obligatory ‘Disney Time’, a clips programme linked by a famous name of the day, back when you had to go to the cinema to see a Disney animated classic because they were never screened on the telly; but mostly, TV carried on as usual and there wouldn’t be the kind of disruption that comes with Christmas.

The religious elements of Easter were naturally present, but as my upbringing outside of school was essentially secular, it didn’t impinge much on me beyond the aforementioned ‘Jesus movies’ or the portrait of Christ on the front cover of the Radio Times. As was often the case as a kid, whether illness, a General Election or a religious festival, any time off school was welcome, whatever the reason.

At this moment in time, people are taking a break whilst the media is doing its best to convince them there might not be many more to come. Fresh tensions between the US and North Korea, not to mention the ongoing crisis in Syria and all its terrorist-related offshoots that have recently been remodelled so that any four-wheeled vehicle can now be viewed in the same light as a bomb or machine-gun, could lead some to believe the end of the world is nigh. Yes, there have been better times, though there have been many worse.

When one thinks of, say, the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s indisputable that the original Cold War certainly posed more of a threat than the current frosty face-off between Russia and the West; the mushroom-shaped shadow of ‘The Bomb’ may never have gone away (and it probably won’t when in the hands of Kim Jong Un), but the fear of nuclear war that hung over my 80s adolescence doesn’t seem to exert the same kind of ever-present paranoia in this century. It’s hard to imagine a government department producing those eerie ‘Protect and Survive’ public information films now; or maybe the powers-that-be simply want us to believe things can only get better.

Each generation that comes of age absorbs the stream of information from media sources (one that is now more abundant than ever before) and naturally comes to the conclusion they are living through dark days; you don’t notice so much as a kid because you think the news is ‘boring’ and parents often shield their offspring from the darkest events that defy an easy explanation – I remember the 1972 Munich Olympics, for example, but only for Olga Korbut and Mary Peters; I was unaware of the Israeli hostages and the whole Black September tragedy until years later; my parents obviously kept me away from all that when it was happening.

Therefore, once you do start to take notice as a teenager or young adult, the world suddenly seems a very scary place indeed. However, if you’ve lived through your fair share of crises on the world stage, you don’t necessarily become blasé, though you do tend to cultivate a more measured response to the latest one. The glut of millennial posts on social media at the end of last year that claimed 2016 to be the worst twelve months ever was received with a pinch of salt by anyone over 35, though from the perspective of an eighteen-year-old, the conclusion ‘Generation Snowflake’ came to was probably accurate. As a member of Spinal Tap once presciently put it, ‘Too mach fakkin’ perspective.’

Anyway, like you (possibly), I’m taking a couple of days off – though I’m not heading for a fall-out shelter; I don’t anticipate an upsurge of views on here for this long weekend, not because none of us will be around come next Tuesday, but because it’s bloody Easter! Enjoy your egg.

© The Editor

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WHO CARES?

The stats came as no surprise to me. Over 338,000 adult care-workers quit their jobs in 2015-16, which translates as roughly 900 people resigning a day – and of those 900, 60% left the sector altogether; the industry has a staff turnover of 27%, which is almost twice the average of other professions; an adult care-worker earns an average of £14,800 a year, whereas the average UK wage is £27,600. Adult care-work is arguably one of the hardest and most stressful professions in the country, yet is also one of the poorest-paid. It’s no wonder there are perhaps more vacancies in it than any other industry, with one in every 20 care-worker posts unfilled.

The main focus of these new statistics re the media has been on elderly care, yet the care sector for what used to be called the mentally handicapped is in an arguably bigger crisis; it often seems this is the forgotten branch of the social care industry, yet its service users (the official name for residents/inmates of such homes) are in need of care virtually all their lives, not just when they qualify for a bus-pass. The ‘decommissioning’ of the old asylums that had such an unsavoury reputation was supposed to usher in a new, more enlightened age of care for these individuals, but some might argue the situation is worse now than back in the era so graphically portrayed in the unforgettable early 80s drama starring Ian McKellern, ‘Walter’.

A close friend with a CV of past care-work recently returned to full-time work after a child-rearing decade away from the job market; she decided it made sense to use her experience in the mental health care sector and applied for one of the plentiful positions available in it. She figured she’d maybe stick it out for a year or so; she lasted three weeks before realising she couldn’t take anymore. And, believe me, she is not someone who walks away from anything at the drop of a hat. If the system could leave her so dispirited and dejected that she was only able to last three weeks in it, the system could do the same to anybody with a heart.

