Friday, 26 April 2013

Sinister Yet Interesting: My So-Called Life as Video Artist

Sugar Honey Control (8:41) - Maidstone 1986.

In September 1983, I began a one year art foundation course at the Mid Warwickshire College of Further Education in Leamington Spa, following in the footsteps of Hazel O'Connor and possibly one or two other briefly famous names who had done the same course in previous years. My main interests were painting and music, although I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, as I'm not sure anyone really does at that age.

My painting at the time looked like this:

Velocity's Price - 1984.

Further examples can be found here. During my initial interview for said Art Foundation course, Head of Department Alan Halliday told me, 'I don't want to see you painting anything like this ever again.' Whilst I can, with hindsight, see the point of such a request - a student trying to run before having properly learned to walk - it still strikes me as mystifying. There I was already developing a style by my own volition, albeit a style indebted to Fortunato Depero, and this was somehow a bad thing. It was a little upsetting, and I didn't paint anything for a couple of months, but eventually returned to the medium whilst keeping it at a distance from my formal art education. The degree course I pursued in the years that followed required that I find myself a subsidiary subject, something secondary to my main area of study. I put down painting, seeing as that was what I was doing anyway, and continued to paint for the next three years without once referring myself to any tutor attached to the painting department, assuming they would most likely take Alan Hallidays's view.

My degree show was in the summer of 1987. It came as a shock to recall that I had signed up for painting as a subsidiary subject, and would hence need to account for this as part of my show: I shrugged, bought a stack of clip-frames, and hung everything I had painted to date in my allotted exhibition space. It was gratifying, but also slightly annoying, that the painting tutors told me my work was wonderful and asked why I hadn't been to see them during the previous three years. So it goes.

Anyway, painting aside, prior to Art Foundation course, I had started cannibalising tape recorders and making rudimentary loops from cassette tape, convinced that I had single-handedly invented a new form of music, at least until I discovered Throbbing Gristle and Stockhausen. This, I reasoned, wasn't entirely incompatible with the art college curriculum, such as it was, how can you call that music? being not so different to how can you call that art? So that was the area upon which I focussed during my time at art college, very roughly speaking, something open to expansion and refinement which would additionally leave me free to carry on painting in peace.

Distortion (11:35) - Leamington Spa 1983.

I made a Super 8mm film entitled Distortion. This utilised footage and sound recordings made around Jephson Gardens in Leamington Spa. The idea (although it was certainly not so well expressed as such at the time) was, as the film progresses, to increasingly distort the subject through use of editing, looping, and whatever other means I had of treating the original material. Distortion begins with blurred images of people walking around in a park to the sound of ducks quacking, and ends as a rapidly edited sequence of semi-abstract forms with overdriven tape loops of park-derived noise screeching away.

It was rudimentary, and never destined to set the world on fire, but it did a job.

Nearly thirty years later and I seem to be transcribing my entire life into digital form, scanning photographs, paintings, cartoons, everything I've ever done for reasons that escape me but may be to do with either closure, perspective, or curiosity. Coming across a stack of nearly two hundred photos comprising screen shots of my video work, I was startled to recall four fairly significant years of my life that I had somehow forgotten. This find coincided with a chance online encounter with Thomas Frenzi. Frenzi was someone I knew from the days of making my own tape loops, and finding that there were other people out there who also made their own tape loops and had albums by Throbbing Gristle, the major difference being that Frenzi's music still sounds good today. Being roughly the same age, our lives ran parallel tracks with him signing up for a film course at Bulmershe College in Reading. We wrote letters, exchanged tapes, and met up a few times, meetings characterised by raucous exchanges of ideas and leaving me slightly envious of the quality of his film and video work - sort of what I was trying to do but more competent. We lost touch for no coherent reason around 1987, each making the occasional attempt to track down the other without success up until about a month ago. Inevitably, in light of his efforts still looking pretty damn fine on YouTube after all these years, it seemed time to revisit my own. So I scanned the photographs and dug out VHS copies of all the work from my four years of art education, material which for the most part I had not viewed since the late 1980s.

Thomas Frenzi in Horror Film (2:34) - Maidstone Summer 1985.

And it was quite an education, not least because of six hours worth of supposedly finished material, Distortion, eleven or so minutes of fumbling around with a camera and only a vague idea of what I was doing, well... it now looks like Citizen Kane compared to the rest of that stuff.

