THE WEIGHT OF THE STATE

If I were to summon up a David and Goliath analogy, not only would it point us in the direction of Cliché Crescent in record time, but it would also pamper the ego of the giant in question, making it out to be an admirable Superman, when in reality it’s Goofy dressed as a traffic warden – an inept Little Hitler revelling in the power to ruin lives. It’s the sheer Leviathan-like size of the system that makes it so overwhelming and intimidating to the individual rather than the dense dummies it employs, and its appetite for destruction needs no introduction.

Long-term readers will recall the sad saga of a child I called X, a child who is (to use a discredited, non-touchy/feely term) severely mentally handicapped. Having devoted a decade of her life to raising a child with needs so special that perhaps only a lion-tamer would require a similar level of training to cope with the child’s regularly violent behaviour, her mother handed her over to the care of the local authority almost a year ago. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds, for the local authority (who can only boast a solitary specialist care unit in the entire county it covers) wasn’t exactly willing and eager to help. It took various desperate measures for it to finally accept X, though this was done via what is known as a Section 20 care order; the local authority keeps X under its roof, but that arrangement doesn’t remove parental rights from her mother whilst it acts as surrogate parent – although the woman who oversees the care unit is referred to as a ‘corporate parent’, if you can believe that.

With the heavy daily demands of X no longer dominating her mother’s schedule, her mother slowly began to piece together a life for herself after ten years out of the social loop. X’s antisocial nature left her mother’s ordinary interaction with other people severely limited, but now her mother could receive visitors at home without fear of a screaming naked child running around and lashing out with her fists or defecating on the floor; she could also return to the workplace. She kept in touch with X through thrice-weekly visits to the care unit and would then take her out for several hours before dropping her off again. Contact was therefore maintained and her mother kept a close watch on the care X was receiving.

Unfortunately, the competence of this care rarely rose above a barely adequate level and regularly slid into outright negligence. Self-harming on X’s part was once witnessed by her mother when turning up early to collect her from the unit one day; unaware her mother was peering through the window, the fat staff were content to sit and sip their cuppas as X repeatedly punched herself in the head. Self-inflicted bites and bruises were, on one occasion, compounded by carpet burns on the child’s back that could only have been inflicted by a member of staff dragging her along the floor; there were also several other occasions in which a fellow resident/inmate was able to hit X hard when said child was supposed to have at least one member of staff shadowing him at all times.

A catalogue of such incidents, when coupled with the failure of the staff to provide X with the required amount of outdoor excursions and activities, persuaded X’s mother to take her back home in anger, so dissatisfied was she with the service being provided. Successive meetings with patronising Diane Abbott types boasting imaginary job titles had achieved nothing and X’s mother had resorted to the only option open to her. Alas, X was even less suited to the domestic environment a year after being removed from it than she had been before, and a week or so of relative calmness was suddenly superseded by an outburst of physical assaults on her mother that left her black and blue. Essentially in an abusive relationship, X’s battered mother could also no longer recruit the kind of paid assistance that was easier when X had been a smaller, cuter child, and she was left to her own devices; the local authority also didn’t respond to requests for the reinstatement of X’s former care package that had enabled her to remain at home before.

Everyone has their breaking point, however, and if X’s mother couldn’t cope after ten years’ experience, nobody could. She reluctantly had to hand X back into the careless care of a system that had repeatedly failed her. The social workers and their superiors higher up the chain of command ticked a few boxes, issued a few lectures, and smugly settled their overweight arses on the moral high-ground. Platitudes straight from the social care manual were delivered bereft of common sense and with a frightening absence of intelligence; we all have our moments when firing off correspondence, but the litany of spelling mistakes in official letters to X’s mother and confusing the respective names of child and mother suggest IQ tests rank fairly low on the list of the system’s priorities when it comes to employees.

The system will treat parents with contempt regardless, but it still prefers dealing with those either too exhausted by looking after a difficult child or too trusting in the system’s facade of authority to question it. However, why play ball when it will trample all over you, anyway? May as well speak your mind and confront the system’s failings by saying them out loud. The system reacts by essentially sticking its fingers in its ears and babbling incoherently whilst the parent tells it where it is going wrong; then when the parent has finished, the system responds by holding a Star Chamber conference behind closed doors to strip the parents of their rights over their child.

