“But is telly nice or horrible? It’s nice, definitely, I mean, do you know anyone who chooses not to have a TV? Of course you don’t, because people like that are too weird to know- they don’t have friends, they hate humanity, they’re smug and anti-social – they think they’re clever but they’re not, they’re stupid. They’re psychopaths who should be registered with the police along with firearms enthusiasts and corporal punishment fans – these categories will overlap considerably, you’ll find.”
Linda Smith ‘I Think The Nurses are Stealing My Clothes: The Very Best of Linda Smith’ p133
My father once told me about a sad day when he was once a nipper. It was the early fifties and he went out looking for pals to play with. However his plan did not, as it were, go to plan. So what if a young woman was being crowned Queen Elizabeth the Second that day? So what if this was the day Great Britain and his wife would be watching that fancy magic lantern for their first time? My father wanted pals to play with but there were no pals to play with. Such a neglect of what is really important in life should be considered a national scandal. As for my mother, who had yet to meet and marry Dad, she did watch the coronation. Her reaction was, “What a small screen!” or something thereabouts.
Cut to, to use the parlance of film and television scriptwriters, the Algarve in Portugal some decades later. A family is enjoying their holiday except for one little boy. Why? Well there are no clouds for a start and skies are meant to have them, all that blue is far too suffocating. However one thing that the little boy cannot cope with is the lack of television. Steps had to be taken, if we couldn’t have a great big satellite in the holiday villa (this was years before Sky existed and therefore decades before Sky became acceptable and de rigeur to have) then the father of that little boy would have to phone up the person in charge of Independent Television and ask them to repeat a fortnight’s worth of television programmes, especially the comedy ones. As a concession to his father he included ‘World of Sport’ on his request list, that sporting programme presented by Des Lynam’s photonegative, Dickie Davis. In the meantime that little boy would have to survive by reading The Beano, Topper and Beezer Summer Specials that his mother and father would lovingly give him each day to make that holiday a little bearable for him. I tell you reader, I was right royally disappointed when I came back. None of the programmes I asked to be shown again was shown again. Nowadays if I miss a programme or even an entire series I am quite apathetic to watch it sat upon an office-type blue swivel chair facing a deskbound computer screen.
I have very fond televisual memories. Eating cheese on toast followed by Angel Delight whilst watching ‘Pipkins’, mispronouncing Mum’s programme ‘The Sullivan’s’ as ‘The Sully Buns’ and us together watching ‘Pebble Mill at One’. I also remember drinking a Crusha milkshake (usually banana) from a baby’s bottle whilst watching ‘The Goodies’, running downstairs when I heard those lovely words, “Clinton! ‘Play Away’!” and running to bed in an unusual manner once ‘The Benny Hill Show’ had finished. I also have fond memories of the yellow and blue BBC1 globe rotating in front of a mirror, discovering that comedy shows after the nine o’clock watershed were of a far higher quality, the fan fares for ATV and Thames Television, getting my first ever four inch screen black and white portable with a dial to tune in the channels, the days when regional ITV continuity announcers were on screen, being terrified of the caption, ‘Murder, Mystery, Suspense’, but above all looking forward to the best night on television, Thursday. There on that night you never left BBC1 as you had ‘Top of The Pops’, ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and best of all ‘The Kenny Everett Television Show’ starring the disc jockey formerly known as Maurice Cole. Of course there wasn’t just television there were also videos. As well as hiring films like ‘Dot and The Kangaroo’, ‘Dot and The Bunny’ and ‘Dot Around The World’ either from local video stores or petrol stations we would tape entire series (or at least I would) and laugh when we’d watch them go backwards at Benny Hill speed. When I grew up in those overrated years known as adolescence the desire for music (mainly rock and roll) became stronger and the record player became king of the bedroom.