Live Performance 1 [24/11/83] (3:37) - Leamington Spa 1983.

Zipping back to 1983, following on from Distortion, I took it upon myself to treat fellow students to a performance. I'd seen the noise band Whitehouse playing live in Birmingham a few months earlier, and was pretty sure I could pass off the same schtick as performance art whilst remaining true to my vaguely musical efforts of the time. People cued up with no real idea as to what might happen, then took seats in a room where a tape of distorted television noise played to uneasy effect, myself sat still in the corner, identity concealed by balaclava helmet, sunglasses, and other apparel that unintentionally suggested a member of the Baader Meinhof gang. Once enough faces seemed to wonder as to whether this was the performance and whether anything else was going to happen, I sprang into action, kicking chairs across the room, screaming into people's faces about doing something. It was short, sweet, perhaps not amazingly original, but popular enough to warrant two further sittings to accommodate all those who had been unable to get in for the first one. It made an impression of sorts, and was a big hit with some of the cooler kids (notably one David Newton, one of those people whose opinion was of value to me), but remains entirely of its time. The video is sadly almost unwatchable, revealing the power electronics tour de force I imagined to be a squeaky voiced teenager with big ideas and a limited vocabulary by which to express them.

Live Performance 1 [24/11/83] (3:37) - Leamington Spa 1983.
Following this, I turned to video, it being time based and in some way compatible with my musical ambition, such as it was. Additionally, groups like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle had begun releasing material on VHS and I appreciated the democracy of the format, the way by which it rendered art as information subject to duplication, removing it from being a single object limited to one time and place. My first video, excluding documentary recordings of the confrontational performance described above, was named Dopolavoro after the leisure and recreational organization of Mussolini's regime. It's basically a collage of sounds and images: Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher, the usual assortment of serial killers, clips from shows like Dallas and Fame, the music of Elvis Presley segueing into that of Charles Manson. The message was supposedly that concepts of good and evil are defined entirely by the media, although it was actually more like I am sinister yet interesting, and I have all of Throbbing Gristle's albums.

Dopolavoro (7:28) - Leamington Spa 1983.
Excepting a few blips, it was pretty much downhill from Distortion onwards.

In September 1984 I was accepted for a place on the Fine Art degree course at Maidstone College of Art specialising in Time Based Media. I was later told that the way to ensure acceptance on such a course was to show a video containing shots of a television set, this being tantamount to making a comment upon the media. Whether true or not, this is what I had done with Dopolavoro, so I can only assume I must have let my interviewers do the talking and had managed to avoid blurting out that it was actually a load of bilge about good and evil and how any of us could be Charles Manson or one of the other bad lads from the Throbbing Gristle reading list.

The Silence Deepened (5:36) - Leamington Spa 1984.
Unfortunately, once I had started the course, I'm pretty sure they saw straight through me, and I found myself forced to rip off Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire by ever more devious means. Thus, by accident rather than design, I occasionally managed to come out with the odd half decent idea for some film or video, through being obliged to follow some theme other than I am sinister yet interesting. On the foundation course I had made a short video entitled The Silence Deepened, its name taken from a phrase in Marinetti's extraordinarily vivid first Futurist manifesto. The video had been inspired by a walk around the back streets of Leamington Spa, and the peculiar serenity which enveloped the area and somehow reminded me of De Chirico's paintings. I tried to capture this impression of almost surreal tranquility with sequential shots of deserted streets and a soundtrack scored for tape loop and mournful keyboard. The results weren't amazing, but neither were they entirely dreadful, and the idea seemed worth revisiting.

As an aside here, during the first year of the degree course at Maidstone, we had access to Super 8mm film and a portable VHS video recorder, and that was pretty much it. The more professional Umatic video equipment and associated edit suite were initially off limit. This was frustrating given my preference for video over film, and that said video could only really be edited in camera, thus meaning whatever one did, the greatest idea in the world would inevitably suffer from crappy, noisy edits. I tried to get around this by creating a piece comprising one long, continuous shot, working towards something in the vein of The Silence Deepened. So all I had to do was film something at an odd angle for ten minutes whilst slowly zooming out, secure in the knowledge that mournful keyboard music would do the rest. The resulting video was called Project and now serves as the most succinct illustration of why I spent three years pissing into the wind. It's a simple if unexciting idea, one that you might be hard pressed to screw up you would think, and yet I found a way.