She quickly realised her past experience in the sector, which she imagined would stand her in good stead when it came to the more difficult aspects of the job, was little use in the box-ticking culture that had colonised the industry since she was last part of it. Unlike virtually every other profession, the pay had actually dropped during her extended stint out of the loop, though she was prepared to overlook this as long as she could apply her know-how. Some hope. Firstly, she had to wait over two months to actually start the job after getting it in order for the Met to clear her CRB/DBS check, an unnecessary delay that hardly boded well. Who in need of work would contemplate taking a job in an industry where one has to wait so long before beginning it, especially when one of the country’s most untrustworthy institutions has the final say?

Anyway, once there she discovered the rigid rules and regulations regarding the inmates completely overrode common sense and precluded any notion of kindness and decency shown towards them. Cups of tea, breakfast and dinner (which sounded particularly disgusting) all had to be served at a strict set time, even if being denied a cuppa a mere ten minutes before the officially designated hour for one could inspire a distressed outburst from an inmate; these outbursts could involve self-harm or harm to others, leaving several members of staff to physically restrain them when a kind cuppa would have prevented any disruption altogether. Responding to the service users should they require help at an ‘inconvenient moment’ was discouraged; any member of staff bending this rule would be severely admonished as a consequence.

There were virtually no organised activities to occupy the service users; sticking the telly on whilst they vegetated in their chairs was deemed sufficient stimulation. Whilst some of the inmates were allowed to go shopping some days a week with a staff member, the budget for this excursion would often amount to a measly £1. What the hell can anyone purchase with a quid in 2017? My friend accompanied an inmate on one such outing and added a mere 50p to the budget in order that he could buy a newspaper; she was reprimanded for this gesture. On another occasion, the same service user was given a generous rise in spending money of an entire pound, but the pens he spent his £2 were ones he couldn’t immediately use upon his return; when asking for paper, he was told he should have bought some whilst shopping. The poor guy doesn’t ask for much and the mean bastards wouldn’t even comply with such a modest request as that. And that’s ‘care’ for you.

The members of staff were 95% immigrant workers with a poor grasp of English and a quite mercenary attitude to the profession, working ridiculously long hours for a few months before buggering off back home. How can a high standard of care be achieved when the sector only attracts here today/gone tomorrow employees, whose disinterest in (and thinly-veiled contempt for) inmates merely exacerbates those unfortunate individuals’ insecurities? Their ineptitude was also remarkable. One service user hadn’t been able to have a simple shower for several weeks and had to endure an undignified body wash because the shower unit apparently wasn’t working; my friend looked at it, flicked a switch and the shower was magically in operation again. Underlining the foreign employees’ absence of practical abilities didn’t exactly make her popular with that clique, which also included the manager of the home.

My friend left work every day depressed and browbeaten by what she was seeing, with her anger at being incapable of changing such a heartless system staying in her exhausted head for the rest of the day. It’s to her credit she hung on as long as she did because she felt warm towards many of the inmates and experienced immense guilt at the thought of leaving them; once gone, she was even prepared to visit a couple and take them out shopping on a weekly basis. But this would never be allowed. She walked out after three weeks, but admitted she could just as easily have walked out after three days.

The Government claims it will be investing £2bn in social care, though throwing money at it won’t alter a culture that is so engrained in homes such as the one my friend worked at that a genuinely radical approach is the only way forward. If money is to be spent wisely, it needs to be used to give the system the comprehensive overhaul it so desperately requires; but, of course, it won’t be. There’ll be no ‘Tsar’ for care-work.

© The Editor

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CARRY ON UPGRADING

The success of the advertising industry in persuading people to buy what they don’t need has been crucial to the accumulation of household ‘stuff’ over the past century. How many toasted sandwich makers were unveiled in the 80s, providing a string of snacks for all the family for about a week until the inevitable banishment to the cupboard under the sink, whereupon the seven-day wonder was condemned to be a greasy legacy of the same decade that gave us the Sinclair C5 and the CD mini-disc? Every home has a similar story to tell, and one suspects the number of items that fall into the toasted sandwich maker landfill site has increased the more that newfangled gadgets have their imminent obsolescence built into them.

At the moment, my washing machine is on its last legs; the delay in writing and publishing this post was due to my emergency intervention as water began gushing all over the kitchen floor. It’s been leaking for months now, but this was my domestic equivalent of the Red Sea returning to drown Moses’ pursuers. The machine is now officially off-limits, as I can’t risk using it again for fear of flooding the downstairs flat. The problem for me, as I live on the top floor of a house, is getting the old machine out and getting a new one in (and installed). At the moment, that bloody washing machine to me is the car that Basil Fawlty attacked with a branch.