I still watch the goggle-box and play records, I also use that result of a chance meeting betwixt a typewriter and television but above all I use the radio to listen to those stations once known as The Home Service, The Light Programme and The Third Programme. There are those of us who still feel the bitterness when the once excellent Radio 5 (the station, not the Eric Idle hosted Radio 1 comedy that evolved into ‘Rutland Weekend Television’) with its (among other good things) programmes for children turned into that ghastly twenty four hours a day news and sports channel that only Danny Baker, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo makes bearable, just. Although I am not a Stephen Fryesque-stroke-Douglas Adamsesque technophile I will admit that the world of electronic entertainment does punctuate my days. I live in a time where I have no right to be bored as I have everything on tap. I can live in a world where I can read Marcel Proust, watch ‘Steptoe and Son’ and dance to Gorillaz. However if I want to spend a day when I live in the moment it’s no good discarding the watch when the world of broadcasting reminds you of the time and even if you don’t hear the announcer you can work out what time it is due to what programme is on. One also can spend a substantial amount of time flicking through the television and radio guides to make sure that there is nothing that week that should be missed. I have done a few days where I’ve switched the telly off but could I do more?
I had thought for some time about cutting such things out of my life during the period of Lent. I had great success with giving up milk (I really do drain those bulky supermarket bottles) in 2009 and an immense failure with giving up idleness in 2010 coupled with reducing my television and radio to BBC Parliament and BBC World Service but could I “give it up, give it all up” as Will Self once said on his Lent talk on Radio 4? Well, probably not quite “all” but I could give some of it a go.
There was once a story in Charles Schultz’s ‘Peanuts’ where Linus Van Pelt had to give up his security blanket for a week. If his sister Lucy saw him sucking his thumb and holding onto Snoopy’s black ear she would yell, “AND NO SUSBTITUTES!” So no substitutes it was then. Starting with Ash Wednesday and for forty days and forty nights I would give up the following: television, radio, DVDs, videos, LPs, cassettes, CDs, browsing the internet…In short all forms of electricity powered entertainment but I…would make….some….erm…exceptions. The two main exceptions would be checking my e-mails and replying to them if necessary and spending quality time with family and friends. If loved ones are all sat round the goggle-box then you must watch that goggle-box with them even if it is something as annoying as ‘Total Wipeout’. So yes the enterprise was as successful as a chocolate dragon but I did not “push a little button” as the song goes unless of course I was…erm…requested to.
Now before one ventures out onto the self-denying period of Lent something special must be done before or at least when one starts. Whilst spending a few days in Reykjavik in the year the volcano with the unpronounceable name erupted both my true love and I saw children dressed in costumes that one associates with Halloween (a boy wore an outfit that made it appear as if a giant was carrying him in a cage), going up to shop assistants and singing either Icelandic folk songs or English language pop songs. Curious I asked a woman who ran a small local art gallery why the children of Reykjavik were doing this. She replied that it was Ash Wednesday and the children sing to the shopkeepers who in turn would give them free sweets. She also explained that the older tradition in that slowly expanding island whose religion is a mishmash of Nordic Pagan gods and Lutherism consisted of the children sewing little bags of ash and sticking them on the backs of strangers. If a stranger caught you they would have to give you some sweets. I think the woman who ran the gallery preferred the older tradition.
J.G. Frazer wrote of a slightly similar (slightly because the whole thing couldn’t be any more different) event occurring in Provence on Ash Wednesday in his study of magic and religion, ‘The Golden Bough’:
“An effigy called Caramantran, whimsically attired, is drawn in a chariot or borne on a litter, accompanied by the populace in grotesque costumes, who carry gourds full of wine and drain them with all the marks, real or affected, of intoxication. At the head of the procession are some men disguised as judges and barristers, and a tall gaunt personage who masquerades as Lent; behind them follow young people mounted on miserable hacks and attired as mourners who pretend to bewail the fate that is in store for Caramantran. In the principle square the procession halts, the tribunal is constituted, and Caramantran placed at the bar. After a formal trial he is sentenced to death amid the groans of the mob: the barrister who defended him embraces his client for the last time: the officers of justice do their duty: the condemned is set with his back to a wall and hurried into eternity under a shower of stones. The sea or a river receives his mangled remains.”
