wheels fall off

I’m not the kind of northerner who breaks out in Peter Kay sketches when conversation dries up at parties.

“So….erm…well, I see you’ve got a pretty hefty hatchback out front. That for the big shop, eh? BIG SHOP!! Isn’t Bombay Mix fancy?  They don’t do gravy down south you know!!”

I do look pastwards so often there’s a crick in my neck and most of the contemporary points of reference  can be traced back to the current comedy listings of Radio 4 Extra. I deny any childhood memory of watching All Clued Up whilst eating artic roll.

(Which I absolutely did. With my gran. In a house with a chain for the Warden)

As such I’m always happy to remember all those things which the past gave me – the Grandstand theme tune, what SOHCAHTOA stands for and the inability to shake off the anger at having a winning McDonalds/Trivial Pursuit scratchcard posted into an empty shop by bigger, harder, punchier lads…Er..yes, well as such I’m always happy but the problem with looking back is discovering how things never quite look as good as a cynical old grump.

When ITV recently repeated dozens of 80s and 90s cult children’s television faves some looked far fresher than most. It’s not abnormal, it’s to be expected. Cream always rises, be that music, films or even cheesy TV “guilty secrets”.

Of course some of those faded classics have done so because it’s deserved. Not to break out into end of the pier comedian again but, Wagon Wheels, eh? Weren’t they just awful? All mushy, two-tone slabs of processed mush, not quite biscuit, not quite pumice stone. Disco crisps, too, while I’m here. Oh come on, Disco crisps could hardly pass digestion – it was like swallowing a 50p coin drenched in caster sugar.

This is not hindsight; this is growing up. This is accepting that there are time capsules planted in the brain during childhood which are worth jettisoning, like accepting your father plodding to the back of the garden to say goodbye to Fido. What remains is that which would always have been considered as top quality – such as the vast majority of Belinda Carlisle’s back catalogue, say. Or Spangles.

Finding a joyous, trouble free paradise in the past is colouring memories with contemporary prejudice, and whilst it’s natural for people to do that when reminiscing, it’s unhealthy to base arguments on those invented truths. I know what my father used to say about his youth in the 1950s and 1960s – he was born just after the Second World War – and it’s not always pleasant.

And thus I make my way to Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (as they no longer want to be called). The basic core UKIP thinking is, “the past is another country”, based on the conceit that the UK is no longer the UK whilst the past almost certainly is. Farage talks about his ultimate aim being the return of the UK as a democratic country, just as it used to be, with all those unelected, unaccountable censors of the theatre and that. The UK of the wayback machine seen by Farage is one which is unimaginable to us now, even if you’re prone to calling the Coalition some kind of time-machine to the 1950s. We enjoy far more wealth, generally, better health, broadly, greater diversity and broader, deeper job opportunities than at any time in the recent past, and you don’t have to go far away from my dad’s memories of Wigan in the 1960s to have that proven.

But Farage doesn’t want to go back to the 1960s, or the 1970s, or at least not specifically. The UKIP aim is for Britain to be pulled into a nethertime, a space between reality and nostalgia, where the UK “ruled itself”. There’s not been much of that for generations, and until the 1960s and the great liberalisation of abortion law, sexual equality legislation and lowering of the voting age, most of the “independent” United Kingdom was an insular Edwardian island complacent and dismissive.

We’ve always been Atlantic rather than European in attitude – especially post-1945 – which comes out in 21st century Britain in our language, our television programme formats, and so on. We jump to the American cough, especially when invading Middle East countries on false prospectuses. Our scoffing at the French or the Germans copies the American sneering of Canada and Mexico, and for the most part our denial over European economic strength and liberal attitudes mirrors how the USA tends not to respect their cousins over its northern border. But in being anti-European in addition to anti-future, as UKIP seem to be, they’re swapping one paranoid fear for one uncertain reality. I’d rather not be the unofficial 51st state of the USA, thanks all the same, but UKIP clearly prefers this island of ours to be an Atlantic annexe than a European player, so far enoughski on that, Nige, replacing one uneasy alliance with another one.