X’s mother hasn’t made herself very popular with the shits she had no alternative but to entrust her child to; even the frontline troops have refused to engage with her at X’s care unit; one physically prevented her from entering it a couple of weeks ago when she was dropping X off after a few hours away. Presented with an uncomfortable truth that contradicts and shatters the sham of social care, this Goliath simply breaks its David by inflicting its ineptitude upon him so that David is eventually worn down not by one big fight, but a succession of endless little battles that are never won.

Each chapter of this saga is more wearisome than its predecessor; everything X’s mother now turns her attention to seems to be a consequence of the system’s negligence. The system is shortly taking X’s mother to court in round one of a legal soap opera that is destined to drag on as long as ‘The Archers’. X’s mother wanted to relocate to another county with better facilities and place X there; the local authority wants to keep X captive in its ‘care’ and is building a smear case against the mother despite the fact that all of X’s injuries have occurred on its watch. Their behaviour has pushed X’s mother to the edge as much as X ever had; but X has an excuse. She can’t help it.

To put it bluntly, the State is not the friend of those with disabilities; the case today in which a male nurse who’d worked at the notorious Winterbourne View care home was cleared of punching a resident of another care home in the face (breaking his jaw) and allowed to continue in the job speaks volumes. And volumes could indeed be penned on this topic, though I shall spare you it. Most of us have the luxury to be spared it.

© The Editor

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MUSICAL YOUTH

A paragraph from the previous post provoked this one, and if you haven’t read it, where have you been? Anyway, let’s go back 30 years. Actually, I’d rather not; if 2017 is pretty grim, I can’t say I rated 1987 much at the time either and it doesn’t acquire a nostalgic glow the further away I travel from it. The stuff I cared about then – general popular culture and pop music in particular – was, in my opinion, rubbish; there were a couple of contemporary exceptions, but I was a scholar of what is now referred to as ‘Classic Rock’. I also extended my appreciation of the recent past to then-unfashionable 70s pop such as Abba and The Bee Gees, acts who had yet to receive the kitsch makeover the next generation would give them. The arrogance of youth told me I could do better than what the present was offering me as a record-buyer.

My mate Paul played the guitar; I wrote the lyrics. Between us, we moulded them into melodies which I sang; Paul provided the riffs. He and I shared a wavelength neither of us shared with anyone else; Paul was the first friend I’d had who looked like he could’ve been in the Stones rather than Curiosity Killed The Cat, and we sparred off one another in our attempts to resemble rock stars. He was as much of an outsider in his part of town as I was in mine, and we’d both experienced run-ins with ‘the beer monsters’; city centre streets may have been low on knife crime and acid attacks in the 80s, but you still had to watch yourself. It was easier when there were two of you.

We’d spend virtually every weekday ensconced in Paul’s bedroom at his mum’s house, listening to a range of LPs from the extensive record collection he’d amassed during his brief stint in 9-to-5 Land. We studied and absorbed the masters; it was our university. Eventually, I’d produce my exercise book crammed with lyrics, he’d tune up his acoustic guitar, and we’d devote the next few hours to putting a song together; if it was any good, we’d record it on his ghetto blaster and improve it the following day before moving onto the next one. We were hungry to make our mark, and though we may have been dreaming the dreams many music-obsessed young men dream, we were prepared to put the work in.

After several months of assembling a songbook, we decided to locate other musicians, and there was no shortage of venues to visit where we could check them out. Unfortunately, it took time to find like-minds; commitment was hard to come across. Rehearsal space wasn’t, but as Paul and me were both signing-on, it could be a stretch to pay for it. A room above a pub with an unsavoury reputation as the hostelry of choice for football hooligans was the one we eventually settled on because it was the one we could afford. By then, we’d acquired a bass-player and drummer, though it had taken well over a year of searching and numerous disappointments before we got there.