J.G. Frazer ‘The Golden Bough’ p304-305
This is taken from a subsection of the chapter ‘The Killing of The Tree Spirit’ entitled ‘Burying The Carnival’. Amongst other anecdotes Frazer writes about how an effigy of a reputed unfaithful husband was burnt in front of his home causing a domestic situation during Ash Wednesday in the Ardennes and in one of the villages of that area, namely Vrigne-aux-Bois a man named Thierry dressed as Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) in a costume consisting of hay and straw was killed by a wad that was left in a musket after he was executed by a firing squad that shot blank cartridges. However spare a thought for this poor bugger:
“At the “Burial of Carnival” in Lechrain, a man dressed as a woman in black clothes is carried on a litter or bier by four men; he is lamented over by men disguised as women in black clothes, then thrown down before the village dung-heap, drenched with water, buried in the dung heap, and covered with straw.”
J.G.Frazer ‘The Golden Bough’ p307
So, how did I bury the carnival on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday? Well after eating some lovely greasy pancakes I listened to some of Frank Zappa’s ‘Orchestral Favorites’, watched ‘How T.V. Ruined Your Life’ and a couple of ‘Family Guy’ repeats before pulling out the plugs, ‘hiding’ the remotes and extension lead. Well if it was only as simple as that. I do not live alone and those who live with me like to switch the radio on and like to flick through the forty odd digital television channels to see if there’s anything decent. So it would be simpler if I lived like a hermit but I doubt my sabbatical would be any easier, more the opposite I would wager. To return back to burying the carnival I spent much of Ash Wednesday in the conservatory gazing up at the moon and stars. I knew one of the programmes I would be missing was ‘Brian Cox’s Wonders of The Universe’ so this became some sort of a substitute.
“AND NO SUBSTITUTES!”
Sorry Lucy, but it was a superior substitute. If only I were on the island of Sark where I gather there are no electric street lights (according to an episode of ‘The One Show’ I once saw). Apparently the skies are gaspingly beautiful at night time. Returning back indoors I sat close to the fire, marvelling at the delightful beauty of the flames. When the television was on the fire only got an occasional glance to make sure it was still going and whether or not it needed more coal or another log. Now the fire was the focus of my attention and I watched it with childlike rapture. I didn’t see pictures; I think that whole thing is a myth. Anyway it’s always ruddy dancing devils. I read a book. Now what kind of a book was it? Dickens? Proust? Joyce? Kipling? Erm, no. None of those things it was a book by Steve Berry called ‘TV Cream Toys’. By its title it kind of defeats the object but hypocrisy and irony are two sides of the same counterfeit coin. It might also be considered a hypocrisy that some of the reading matter I went through were graphic novels written by Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. I beg to differ, like television a graphic novel (or to use its Latin name, comic book) is a predominately visual art form but we have been creating visual art ever since our ancestors painted women hunting great big mammals on cave walls thereby increasing the property’s value for the buyer’s market. When reading I found myself getting lost into the narrator’s world. Especially in Neil Gaiman’s Chaucer and Boccacio influenced Sandman comic ‘World’s End’. Because I had no awareness of such and such a thing at being on so and so a time I was able to focus all my attention on reading. I’ve always read and will continue to read but I never read like that before. I am reminded of a play I saw about Van Gogh’s time spent in England called ‘Vincent in Brixton’. At one point in the play the Dutch genius talks about the reading matter he is taking to bed with him. A novel by Charles Dickens if memory serves me correctly. I probably am right as I can recall his landlady making a noise of disapproval at the author’s name. Perhaps Dickens was considered low culture as his stories were serialised in magazines. Nowadays they’re given priestly black covers with the two words ‘Penguin Classics’ on the spine. Whatever Van Gogh read in that play I found myself comparing the period the character of the play lived in to mine.