Mind you, the washing machine has served me well. I bought it around 2003/4, so to have got a good 13-14 years out of it is pretty good going these days. No longer are such household appliances ‘built to last’, as the old expression went. Our television set was rented throughout my childhood, and not until adolescence did our home acquire a telly of its own – and with a remote control as well! That set was purchased around 1981 and I had it passed down to me when I left home; it didn’t finally conk-out until about 2001. How many TV sets manufactured today could boast such longevity? Very few, I would imagine. Since ‘old faithful’ gave up the ghost, I reckon I’ve probably been through maybe four or five different tellies, though compared to some I think I’ve been quite frugal.

The once-luxury items that constituted a dream home, things such as a washing machine, a fridge/freezer, a TV set, a gas cooker, a stereo ‘music unit’ – predating later must-haves like a microwave, a VCR, a CD player and a DVD player – were highly expensive and often bought via a system of Hire Purchase, paid off over a period of months or even years. With this in mind, the need for them to be durable was essential; an article at least had to be in working order during the period it was being paid for. Other items such as a vacuum cleaner or an iron were more within the household budget, but these too were made of strong stuff. My mother used the same Hoover and the same iron she’d had during my childhood well into the 80s for the simple reason that they were still doing the job they’d been designed for in the 60s.

Outside of the home, cars too were once designed with a long life in mind. Putting aside the company vehicle that came with a career, the family car was also a pricey machine in which both money and optimism were invested, its proud owner confident it would put in several loyal years of service, almost viewing it as an employee. Their confidence was well-founded. It seemed that half of the cars on the road in the 1970s had been built in previous decades, something that’s difficult to envisage now. Yes, those old motors faced a severe test when the initial absence of a speed limit on the new motorways led to overheated engines for vehicles not designed for Grand Prix conditions; but most were patched-up and sent back on the road with a clean bill of health; and some spanned the entire driving lifetime of their owners.

Again, not a scenario today’s motorist could really relate to. If cars today were so superior to their predecessors, mechanics would be a dying breed and the production line for new models would move at a snails’ pace; but there’s more to it than shoddy, corner-cutting manufacturing.

There have always been those for whom any possession has been a simple, straightforward status symbol for either keeping up with or getting one over the Jones’s; but these were once in the minority; most had to make do with what they could afford and required those items to last as long as possible. Back in the days of valves and the cathode ray tube, a TV set was prone to going wrong, but these design faults facilitated the career of what is now a virtually defunct profession, the TV repair man. If a TV set goes wrong today, the owner replaces it; sets are so cheap now in comparison to forty years ago that there’s no real need for a faulty one to be fixed. The concept that they were once so expensive that the majority of viewers rented them from specialist shops is inconceivable to a generation accustomed to HD TV ‘walls’ in their living rooms.

Upgrading has become both an unnecessary fad and an unavoidable necessity. Some upgrade because it’s ‘the done thing’ and they have to be seen to have the latest model; others upgrade because the mobile or laptop or DVD player they only bought a couple of years before has already ceased to function. Upgrading is thrust upon us by the manufacturers; it’s not a customer choice. The widespread practice of buying goods via credit cards has altered the relationship between consumer and manufacturer so that even if the consumer doesn’t have the ready cash to upgrade, they can still do so at the same time as the person who does have the ready cash. This relatively recent development has probably enabled manufacturers to get away with churning out items at a faster pace and with a shorter lifespan than ever before; they know they can, so they do.

Oh, well. A silly lightweight post on another day of another bombing and so on and so on. It doesn’t hurt to have a day off from it. And on the subject of old tellies…

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.co.uk/shop/buch/48495#beschreibung

DAYS OF FUTURE/PAST

2000ad40 years ago this week, any little boys whose sole highlight of being dragged to the shops by their mother was to scan the shelves in the newsagents and see which comic caught the eye were greeted by a new arrival. Although I enjoyed the ‘funnies’ produced by both DC Thompson and IPC, my preferred choice was usually the superhero weeklies that emanated from Marvel’s UK division – monochrome reprints of the company’s US classics, albeit with strikingly colourful cover illustrations accompanying a mouth-watering range of titles. No home-grown comic could compete with the Marvel Universe when it came to imaginary escapism – until February 1977, that is, when a new IPC publication created its own universe of spectacular heroes and villains, one set in a distant future that wouldn’t be the present for another 23 years.