Our first gig was on the bill of an all-day event featuring dozens of local bands, staged in one of the many pubs that packed the punters in by hosting live music. In a dense fog of fags, and fuelled by booze that was probably less than a quid a glass, we took to the stage, collectively crapping ourselves. We had the usual repertoire of crowd-pleasing standards, such as ‘Teenage Kicks’, but primarily showcased our own material. We were rather under-rehearsed, but went on in the late afternoon, by which time the well-sozzled audience greeted every act with enthusiasm. I can’t honestly remember how many numbers we played; I mainly remember wearing a second-hand psychedelic jacket, which a lady complimented me on – the first such compliment a lady had ever paid me. It wasn’t a bad day.

We recorded a demo tape – tape being the operative word, as the songs went straight from reel-to-reel acetate to cassette; the recording studio cost what must have been a small fortune to us then, and we had to record and mix four songs with the clock rapidly ticking towards the end of the time we could pay for. We didn’t sound bad, and it’s undoubtedly invigorating when you hear yourself in top-notch quality sound for the first time. The end result received reviews in regional fanzines and was optimistically dispatched along the tried-and-tested route that led to John Peel and the music industry. We played a few more gigs: one as support to another local band in another pub, one on our own (in another pub), and one on the bill of another all-day event – this time in a pub car-park. That gig turned out to be our last.

We had the impossible task of following a folk duo singing a song called ‘F**k Off, Yuppie Scum’ to the tune of ‘Knees-Up, Mother Brown’; but we were such a shambles on the final performance that I actually apologised to the audience who were too pissed in the summer sun to even notice. We hadn’t rehearsed in weeks. The drummer was still at school and this was just a hobby to him; the bass-player enjoyed jamming but had no real interest in being a professional; and Paul was smoking a lot of dope, perhaps to cope with the fact we were going nowhere after all the work he and I had put into it. Our friendship survived, but our musical partnership didn’t. We never shared the same vision thereafter; I got into the nascent Dance scene, whereas he preferred chilling out to ‘Astral Weeks’. We’d had high hopes, but we’d crashed and we’d burned.

Paul and I had probably squandered twelve months searching for other musicians because we were so determined to do it the traditional way we revered. Today, we wouldn’t need them; we’d have the technology to create a ‘virtual’ band and we could record on bedroom PCs without having to bankrupt ourselves for studio time, uploading our endeavours online to a worldwide audience. We wouldn’t have to bombard record companies or the music press because neither exists anymore; but we’d struggle to play live because the gig circuit has gone along with the pubs that were vital to it. We also wouldn’t have the dole to subsidise our musical education and we wouldn’t have the money to invest in instruments.

They weren’t great days. They were frustrating and disappointing. We gave our all to something that eluded us, and whilst it genuinely doesn’t bother me now that we didn’t make it, it always seems a shame that all the dynamic verve and energy we exuded was drained from us in such in a depressingly crushing manner – though we weren’t the first and we weren’t the last either. Les McQueen from ‘The League of Gentlemen’ (guitarist with Crème Brulée, a 70s band that never made it) would look back by saying ‘It’s a shit business; I’m glad I’m out of it’; but I don’t regret doing it. Everyone should give it a go and then gracefully exit the stage when it all goes tits up. It’s an experience that prepares you for the rest of your life.

© The Editor

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THE SUNDAY POST

‘Sunday Bloody Sunday really encapsulates the frustration of a Sunday. You wake up in the morning, you’ve got to read all the Sunday papers, the kids are running round, you’ve got to mow the lawn, wash the car, and you think – Sunday Bloody Sunday!’

Alan Partridge’s characteristic misinterpretation of the U2 song inspired by the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry inadvertently highlights how the so-called ‘Day of Rest’ traditionally had a unique identity of its own, the genuine oddity in the seven-day calendar; but does it retain its uniqueness in an age when many shops are open all week round and a generation has come of age without an awareness or experience of what Sundays used to represent to the majority? Well, perhaps in our minds more than in reality.

It’s only natural that we associate certain days of the week with our first exposure to them; what’s interesting is how these initial associations can colour our view of them for good, and what they once represented proves to be surprisingly durable. Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that when it comes to Sunday, our image of it remains to an extent frozen in childhood amber, or at least when Sunday is imminent. More often than not, the prospect of it coming round tends to produce a weary sigh. In retrospect, that one more precious day free from school – something that should have made it as exciting as a Saturday to wake-up to – seemed to be shrouded in such an incurably drab torpor is curious; maybe Sunday was Saturday’s perennially poor relation because we knew we’d be back at school the following day, and so much of it seemed to be preparing us for that inevitability because it was so bizarrely boring.