Television watched from the comfort of your bed can be a pleasant pastime but when done at night it can be lethal. There might be something good on next and you start calculating the best time to switch the machine off in order to sleep. And if you are lucky to fall asleep you might only have six hours of the pleasure before waking up and going to work in a bijou department store. Once upon a time I used my TV set as an alarm clock. That was depressing because I would hear the same song on the same orange juice advert advising me to, “L-et the sun shine, The sun-shine in, Let…” before going to work at a “you never achieved your dreams and you never will” office. But despite my 2011 lentern experiment I am a product of the nuclear age and my habits have been formed by that age.
You’ve heard of channel hopping? My time in bed was spent book hopping and even though I had books at home that needed finishing (with the exception of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ which I hope never to finish as it is exquisitely lovely) I would go into a couple of libraries and borrow this, that and the other with a sprinkle of hundreds and thousands on top. Some of the things I read were television and radio based. An episode of Spike Milligan’s ‘A Show Called Fred’, a talk on the Isle of Man by Sir John Betjeman and Linda Smith’s quick witted satirical answers on ‘The News Quiz’. All three of them no longer with us and all three of them shared their genius with us through the might of the British Broadcasting Corporation. So it’s not all bad. In fact when I was keeping notes during Lent I began to have doubts. Wasn’t I using books as a substitute? Shouldn’t I “give it up, give it all up” to recall Will Self on Radio 4 a second time. And whilst at best reading is a spiritually healing activity emphasising the beauty of solitude it can also be lonely and anti-social, nee downright bloody rude. At least with television and radio you can share the experience, you can even talk. But that’s the nub of the problem isn’t it? Good television should be of the ilk where you tell your family to shut up and be quiet as you are watching. Bad television is of the kind that you can endlessly chinwag over because you know you won’t miss much. A play by Jack Rosenthal is an example of the former and ‘Come Dine With Me’ is an example of the latter no matter how pleasurable the guilt. To quote a sketch I saw on a Saturday evening television programme confusingly called ‘The Grumbleweeds Radio Show’, “Conversation is ruining the art of television.” Yet in my heart of hearts I found myself longing for that shared chatty televisual moment. I would be isolating myself to avoid being in a room with loved ones watching the telly and isolating myself even further by reading a bloody book. Funny how the simplest pleasures can end up being anxiety inducing. And so with the need for human contact (Don’t worry I didn’t really send my loved ones to Coventry [Do Germans use the phrase “Sent to Dresden”?]) I began to do something I had never done, look forward to work.
At this time of writing I earn my crust by working at a franchise department store that has an unnatural obsession with opening more store cards than morally acceptable. I looked forward to saying hello to my friends at work, the couple who run the small café and their regulars and I looked forward to the people who came in the shop to browse and buy. Of course we have been told to greet people, make them aware, offer help but that is a professional tact to prevent shoplifting. When I say “Hello” I really mean it. And please don’t go grouchy if I say “Good Afternoon” on a grey drizzly day. I say it because I want your afternoon to be a good one; I’m not making an observational comment. I might as well greet you with, “Ceiling tiles above you, Madam.”