Firstly, I had somehow taken from Throbbing Gristle the idea that if you are an artist (although I never called myself that because I viewed the term as somewhat wanky, and continue to do so), whatever you do is valid, and mistakes are an interesting component of the work: arbitrary decisions can be good decisions.

Project (8:07) - Maidstone 1984 .
So this being a fairly easy philosophy to which I might adhere, Project began with my pointing the camera at a parked car, then slowly zooming out to reveal other buildings in the vicinity of the Time Based Media Department. The De Chricoesque sense of the still is fine up until about six minutes into the piece, at which point Pat Murphy wanders across the screen and turns to share a cheery wave with the viewer. A normal person would have started again from the beginning, or at least chosen a more visually engaging location, but not me. That should do, I apparently decided after eight minutes, either taking comfort from my shit happens methodology or else mindful of the pub being about to open.

This kak-handed approach informed the rest of my time at Maidstone. Mistakes were part of the piece. I'm not sure it even occurred to me that the piece might benefit from having a few of those mistakes extricated during editing. I'm pretty sure my tutors would have counselled me regarding this point, but once your head is past a certain stage of its journey up your own ass, it's not easy to hear what others may be trying to tell you.

Having realised by this point that I'd already said most of what I could say about being sinister yet interesting, or places with not much happening being a bit like De Chirico, I expanded to become my own subject matter, artistically speaking, which after all only seemed to be what everyone else was doing at the time. This amounted to the next year or so being spent producing videos about feeling depressed or in some way alienated from both my fellow students and society in general. On the positive side, this resulted in films and videos with at least some arresting images or musical accompaniment in the Cabaret Voltaire sense, although few of these remain entirely watchable thanks in part to either my whining voice, absolute inability to express myself with any degree of eloquence, or reluctance to accept that cock-ups might in some way hinder whatever I was trying to communicate. One film was entitled Nowhere Nuthin' Fuck Up '86, named after a song performed by a character in Philip K. Dick's Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. The character in question, Jason Taverner, wakes up to find that no-one in the world, including friends and acquaintances, knows who he is. I identified with this idea and attempted to express it with words and images. One particular combination of these specific words came out as why won't anybody talk to me? - not exactly Ian Curtis material. I imagined myself as authoring the video art equivalent of Jean-Paul Satre's Nausea (which naturally I hadn't heard of at the time) but sadly, with hindsight it all looks a lot like Harry Enfield's Kevin the Teenager.

Nowhere Nuthin' Fuck Up '86 (6:59) - Maidstone November 1985.
Perhaps I am being too hard on myself, one might suggest. Perhaps this is true, but my tutors might not agree, and they mostly had a fucking good point, although of course that was hardly what I wanted to hear at the time. Kevin Atherton, a renowned video artist in his own right, was of all the tutors valued for his dispensation of honest and, if necessary, ruthless criticism whilst maintaining a sense of humour. If he drew the same conclusions as other tutors, they seemed to me better communicated through being delivered with a degree of amiable sarcasm. After sitting through two or three of my pieces during one assessment, each work exploring different strains of misery, he sighed and told me that my videos reminded him of the swirling pit.

'The swirling pit?,' I wondered.

'The swirling pit,' he explained, 'like when you've been in the pub since seven and you think you're fine even though you can't walk in a straight line. Then you get home and lay down,' - he slumped in his chair, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, miming an illusory whirlpool with his hands in the air - 'Oh noooooooo - it's the swirling pit!'

He had a point.

Moving to Maidstone was the first time I had properly been away from home. This coincided with my parents getting divorced, and my first girlfriend appearing on the scene, annoyingly a mere three weeks before I found myself living at the other end of the country amongst complete strangers. The relationship lasted nine months through letters and weekends away which ate up my grant faster than Warwickshire County Council could dish it out. I'm not really sure how much any of these things impacted upon me. Breaking up with the aforementioned girlfriend certainly did; the divorce of my parents I had seen coming and so don't recall having given it a great deal of thought, and I know I had friends and laughs during the college years, but those fucking videos really look like the work of someone suffering from clinical depression. At least one tutor pointed out that there was a cathartic element to my work, and I agreed once I had looked up the word, although I still didn't see why this was a bad thing and so I carried on. Had someone consented to join me for a shag or at least lain still whilst I had one, the body of my video work might have ended up a little more watchable. Traci Emin attended Maidstone at the same time, and that tent of hers is testimony to sexual congress aplenty, but none of it coming my way. I should probably point out that Traci, hugely entertaining personality that she was, was never my type, and I was a long way off being hers as was evident from the first time we ever met and she scowled and said isn't your 'air 'orrible?! which admittedly it probably was at the time.