Unless one were a farmer, clergyman, foreign language student or devotee of creaky monochrome movies about the war, television was usually best avoided; even that ordinarily reliable provider of entertainment appeared impotent on Sunday and was only generally switched-on in the middle of the afternoon so dad could watch ITV’s regional football show. The radio grabbed the spotlight from the telly as a consequence: Ed Stewpot and his set-in-stone set-list of prehistoric nursery ditties – ‘The Laughing Policeman’, ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’, ‘Nellie the Elephant’, ‘The Ugly Duckling’ et al – sound-tracked the Sunday morning experience for more than one generation.

Jimmy Savile’s ‘Old Record Club’ enlivened the early afternoon with its top ten replays from the 60s, sparking nostalgia in parents and introducing kids to classics that contrasted with the more familiar contemporary chart sounds; and as for the top 40, that would dominate tea-time listening, even if the fact that the new chart had already been covered three days before on TOTP robbed it of any drama. Still, knowing which position one’s favourite records were at made recording them onto audiotape easier (a practice that may have ‘killed music’, but came in handy when pocket-money only stretched to one single from Woolie’s per fortnight).

But such aural distractions couldn’t wrench Sunday away from the strangely soporific rituals that really made it so distinctive from every other day. This usually began with a couple of newspapers popping through the letterbox – thicker and more expensive than the weekday dailies; many households had a healthy schizophrenia when it came to Sunday reading habits. One paper would usually be the trashy titillation of the News of the World/Sunday Mirror/Sunday People brand, the kind I remember being full of call-girl confessions, Rod Stewart’s latest blonde and Princess Margaret’s latest beau; the other would tend to be the more sombre Sunday Times/Observer type, with one balancing out the other and establishing an odd equilibrium as mum and dad chose their weapons whilst defiantly remaining in bed. Of course, for those raised in a religious household, the church still played a major part in the Sunday routine – either the morning service, evensong, or the insidious institution of Sunday School, seemingly established so that mum and dad could engineer the arrival of a little brother or sister.

As far as secular upbringings went, however, Sunday was a day in which the whole family realised the advantages of spending the rest of the week leading their own lives; everyone appeared to resent the presence of everyone else. In the case of mum and dad, both eagerly embraced their designated roles; for him, this meant washing the car or attending to DIY; for her, this meant ironing or sticking a roast in the oven, where it would cook on a low light for what seemed like about six months, its aroma sweeping through the house with the creeping stealth of mustard gas and seeping into the bricks and mortar like Oxo-flavoured napalm. Occasionally, there would be variations to the routine, but even these couldn’t provoke any emotion other than shoulder-shrugging resignation.

Most of these centred around a ‘ride out’ in the car, a depressing excursion through a desolate landscape that bordered on post-apocalyptic, a journey that either led to a local beauty spot rendered ugly by rotten weather, a minor stately home, the stultifying tedium of the garden centre – and the fact that this emporium of inertia was the only shop open for business somehow intensified Sunday’s terminal dullness – or grandma’s house, where sometimes cousins would call and there would at least be an opportunity to indulge in much-needed play.

Play! Ah, yes – the one saving grace of Sunday. The generations starved of mass-marketed virtual-stimulation turned to their imaginations and transformed their uninspiring surroundings with little in the way of corporate assistance. Such activities could alleviate boredom until boredom intervened again via a bath and supper in the company of Esther Rantzen and Doc Cox. With school to look forward to in the morning, Sunday had felt like a lacklustre prologue to the resumption of the norm, a bridge between the compassionate leave of Saturday and the re-imprisonment of Monday.