There had never been a British comic quite like ‘2000AD’. The nearest to date had been ‘Action’, a title that had hit the headlines a year or so previously due to its excessive violence; in a pre-‘Video Nasty’ era, when children’s reading material was regularly held up as the inspiration for delinquency and vandalism, ‘Action’ was met with such widespread adult condemnation that IPC were forced to cancel the comic for several months until resurrecting it in a diluted fashion; it didn’t last long after that.

However, many of the artists and writers who had their fingers burned on ‘Action’ reunited at the beginning of 1977, having come up with the canny ruse of replicating the excitement of ‘Action’ in a futuristic context, figuring no grown-up would notice if the same rhetoric was cloaked in the unreality of a sci-fi landscape. Ironically, appearing on the newsstands just a couple of months after Bill Grundy’s summit meeting with The Sex Pistols, ‘2000AD’ may have been looking far ahead, but it was very much a product of its times.

The front cover of issue No.1 was partially obscured by the obligatory free gift (a futuristic Frisbee taped to it), but concessions to past, present and future were present: one was a new-look Dan Dare, the comic hero of my father’s childhood; another was M.A.C.H. 1, a bionic hero shamelessly ripping off ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’; and hidden behind the free gift was Tharg, the alien editor of the comic. I had no idea this intriguing newcomer was arriving; it seemed to drop from the stars out of nowhere. I managed to persuade my mum to part with the princely sum of 8p and I was transported to another planet.

Along with the two strips already mentioned, there was the gory ‘Flesh’, in which a future food shortage saw time-travel utilised to farm dinosaurs for human consumption; there was ‘Harlem Heroes’, following the fortunes of a team playing a violent sport clearly based on the movie, ‘Rollerball’; and there was also ‘Invasion’, set two years before the date of the comic’s title and dealing with a Soviet-style nation invading the UK; I remember one panel in particular showing an aged Prince Charles (complete with moustache) fleeing the country and addressed as Your Majesty. The writers obviously couldn’t envisage a Queen poised to celebrate her Silver Jubilee would still be on the throne at the end of the twentieth century, let alone into the twenty-first.

The character associated with ‘2000AD’ more than any other didn’t appear until the second issue, and this was when the comic really set itself apart from the competition. Judge Dredd may have taken his name from a comedy British reggae act (albeit spelt differently), but he was unlike any other UK comic hero there’d ever been. He was cop, judge, jury and executioner embodied in a sadistic hybrid of Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson’s character from ‘Death Wish’, fighting crime in the dystopian American metropolis of Mega City One.

With an unseen face permanently shielded by the distinctive helmet that was crucial to the uniform of this militaristic cop, Dredd was a classic anti-hero that was new to British readers. As with the other strips in the comic, the artwork was superb, the nearest Brits had come to the great Marvel artists, manufacturing a nightmarish vision of what was to come that nevertheless reflected contemporary concerns about the western world’s urban jungles.

‘2000AD’ appeared just a few months before ‘Star Wars’ hit UK cinema screens, but even though it capitalised on the sci-fi craze of the late 70s, the content of the comic owed more to the adult sci-fi movies of the early 70s in that it was less concerned with far-off worlds and more focused on the world we already knew, maximising present day fears and turning them up to eleven. By the beginning of the 80s, its influence stretched way beyond these shores, attracting attention across the pond. Marvel and DC, beginning to look a little jaded by comparison, started poaching the talented team of writers and artists working on ‘2000AD’ and hired them to revitalise their own universes.

The likes of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman received early breaks on ‘2000AD’, but rather than simply succumbing to the easy dollar of the superhero comic, they served to transform the medium by helping create the graphic novel. This new grown-up incarnation of the comic book had its roots in the early pioneering days of ‘2000AD’; in fact, the sprawling 1978 Judge Dredd epic, ‘The Cursed Earth’ (originally spanning 25 issues), laid the foundations for the modern graphic novel in its ambitious narrative scale. British comics would never be the same again.

‘2000AD’ marked a turning point in this country, whereby comics ceased to be aimed solely at a prepubescent readership and began to be appreciated as an art-form appealing to all ages. However, one could argue a major casualty of this change has been the prepubescent readership itself; just compare the dazzling variety of graphic novels on sale in bookshops to the paucity of children’s comics available at your local newsagent. The graphic novel is where the money’s at for aspiring comic artists and writers; the rich British tradition of the essential, not to say affordable, weekly is essentially over. Perhaps ‘2000AD’ was its last hurrah, both rejuvenating and killing it. In some respects, the publication’s now rather anachronistic title seemed to predict an end rather than a beginning.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.co.uk/shop/buch/48495#beschreibung