I would say “this is me being unfair on old Nigel Farage, bless”, and after all he has ruled out ever getting into a Coalition with David Cameron. But that’s the point, I guess; delusion. That’s all UKIP end up talking about – delusion. They’re deluded if they think they’ll ever get an MP, or even a Council of their own, or even any kind of thanks for pulling us out of a Union with our closest neighbours. That Farage thinks he is to have any say at the next election is as laughable as the memory of one-half of my family choosing to sit around the television set, of our own accord, to watch “Telly Addicts”.

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Mortal Outrage

My relationship with computer games – as I resolutely continue to call them – can best be described as ‘sporadic’. The CV reads like a potted history of a person who shouldn’t be considered a geek at all; following most of the 80s staring at the blessed blue screen with boxes of cassettes and floppy disks, months turning into years with the final “upgrade” in the form of an infrared ‘gun’ with the size and weight of a dead cat.

I moved onto a Master System (it saw its last days covered by the contents of a knocked-over bottle of Bass Shandy), SNES (pretty much ditto if I recall), before ending the games console ‘thing’ with a first generation PlayStation with only a copy of Gran Turismo for company. Consequently my reaction to modern games consoles resembles that of Grandpa Simpson resenting having to kneel on the floor to fathom out the arbitrary button combinations which have replaced the one jolt of an old joystick.

During High School, twin phenomenons Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter swept through the playgrounds in frenzied swaps of cheats, special moves and cries of Hadoukan. Like a badly aimed fireball, they wooshed over my head. I was completely unable to learn how particular combinations of buttons enabled one character to high-kick another to death. Having barely moved on from motor racing games, it’s little wonder one-on-one urban fistfights passed me by. One standout memory from a family holiday in Spain – and if you don’t know me by know, this should help – is from an arcade near the hotel with one British lad getting all the attention for turning successive Street Fighter characters to pulp with me directly beside on my own playing a Tetris-knock-off…

If memory serves – and even if it doesn’t, it’s not too difficult to invent – British tabloids fed off controversial aspects of Mortal Kombat and the copycat games of the horizontal scrap genre. No matter that “extreme gore” (© Daily Mail) looked like a carton of tomato juice squeezed too hard, “blood” is blood! Inevitably protests and parental anger covered the newspaper letters pages – this is pre-internet, folks, bear with me – which nudged the industry to introduce cinema style age ratings for games. Professional commentators sniffed and sneered at Britain’s multi-million pound games design industry, preferring to use the ‘violence’ as examples of how progressing from Pong was proof of whatever phrase we used in the 1990s to describe Broken Britain.

(Similarly, moving on from 240p in the pound was akin to introducing pears to your anus.)

How the Outraged of RedTops will react to the new Mortal Kombat – numbered 9 and out next year – is anyone’s guess. For absolute lack of doubt, here’s one selected highlight in print form, as a taster before the video at the end of this blog…

During “X-ray moves”, the camera will zoom in to show an inside view of the character who is being attacked while bones and organs are broken or ruptured.

Got that? Yup, cinema’s torture porn, a fetish on its last (broken) legs despite ]
another Final Destination, appears to be influencing the games market still. Games violence and the censorship issue has been ongoing for years, from Leisure Suit Larry to Red Dead Redemption. The cinema age ratings have helped quell the issue whilst not solving the core problem, which personally speaking is the balance of industry involvement verses parental control. Parents do not have 24-hour watch on their children, nor should they. Games designers have little involvement in this issue at all, for the ability to cut open an foe’s head like a wet Cos should not be regarded as permission to practice on the winging brat from two doors down. Hell-bent on promoting fear – encouraged by the kneejerk attitude to ‘anti social behaviour’ turning everyone into curtain twitching CCTV subscribers – tabloid newspapers love violent games for the very intent to highlight them as irresponsible. Call me wet and libertarian if you must, I just cannot hold Mr Games Company responsible for the 8 year old playing an 18-certificate game in which poker games are rudely interrupted through the introduction of Mr Grenade.