It’s cruelly ironic that John Major, a man who romanticised the mythical Albion image of a Sunday, was the Prime Minister who delivered the killer blow to it. The passing of the Sunday Trading law in 1994 enabled high-street chain-stores to open their doors and facilitated the rise of out-of-town retail parks, finally making Sundays resemble every other day, at least in terms of the consumer society. There isn’t time for boredom on a Sunday anymore, and whilst many would regard that as cause for celebration, others might argue that the loss of the archaic eccentricities that once made Sunday such a unique day are worthy of mourning – even if they were bloody boring.

© The Editor

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THE SECRET SERVICE

I’ve used the term ‘Star Chamber’ on more than one occasion as a derivative description for a clandestine collective of decision-makers operating behind closed doors – most recently with regards to the new censorious regime on YouTube. However, when it comes to decisions being made that are a good deal more serious than having one’s uploaded video slapped with a ‘not advertiser-friendly’ label, one need look no further for a genuine Star Chamber than the smug and sinister network of box-ticking, back-slapping, self-righteous do-gooders operating under the umbrella banner of social services.

Long-term readers of this blog may recall a couple of posts I penned last year (https://winegumtelegram.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/a-social-disservice/ and https://winegumtelegram.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/consensual-healing/) on the subject of a severely mentally handicapped child whose mother is a friend of mine. Her child, a ten-year-old I referred to as X, was placed in a temporary care unit for children of similar conditions last November because her single mother could no longer cope with the day-to-day demands of looking after such a challenging child alone. The authorities were reluctant to take on this responsibility (and that’s putting it mildly), forcing the desperate mother to adopt desperate measures, such as refusing to collect the child from school the day after she’d been fobbed off on the phone when begging for assistance, thus leaving the authorities with no choice but to re-home X there and then.

Since this traumatic incident at the back-end of last year, the child has been living in a temporary care unit that currently only has two other resident children; the mother has established a pattern of visiting three times a week and taking the child back to her home for a couple of hours on each occasion. These occasions usually involve allowing X to indulge in the simple pleasures that make her happy, ones that don’t come within the narrow, rigid remit as endorsed by the powers-that-be overseeing the care unit – basically enabling X to enjoy foodstuffs frowned upon by them, and exercising a degree of realism absent from the fatuous positivity practiced by the ludicrously long list of employees on the social service gravy-train trained to believe X’s condition is one that can be ‘rehabilitated’.

This training imbues its recipients with a superiority complex and emphasises parents are an irritant if they express views that are contrary to those deemed appropriate by state employees – even though the parents may have spent many years 24/7 with the child and therefore know what makes it tick. Parents are viewed as something of an encumbrance to the system because some of them can see the system is getting it wrong re their children’s best interests and are prepared to puncture the positivity balloon by pointing this out. Social services aren’t keen on those not in their exalted position of faux-authority telling them the system they’re trained to obey with unswerving subservience sucks.

When X returned to a spate of self-harming – mainly biting her arms and hitting herself on the head – these were new behaviours that began when she entered the care environment, and her mother instantly knew what the problem was. X does this when she’s bored or hungry; her capability for expressing her frustration in any way other than self-harming is virtually zilch. But no one in authority wanted to discuss or even admit that this was happening. It wasn’t until the mother presented photographic evidence of appalling bruises and bite-marks that the self-harming was actually acknowledged.

Initially, when the staff at the care unit placed food on her plate such as noodles, spaghetti or anything she couldn’t hold and chomp on like Henry VIII with a chicken-leg, she refused to partake in the meal and lost a good deal of weight as a consequence; this was due to what are called ‘sensory processing issues’, and until it was pointed out by the mother, the staff wouldn’t provide X with a replacement meal, refusing to veer from a menu that caters for a mere three children. There have been other incidents where the staff will take X swimming at a time when she would normally eat, a decision flying in the face of common sense. Very much a creature of repetitious habit as befitting the most extreme outer limits of the autistic scale, X reacts to any alteration in the schedule by reverting to her worst traits, even if (as her mother constantly points out to employees of the system) these traits can be avoided.

The entire county in which X resides has the one solitary temporary care unit for children in her condition; a fourth child who had attacked X on several occasions was recently relocated to another care unit, but this time down in Shropshire – a considerable distance from home. In a way, the process of relocation is akin to when convicts are removed from one prison to another, often hundreds of miles from where the con’s family live, thus necessitating an increase and expense in travel come visiting day. And, just as the families of prisoners have no say in where the authorities choose to dispatch their loved ones to, social services will place children wherever the hell they like if they have ultimate charge of the child; parents aren’t consulted because parents aren’t important.