Sugar Honey Control (8:41) - Maidstone 1986.
Anyway, at great length, the combined sarcasm of Kevin Atherton and my friend Carl Glover, in addition to the generally upbeat disposition of fellow students Martin de Sey and Charlie Adlard gradually induced a degree of uncomfortable self-awareness regarding my unusually depressing work. Sinister yet interesting, boring to watch yet meaningful, and why oh why am I so much more sensitive than anyone else had run their course, and it seemed I had grown short of things I felt compelled to say. A minor turning point was a video entitled Sugar Honey Control (by this time I had given up on trying to be Throbbing Gristle and had decided I wanted to be Nigel Ayers of Nocturnal Emissions when I grew up - if you have any of their early albums, you'll know what I mean by that). Sugar Honey Control comprised me whining as per usual, interspersed with a ludicrous commercial break ('Buy these fucking beans, ya bastard!') and garnished with a slightly arch commentary deconstructing my own tendency towards dreary introspection. It wasn't a masterpiece, but it was probably a lot more entertaining than anything I'd done since Distortion, at least in so much as Yus My Dear was funnier than Get Some In.

Made In One Day (6:22) - Maidstone 15th October 1986.
This deconstruction business seemed to go down well with my tutors to some degree, and it was after all what many people on the same course did and to sometimes interesting effect. I instinctively disliked the idea of art about art, and still do, but it seemed like a new avenue. In the space of a month or more I churned out a whole load of videos of this kind, drawing attention to the editing process, or the mistakes, or whatever the hell else was there upon which I might make an arch if less than articulate comment. Unfortunately I ran out of steam fairly soon. Although I thought I was playing the game so to speak, my efforts remained hampered by characteristically half-arsed editing and sheer lack of content. I'm really, really sad may not have been much of a message, but it was at least true to my whining little heart.

During this final burst of activity, I had also begun to make some videos purely for the sake of chuckles, pieces I knew I would never show to the tutors - notably a sarcastic and half-assed science-fiction film entitled The Doom, with assistance from and inspired by Charlie Adlard, specifically Charlie's impressively ham-fisted horror offering Sweet Dreams. It sort of figures that this stupid throwaway stuff (also comprising a horror short made with Thomas Frenzi back in 1985) is actually still watchable in comparison to my other efforts. A sense of humour goes a long way.

Nick Scullard terrifying us all in The Doom - Maidstone October 1986.

The final video I ever made, or at least the last one I ever completed was another throwaway piece, entitled Frankie Howerd solely because it closes with me doing an impersonation of Frankie Howerd. It opens with a shot of a television set, my legs strolling casually into view in the manner of someone in Viz comic. 'What's this?,' I exclaim in cartoon fashion, pointing at the television set before pretending to piss upon it, concluding with my bum gyrating in a mime of garnishing the set with a turd whilst exclaiming, 'that's what I think of video art!' I kept the mistakes in as usual, delivering lines whilst trying not to collapse in hysterics, and for the first time ever, it worked. Finally, I had made an honest piece of genuinely communicative video art, even if it's less than a minute long and only came about by accident.

So, that's four years of work, fifty or sixty pieces, six hours of video tape yielding maybe an hour's worth of stuff I can stand to watch or that I could stand anyone else watching. An hour may be ambitious, and I don't even mean works I'd necessarily consider good, just the ones that haven't completely collapsed under the weight of my own bullshit.

It would be easy to regard those four years as a waste, but far from accurate. In artistic terms, they taught me a lesson that I hopefully continue to learn and expand upon - namely that what you leave out can be as important or more important than that which you choose to include. Additionally I learned that one should never consider oneself above criticism, no matter how singular your vision may seem. Other people are there so as to save you from your own bullshit, and you are there so as to save them from theirs. Finally, I guess you could say I learned that a piece of art, whatever the medium, needs a seriously good reason to lack a sense of humour. These may not be earth-shattering conclusions, but I wish I'd learned them sooner.

Also, possibly most important of all, I made some great friends during that time, one or two of whom may well be reading this. So if you ever had to sit through one of my videos, or even had the thankless task of numbering amongst my tutors, sorry about that, and thanks for bearing with me. I got there in the end. I think.