Literary critic Harold Bloom once described the internet as being a great grey ocean and that it takes an educated mind to use it. One could argue in the case of real life versus technology (if I can be permitted to employ such vulgar terminology) that wandering through the library wins hands down over surfing the net. Though I wouldn’t count on the Bodleian providing footage of Vivian Stanshall wearing a giant papier-mâché head speaking from his heart about the section labelled “shirts”. One of the many observations I made during Lent was, “Technology that links us together should make it absurd to fight.” But fight we do. Returning back to the real world during my sabbatical I became aware of my place in the world. I felt that in the electronic world where I had orchestras, movie stars and comedians at my beck and call I was the loneliest person in the world. In the real chatting with old folks waiting for a bus world it was the opposite. Though that (if you’re like me, and have to bite your tongue to avoid sore throat inducing confrontations) can be a bit of a lonely experience too. My life didn’t become better through giving up all these push button whatchamacallits during Lent, it still had flies in its ointment and sometimes there’s more flies than ointment. That is not the purpose of this “dither-tation” (a piece of writing where the writer dithers from one thing to the other). I’m no evangelist exclaiming “I’ve seen the light and now I’m going to make you all blind.” It’s about me. But to return to this concept of the real world was I really part of it? What about the news? Should I make an exception for it? Should I ignore it? In ‘Mark Thomas’s Secret Map of Britain’ it was advised that you kept your radio switched on to the BBC because that is where you’d hear the warning if ever the balloon were to go up. For an interview with the Canadian programme ‘New Music’ Frank Zappa explained how he would take a “news bath” watching hours upon hours of various news channels including somewhat interestingly for a man quite atheistic in his outlook, ‘Christian Science Monitor’. He then said that you had to “subtract the spin.” Or cut through the bullshit as we laymen might say. In 2011 I spent a week in Berlin in a hostel that had no television in the rooms. Because I had no way of knowing what was going on I felt calmer and well-adjusted than I usually attempt to be. By disengaging myself from ‘the news’ I could perhaps be really engaging myself with the world at large or at least the very world beneath and near my feet.
I chickened out at such a venture because I decided that I would be a responsible citizen and flick through the newspapers or take a glance at the headlines. Dear God in Heaven I might as well watch the telly! I thought it was bad enough having access to twenty four hour news in all its permutations but there’s something of the unmentionables about the printed news media. Being news aware you think you’re engaging with the real world but all you are doing is putting a pair of no-longer futuristic virtual reality goggles and living in an edited highlights version of the real world writ fucking extreme. Nice to be informed in order to be calmly speaking about your chosen subject but most of the time you’re just a ranting pain in the ass.
One of the things I was looking forward to was gradually becoming unaware of people that I’m supposed to get overexcited about. Then that was scuppered when the supposedly intelligent tabloid ‘i’ had a small article-ette enthusing about the latest “YouTube Sensation”. Sheesh. Let’s write no more on that matter, it is far too off putting. Nevertheless it was morally and personally important that I know what was going on as I have a cousin that has been living in Japan for over twenty years. ‘BBC Breakfast’ was on and I would try my best most to ignore it but I couldn’t ignore the comment coming from the kitchen, “There’s been an earthquake in Japan.” I had to break a few rules (I wasn’t really bothered if my sabbatical was shot to pieces) and scoured the internet in order to give my cousin any useful information I could legitimately find. Tokyo is now his home and he has chosen to remain there with his wife. Technology can be a godsend.
It was difficult avoiding television coverage and I wondered if I was being a heartless bastard in my stubbornness. And yet even though I did not see a digital reproduction of Japan on a widescreen television I became more aware of Japan and her place in the world. It was no longer a place that I could switch off and not think about. It is an impossibility to be thinking about all the places in the world, one cannot contemplate Sardinia, New Zealand and Finland simultaneously, we don’t even think of the third county along from our own. The news gathering media can make us aware of these places whenever something unimaginably horrible occurs in order to make us think twice about booking a no-frills holiday with a cheapo airline company but the downside is that these places end up only existing on television. The rest of the time we can ignore them. Switch them off and switch ourselves off. But this time or rather that time I couldn’t switch myself off, ignore the worse and go to my happy place. I was no longer in the “welcome to the real world” world I was actually in the world. It had recently began to shrink and when I pulled the plug it started to get bigger again but geography proved no obstacle when feeling empathy with those you couldn’t see or hear and would be unlikely to see and hear. In time I gradually followed the stories through the lens of the newspapers. They tend to churn out the same old bullshit. Their solution is “get rid of this.” But removal of the problem doesn’t create a utopia; it just leaves a vacuum for a problem that we are inexperienced to deal with. It sounds hackneyed enough to make one vomit but love and kindness are the inseparable antidotes to our great grey misery. But a lot of people’s courage is handicapped by fear and I too am a shameful coward.