Yesterday, X’s mother was belatedly informed by X’s social worker (incidentally, the nineteenth X has had in her ten short years) that the social services’ Star Chamber had held a secret meeting the day before in which they’d decided they would effectively gain power of attorney over X, absolving her parents of all rights and claims to her. The parents were not informed and no review was held that would’ve given a platform to the parents’ concerns and enabled them to express a view on future plans for X when a permanent home for her needs to be found eventually.

If this goes ahead via the intended court order, the social services can place X anywhere in the country and the parents will have no say whatsoever in the matter; X’s mother has established a routine with X that benefits X and brings a modicum of pleasure into a life that has a paucity of it; if X is relocated hundreds of miles away, all that will cease. Is this really being done in X’s best interests or is it another penny-pinching exercise conducted by overpaid, arrogant authorities whose PR machine sells the uninformed public a different reality to the one parents such as X’s mother have been battered around the head by?

Post-Savile, it would appear police and social services have swapped places. The boys in blue’s politicisation over the past five or six years, underlined by borderline-spoof Twitter accounts from obscure officers declaring their PC credentials in prioritising ‘Hate Crime’ and the rights of minorities, has seen them adopt the right-on tactics once associated with the social worker; at the same time, social services have been transformed into a veritable secret police, granted powers to swoop unchallenged on parents they deem unfit and ill-informed as though overcompensating for the numerous well-publicised failures of social services to prevent actual abuse of children. For most parents in X’s mother’s position, the social services add to the burden the child represents, something that completely contradicts their purpose.

For the last decade, X’s mother has been exposed to a side of the welfare state that mercifully few of us have to contend with, and it has understandably left her so cynical towards the state that she simply doesn’t trust the state to do what’s best for her daughter. Therefore, the only choice she can see is to take X back into her home – narrowing the scope of her day-to-day life yet again as she reverts to the role of carer and gaoler for a child whose brain will remain that of a three-month-old baby, but whose body is physically maturing as normal. Next birthday, X will be eleven. And her mother will be exhausted. Again.

© The Editor

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TIME’S ARROW

Who is the Prime Minister? Apparently, that’s one of the opening questions doctors use as a test for dementia amongst their patients, though most of the country would probably have struggled to answer it following the last General Election, to be honest. Anyway, I don’t know if my grandmother was asked that particular question during her last illness, but I do recall being told she couldn’t correctly say what year it was when asked. The ongoing debate over care for the elderly is, I’ve no doubt, largely motivated (on the public side, at least) by genuine concern that senior citizens are almost discarded as an expensive embarrassment; but I think it also reflects a consensus of fear over the fate that awaits us.

Larkin’s notorious poem, ‘The Old Fools’ is – as with his other most infamous offering, ‘This Be The Verse’ – often misconstrued; sometimes perceived as revulsion when confronted by the elderly, it couples lines such as ‘Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines’ with ‘Do they suppose it’s more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools, and you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember who called this morning?’ As with much of Larkin’s output, it is devoid of sentimentality and looks at an uncomfortable aspect of life with brutal honesty. The chilling closing line, when after having posed a series of questions on the topic of ageing, Larkin says ‘Well, we shall find out’, is a more accurate barometer of what the poem is actually saying.

A man not known for celebrating the joy of life, Larkin’s melancholic pessimism was present when he remained a relatively young man, something fairly unusual outside of Goth and Emo subculture; then again, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters was aged just 29 when he wrote the wistfully bleak Larkin-esque line in ‘Time’ on ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ – ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’. Both Ray Davies and Morrissey have, at different times, contradicted the eternal adolescence that has been a hallmark of the genre they sprang from by shining a light on the neglected perspective of the elderly outsider, something Paul McCartney did even more successfully with ‘Eleanor Rigby’ before addressing ageing in a lighter tone with ‘When I’m 64’. He was in his mid-20s at the time.