The newly released MK looks to have smashed its moral compass into the battered face of its first-draft characters. If parents know about the content of the game and make a decision based on that knowledge, applause to them; if their children acquire the game through whatever means and don’t feel the need to carry out copycat attacks in the Post Office, all hail maturity and reasoned behaviour. If the tabloid press decide the sight of brutal death as a ‘game’ is somehow more abhorrent than the cartoon-like fighting scenes in James Bond or contrived traps of Saw, more fool the lot of them.

Censorship by whichever industry, film or television or computer games, runs counter to the maturity and independence which all national institutions should treat the consumers who happen also to be citizens. One example of a child stabbing another with a fork is not evidence for the wholesale ban of cutlery (there is a letter in today’s i suggesting Theresa May had better ban wooden-legs and pillow cases to dissuade others using them for bombs). This new MK is violent and gruesome, whilst also being exaggerated and self-aware. Its violence should be obvious from its name and reputation. I fear, through experience of living through the civil liberty sapping ‘war on terror’, that its release will be swamped by waves of moral indignation. Such moves should be finished off without a second glance.

telly addicts

So, farewell then, analogue television.

From tomorrow in two English regions, and Wales, the second installment of the national switch-off begins. For people of all ages an era ends: for my generation it is perhaps the final installment of a gradual up-grade process from the four channels in the 80s, through basic Cable television, to the ability to pause live programming in a fashion not even predicted by the usually excitable studio of Tomorrow’s World.

Looking back through my memory banks shows just how important in my life the box in the corner of the room has been. As a child, I was particularly over-excited by regional-opt outs, icons and logos, anything it would seem except the programmes themselves. The faintest echo of the Children In Need “Let’s go round the regions” anthem still filters around my head, a triumph of my anorak nature and the ability of the Beeb to write a catchy tune which could withstand the slight delays inherent in switching from the studios in Edinburgh to a car-park outside Eccles. If you want to help – DRUM – help Children In Need. It’s all flooding back….

In the early years of cable television in this area, I would tiptoe to the front room to channel flick until the sun came up. In later years it was, I concede, more to do with the promise of untold thrills during The Adult Channel’s preview adverts, although at first even the chance of watching a channel close down that wasn’t the BBC interested me something rotten. In those days – how odd does that sound, and yet how true! – BBC One still closed down, playing the national anthem over a spinning globe before fading to black.

As a defender of the licence fee I hope talk of “top slicing” the funding to other channels does not occur if the consequence is a weaker, lesser BBC. That most of my viewing and listening comes from the BBC is not just an unwillingness to channel-surf; I happen to prefer most of the Corporation’s output to that on ITV and, sadly I have to say, a lot of what is now broadcast on Channel 4. There was a time when it felt daring and exciting to watch 4, often with the sound turned down and a pillow under my bedroom door to ensure nobody spotted I was watching The Word, or the “red light zone” themed programming seemingly broadcast for the benefit of my youthful development (if I can phrase it that way).

Channel 4 maintains some high standards, although even its own time flagship programmes Cutting Edge, and Dispatches, have become sensationalist and boring.

Tomorrow will mark the next-step in the advancing of Britain’s digital broadcasting age. I must look back with some nostalgia at the advances of yesteryear which somehow seem terribly quaint by today’s standards: flick a switch on a channel now to access the all-day broadcasting schedules of a hundred channels, on the former Cable North West service there was one screen with a scrolling schedule information display and a 30-minute cut-off.

Maybe the box in the corner will be pushed back even further into the shadows if television-on-demand, iPlayer, downloads and so on continue to become more popular with the viewing public. Maybe television itself will cease to be thought of in terms of separate channels and networks as commitment to single brands continues to dissolve. All I know is, the manner of watching the screen has certainly changed beyond all recognition but the little child inside is still humming the theme tune to Live & Kicking and wondering if he’ll ever see the HTVWales logo again…..