As I have said I live in a house where the television and radio is more or less constantly on albeit with many quiet moments. Though it is not just the house. It is a great rarity to walk into a shop that doesn’t play music. For a while, years in fact, the store I work at did not pipe music and then during the last three days of my sabbatical it began to do so with session musician covers of the latest hits. “Ugh!” As my old teacher Mr. Johnson used to write in my exercise books in Hawkhurst Primary. Before my lent venture deflated into failure I would find certain sound glimpses very tempting, very yielding. It was difficult to avoid the radio. Just hearing three seconds of that deep American sounding Radio 4 announcer’s voice made me feel like I was going through cold turkey. Radio is exquisite, especially when you listen to it in the bath. It is the best place for thought to be expressed and debate of the reasonable kind to occur. Not on television would you get somebody saying, “Atheists are closer to God because they reject all false gods.” Oh how the sound of cheap music coming from next door’s car as it was being cleaned made my inner soul salivate. I had to try and ignore it and not enjoy it. Once I sat down in a museum to listen to a tape of Gregorian chant, realised and rushed out. I would also like to mention dear reader that I volunteer my services for my local hospital’s radio station. So every Friday night I definitely cannot avoid recorded music. And it’s hard; it’s so hard to turn myself cold against a most beautiful art form. I need pleasure, I need sustenance. I was weak in the strength of music, even diabolical music.
“AND NO SUBSTITUTES!”
Sorry Lucy. Nonetheless I did not switch any radio on, nor did I place any circular slabs of plastic upon an electronic potter’s wheel so that a sewing needle could make them sing through the black magic boxes. Glimpses of television did not provide the same pleasure, however, with the exception of overhearing the Spam sketch from ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ albeit in clip form only. Television today is revolting stuff for the most part and the commercial breaks are far too long. I was glad to avoid those. But put a screen on in any room and the human eyeball is attracted to it, something we most likely share genetically with moths. Light bulbs and moths is a good analogy. Have you seen the television sets of the twenty-first century? Why do they have to be so bright? I know high-definition is meant to reproduce real life (disbelieving cough) in its warts, pimples and tufts of hair glory but we don’t glow like that! Not even those of us in the full bloom of pregnancy. One time I was sat on a public bench a hundred and odd yards away from a country pub. I could see that the television was on in the upstairs living room and because it was twice as bright as a stained glass window I was able to see exactly what was on even though from my perspective the screen was the size of a post-it note. So giving up television, radio et al did not mean I was able to avoid them. Even places that don’t have them are culturally affected by them. Walk around the books section of WHSmith and you’ll heartbreakingly notice that the publishing industries just scream, “Television”.
Even my dreaming, which became vivid during lent became infected by the screen. One concerned a time I spent in prison in a grey box-room cell with padded walls. In it I wore my normal clothes except for my inmate that was about to be pushed in by two wardens who were Spanish in appearance. He was French and attired with a strait jacket that was knitted with grey wool completed with a balaclava. He was verbally aggressive with the screws and attempted to be physically so. He confided in me, “I shouldn’t be here.” I sat on the edge of the prison bed (a nice double one with quilt and plumped up pillows) and watched television. He got into the bed where I had casually left a worn shirt of mine underneath a pillow. On the screen were either nude or topless women in a summer house. I heard some grunts emitting from behind me. Immediately turning I saw my cell mate vigorously masturbating. “Don’t turn over!” He panted. Horrified at the thought of getting my chequered blue shirt stained, I made a violent move to grab it. The dream faded away with an inevitable argument. I don’t know about my superego but from that I reckon that my id is a wanking French lunatic.