At its most extreme, fear of growing old – at least manifested in its physical form – has led to the horrific cosmetic surgery industry and Hollywood’s plastic parade of deluded veterans that battle against the ageing process to extend their acting careers. Conversely, renowned actresses that have resisted the surgeon’s knife – such as Charlotte Rampling or Helen Mirren – tend to be celebrated for the fact their beauty has matured like fine wine and has been allowed to mature free from visible vanity courtesy of the same medical men who butchered the face of Michael Jackson.

Speaking to a friend the other day, she commented on some programme she’d seen on TV about a murder case in the 1990s; the documentary was accompanied by archive footage of the time, and even though the 90s feels extremely recent if you were actually there, she was still struck by how different things looked on said footage. The way in which technology has transformed all our lives in such a short space of time post-1999 has relegated certain sights that had always been commonplace on our streets to the same cultural landfill as gas lamps and public toilets, and I suspect those streets as represented by news archive of the time in this programme perhaps showed what already appears to be a different world.

I only have to cast my mind back twenty years to recall one of the numerous downsides to living in a neighbourhood with a sizeable student population was when the fresh intake of scholars needed to ring home after a week or so in their new homes. A queue of a good four or five people would be a familiar sight outside a telephone box in early September; but this is one of those ‘numerous downsides’ that has now completely vanished from the landscape – along with most of the phone boxes. Of course, to say ‘casting my mind back twenty years’ is in itself an admission of ageing that bears little relevance to the majority of the same university’s current crop, few of whom were a twinkle in the milkman’s eye twenty years ago – when we probably still had a few milkmen left.

In a sense, that’s part of the problem. I have been an official legal adult now for almost 32 years, and I find in my memory that everything I recall from that point onwards still doesn’t seem like that long ago. By contrast, anything from my childhood decade of the 70s feels incredibly distant and may as well be a hundred years ago for all the bearing it has had on my lengthy spell as an adult. At times, 1987, 1997 and 2007 appear almost interchangeable despite the superficial changes in fashion, music, pop culture et al that separate those years; I was an adult during all the years listed, and whilst I’d like to think a little acquired wisdom separates the person I was in 1987, 1997 or 2007, the core composition of the time-stream I inhabit doesn’t seem to have altered. It all feels ‘present tense’.

When we have family or friends we don’t see that often who sire offspring, we recall said offspring being babies; then we maybe see them again as toddlers or little kids; and the next occasion in which they’re mentioned, we learn they’re at high school or in higher education. In our heads, they remain frozen as children, but the rapid maturity that takes place elsewhere can remind us how time is passing more than what the mirror on the wall might tell us. Sometimes, it’s easier to measure time by the change in others than the change in our ourselves, which can be as difficult to observe as the movement of hands on a clock-face.

Four months from now I hit one of those ‘landmark birthdays’ that we all, whether we care to admit it or not, dread the arrival of. I guess we each have our own different take on what they do or don’t mean and if they hold any significance at all. For me personally it’s not a question of wanting to cling to a youth I didn’t especially enjoy or revel in, more a question of inevitable summarising of the story so far, the kind of self-assessment I’d rather avoid due to the fact that on paper I appear to have achieved nothing and have become everything I hate. Despite the anticipated bombardment of reminders I’ll receive from well-meaning well-wishers, the only real element worth celebrating is that I’ve actually made it this far. Being English, I expect I shall hang on, though I suspect the desperation won’t be so quiet; I remain determined to rage against that dying light. Thank God for a little bit of Celtic blood.

© The Editor

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THE HUMAN TOUCH

A couple of days ago I walked into my local bank and saw a sign on the counter informing customers this particular branch would be closing in November. It’s been my ‘local’ for about fifteen years, and whilst I don’t use it as much as I once did (online banking, what can I say?), the fact it’s disappearing from a provincial high-street that, like most, would at one time have boasted perhaps half-a-dozen different banks says a good deal about…well…the here and now. The provincial high-street in question used to contain a variety of businesses that are now becoming increasingly rare sights – banks, post offices, gas showrooms, pubs, newsagents etc; but, as befitting a nation of fat bastards, there’s no shortage of places to eat there today. Every other shop seems to cater for the appetite.

Not so long ago, every financial transaction required interaction with another human being. If one needed to pay a bill or withdraw cash or receive some form of benefit, one had to visit a building and queue-up to enter into said transaction. There was no choice; everyone had to do it because that’s the way it was done. There wasn’t the generational divide that now exists – the one between those who are internet-literate and those over a certain age, who aren’t online and who are finding the transformation of every service into a virtual one a minefield of misunderstanding. Often, the latter are also reliant on public transport; the news that the closing branch of my local bank means any in-person dealings with it will now require a journey of several miles to the next nearest branch is symbolic of a change that arrogantly assumes everyone has one foot in cyberspace, when they don’t.

As far as banks go in the rapidly changing high-street landscape, the status of the branch’s top dog has been severely diminished. The bank manager, as with the GP or publican, was once a prominent figure within communities; he was the regular butt of jokes and a familiar presence on sitcoms, whereby characters would visit him in the hope of a loan, usually to be rebuffed. He was portrayed as pompous, somewhat self-important and authoritarian in a headmasterly manner. Lest we forget, Captain Mainwaring’s day-job was a bank manager. These days, the bank manager as a symbol of a certain kind of old-school British seniority has all-but vanished from the culture, along with the physical incarnation of the institution he represented.

When I started school at five, I recall every pupil being given a bank account and a little bankbook to go with it. This curious system wasn’t extended to any other school I attended, and there probably wasn’t much more than 50p in our respective accounts; but I remembered this quaint story the other day and realised the humble bankbook now seems poised to go the same way as the black & white TV set. I pay my rent at the bank and have my bankbook updated in the process, though ever since I started banking online I tend to check what’s gone in and what’s gone out that way rather than checking my bankbook. Yes, I’m as guilty as the next man.

The cash-machine has been with us far longer than we tend to imagine, with the first UK model appearing in 1967; ‘On the Buses’ star Reg Varney famously earned his place in history as the first person in this country to withdraw money from an ATM (at the Enfield branch of Barclays). But while this now commonplace sight may be fifty years old, it’s fair to say it didn’t acquire the omnipotence it possesses today until perhaps the 1990s, when it became far more abundant outside supermarkets as well as banks themselves; most still visited the bank to get their hands on their money. But the proliferation of cash-machines was the first pre-internet step in detaching customers from human contact.

There’s a mid-60s episode of ‘The Avengers’ in which a mad scientist played by Michael Gough is determined to make all businesses fully automated; the novelty of entering business premises in which human beings are absent and a card is required to open doors and access goods is evident in Steed’s reaction. But while Gough’s character may have been ahead of his time, the downside to his vision is that he has also created a race of robotic humanoids he calls Cybernauts to do the manual labour his business needs; this being ‘The Avengers’, these Cybernauts naturally do a good deal more than merely lifting boxes. However, when one bears in mind the episode aired at a time when the production lines of the nation’s motor industry were still dependent on men putting the hours in, it now looks extremely prescient.

The writing team on ‘The Avengers’ probably didn’t anticipate that automated industry would eventually stretch to so many areas of our future lives, but the onset of the internet has accelerated the transformation of society from the manual to the automated far more than even they could have guessed. Don’t get me wrong; cyber-shopping has made life a hell of a lot easier for me personally. I now buy the likes of CDs and DVDs more or less exclusively online, which is a Godsend because I hate shopping. When I think about it, though, it’s not so much shopping I detest as the places I’d have to do it in if I couldn’t do it online, such as ghastly malls. My aversion to crowds is a deterrent too; I now no longer have to enter that arena thanks to cyberspace, for which I am grateful.

For some transactions, however, the human touch remains something strangely reassuring, and the closure of a local bank branch is not dissimilar to another depressingly contemporary development, i.e. the closure of a local pub. The retirement of one’s GP, necessitating relocation to a ‘medical centre’ where one is shoved before a different doctor on each visit, thus preventing the development of a long-term relationship between GP and patient, is also characteristic of this trend. But, hey, that’s progress; we have to take the rough with the smooth. At the same time though, I can’t help but feel every replacement of a human with an anonymous internet transaction is reducing our contact with people even more and making us more isolated from each other in the process.

© The Editor

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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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