We as people are all wired up. I would see children on the bus wired into their iPods and people using their tea breaks to chat to their children on mobile phones. When I spent a weekend in Dubrovnik whilst taking a day’s excursion to the walled city of Kotor in Montenegro I overheard two young women being very talkative. When they went past I saw they were talking on mobile phones, it was after they switched off their mobiles they talked to one another. Though, I too have a pay-as-you-go mobile. My first ever one and I’ve had it for over a year now. I don’t use it to gas on; more use it as a “Are you able to pick me up at.....” device. But forgive me Father for I did sin. Whilst waiting for a lift I used it to watch home movies I made of those that I love dearly. A shameful thing! Far better to be with those you love than looking at an electronic substitute.
“AND NO SUBSTITUTES!”
Thank you Lucy. It was with loved ones that I broke my fast. If visitors called or family came down or if it was a special occasion such as Mothering Sunday then I would join them to watch things like ‘Lewis’ and ‘Mamma Mia’. After a hard day’s working one night I spent an evening watching Friday night television whilst my brother and his family came to stay. I was so exhausted that I probably needed the telly. I could see that at best it can be relaxing. I decided to call that day my sin day. Besides I’m doing this sabbatical for myself, nobody else and nothing else. I also had a sabbatical from my sabbatical whilst on vacation. Well nothing is as nice as foreign telly in a hotel room. Nor as intriguing, there’s a French travel programme that uses the theme tune to our very own ‘Blue Peter’! So that meant I had to extend my sabbatical days a bit. I was unaware that one could have Sundays off during Lent which might explain why it is able to last from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday. The times I did see or watch television I would be kicking myself internally. Music not quite but then again music is part of humanity’s blood stream the age of electronic communications is only beginning to infect it. Slowly and surely I began to feel a little more uncomfortable to exposing myself to forms of electronic entertainment. I would feel a little restless. It didn’t feel right. A near (but not quite) comparison could be made to a time when I went down to the crisps and chocolate vending machine one too many times in an office building as an attempt to starve off boredom. I felt all the bones in my body were being scratched with a salty sandpaper as I gazed at that machine. Stop! My body told me. Stop this false happiness! I now buy a choccy bar as sparingly as I buy a good magazine. The last vending machine I used was on a platform at Goring and Streatley station that swallowed my pound coin without giving anything in return.
Whenever I read a book I began to doubt my integrity. How would I be if I included reading in the list of Lent denial? I don’t know why, one day I might, but I do have a need for pleasure beyond the physical and sensual, beyond taste, touch and smell and the joy of entertainment (from Jean Luc-Godard to Tommy Cooper) provides it. Another aspect is music, which I touched upon earlier and which I’ll touch upon here a little more in detail. Music is an art form which means so much to us in our adolescence that we become evangelists of the artists that become the soundtrack to our youth. And what, pray tell dear reader, is another word for soundtrack? That’s right! Background music. And background music is something you take for granted, mainly neglect. However contrary to received opinion a film score is not unnoticeable, think of Ennio Morricone’s beautiful pieces for Sergio Leone’s beautiful films. The music of our adolescence was not in the background but in the forefront. That’s how important music was to us then but tellingly it is the same since and before. Music is always important and there are times when our passion exceeds the highest mountains, cathedrals and skyscrapers. So. How do I do without music? I cannot do without it so I don’t do without it. Out of its white zipper bag comes my equally blank ukulele and I improvise on it. I purchased a white ukulele from The Duke of Uke because I liked the look of Vivian Stanshall’s bird shaped ukulele and decided to get one that had a close association even if it was only in similarity of colour (although white scientifically speaking isn’t a colour according to my physics teacher at Chiltern Edge School). When I began to fingerpick an improvisation (with scant regard to the quality of the playing) I went into “the zone”. Hugh Laurie said that there is more pleasure in playing music than listening to it and he’s right. Recently I’ve joined Sam Brown’s International Ukulele Club of Sonning Common of which there are roughly forty wonderful people strumming and plucking numbers by The Kinks, Pink Floyd and The Electric Light Orchestra plus we’ve recorded tracks for her father Joe’s upcoming ukulele album. I also have a banjo which I am currently feeling my way round but if I didn’t have a musical instrument of the manmade kind I do have an in built instrument but if I ever were to have laryngitis well I got rhythm and surfaces make a good sound if you strike them right. We should all sing, even the tuneless ones. Have a shanty for all walks of life. Though an office shanty would probably be dispiriting with titles like, ‘I Spent Years On A Degree Only To Get This.’ The thing is I did it myself. I had to do a lot of things myself because sometimes I wasn’t always in the mood for reading. I had to think of what to do with my time if I denied myself switching on anything in the hope that it would cheer me up. And with that self-responsibility came an increased sense of self confidence. I could do anything. Well, no but I felt that the potential was there. No relying on the comfort zone of having things readily to hand to keep myself occupied, just as a child has a Fisher Price activity centre ready to hand. I had to become self-sufficient, rely on my own mettle. And if I ever felt dried up, well often I’d be pottering around in circles like a beloved family dog burning out the last vestiges of his energy before curling up to sleep in his basket. (I’ve always liked Dave Allen’s idea of naming a dog Basket. “Basket? Basket!”) I became more relaxed, calmer. Can’t think of anything to do? Can’t find anything to hold my interest? I have to accept the situation. And I did and that acceptance was good for me.
During the past several years I’ve always made somewhat of an amateur effort to be laid back. I’m sort of successful but I do suffer (although I haven’t been diagnosed) from irregular insomnia (the culprit often being the mad monkey in my head). I took advice from the rubber-faced comedian Phil Cool who suggested to his studio audience to go about their day without wearing a watch in order to feel that they have all the time in the world. When one ignores broadcasting one is free from time awareness. If it’s something like ‘Coronation Street’ you know it’s more or less half past nineteen, ‘Woman’s Hour’ ten hundred hours. Often announcers will remind you of what time it is. “And now with the time coming up to eight thirty we like to remind you that you still haven’t achieved what you intended to do when you woke up.” When cut off from all that I found myself in a state of natural flow, following the natural rhythms of time. Think of sunrises and sunsets, moving clouds. Moments where nature is going so slowly you’d think it was standing still. No Madonna there is nothing wrong with time ticking slowly for those who choose to wait. I just mentioned a celebrity. I did have a brief moment not knowing who a certain person was and it felt great. Television has often defined itself as a window on the world but by cutting myself off from it and other similar devices I felt more engaged with the world. I felt closer to people, I felt engaged with the spinning world. Instead of watching Brian Cox’s ‘Wonders of The Universe’ I gazed at the stars and thought of our place in that universe. Taking a sabbatical from technological entertainment has not made me a better person, nor did it make me happier. There’s no moral to this dithertation so I shall give the last words to that great writer of television plays, Jack Rosenthal.
“ EXT FACTORY YARD – DAY
Norman in big CU
This is Norman, Sadie’s husband. Norman was a Marmite baby in the days when bread used to taste of bread. At fourteen and a half they started courting.
During those long, hot perfect summer evenings we’ve heard so much about, they’d shelter from the pouring rain in the bandstand in the park; he’d hold her hand and whisper what he was going to do when he grew up. Open the batting for England, harness the power of the sun, lead the workers to revolution, nationalise the monarchy, unite the whole of mankind in brotherhood and love – and be a millionaire. Norman was special. A man of destiny. One thing he’d never be was one of the crowd.
A factory hooter sounds.
Pull back to see that, throughout the CU, he’s in the midst of a seething mass of factory workers making their way out of the gates at the end of the day.
He hasn’t yet, however, got round to doing any of those things. He would’ve done but he’s been busy every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night watching television. The same goes for Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. And Sunday, of course, is his day of rest. So he watches television. His favourite programme is the weather forecast.”
Jack Rosenthal ‘ By Jack Rosenthal’ p209-210
© 2012 Clinton Morgan