Originally posted Sunday 13th February 2011 at Ce Acatl.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Yellow Brick Runway

Marian enjoyed what is generally described as a privileged upbringing, although by her account it was traumatic and difficult and not in the least bit enjoyable, albeit for reasons that never really struck me as significantly unpleasant. Her father was descended from numerous well-remembered men of great historical significance, and I think her mother had worked at the British Embassy in Paris or something of that sort. This accounted for Marian's mother owning a second home in the south of France, specifically in a village called Théza where she would spend six months of the year back during happier times.

Naturally we just had to go and stay there, although by this point in the relationship I'd begun to regard Marian's suggestions with a mixture of weary resignation and fear; because almost everything she did became horribly complicated as a matter of course, and somehow it was always my fault. We were to catch an 11:40AM flight from Stanstead Airport near London, and she spent much of that Sunday evening making it quite clear how disappointed she would be if I were to be late, given that we had planned to leave her house by 9AM the next day - which was cutting it close, but I thought we could probably make it. Being a postman I customarily rose each morning at around 5AM, whilst Marian, being effectively unemployed, rarely emerged before noon, but it didn't really seem worth the bother pointing this out in respect of my routinely anticipated failure. Regardless of circumstances, I was never very good at arguments.

By 8:30AM on Monday morning I couldn't see the point of drinking yet another coffee, and so I set off for Marian's house which was a couple of streets away from where I lived. I arrived early and she wasn't particularly glad to see me; and nor was she anywhere near ready to leave. I smiled and thought calming thoughts. That which will be, will be, I told myself.

As Marian continued to get ready, or at least to do whatever else it was she had decided needed doing at the last minute - possibly some hoovering, although I may have remembered that wrong - I humped her two heavy wheeled suitcases down the stairs to the hall.

'Do you have any more room in your bag?' she asked. I looked at my single lightweight rucksack dwarfed by her luggage mountain and told her no.

'Well, what else can you carry?'

She began to hunt around for a third case to fill.

By 9:30AM we were ready to leave, or so I believed. I hefted my rucksack onto my back, and extended the handles of Marian's two largest cases, ready to haul them off towards the bus-stop.

'You definitely can't take anything else, no?' She pulled an inconvenienced face, one that implied grudging acceptance of a compromise. 'Oh dear.'

The compromise was that she carried one of her own cases herself, the smallest of the three; or specifically she placed it down by the front door in readiness to carry it, having just one more thing to do prior to departure.

I looked to the ceiling and drew a deep breath.

Marian returned from the kitchen with a supermarket carrier bag and went out of the door. I considered her suitcases, then went to the front gate to watch her walk up and down the street filling the carrier bag with litter - coke cans, discarded cigarette packets, food wrappers and the like.

'What are you doing?' I asked. 'You know we're supposed to be catching a plane today?'

'There's plenty of time.'

'But what are you doing?'

'It's something I have to do.' She wandered past, down towards Goodrich Road, still gathering rubbish and stuffing it into the bag.

I thought about it some more, telling myself the usual kind of thing I always told myself on such occasions. We haven't left, but the flight isn't for another two hours, so there's no point getting pissed off until we've actually definitely missed it; but even I had given up believing this sort of crap, at least since our trip to London Aquarium.

Planning to leave at midday, we had arrived about a quarter of an hour before closing time and somehow ended up locked inside with all the fish. We eventually found some member of staff to let us out, but it wasn't even the first time it had happened. A year earlier we'd been locked in at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes.

Marian picked litter, tutting to herself.

'Is this like some ISA thing, like an exercise?' I was trying to sound interested and casual so as to avoid setting her off. We all have our little rituals. Some of us are just better with the timing.

'You wouldn't understand,' she said, which was true.

Having had a traumatic and difficult childhood during which her mother had once left her alone in the car for half an hour with just a packet of crisps and a bottle of pop, Marian was into self-improvement and wrestling with her many inner demons. Her shelves sagged with the weight of books sporting titles like Shoes Made of Rainbows and Choosing to Say Yes!, and she subscribed to the teachings of an organisation called ISA - which stood for the Institute of Self-Actualisation. She never really told me what went on at ISA meetings; apparently it was too important to be revealed to outsiders. The idea was that I should join and find out for myself, but I was reluctant to do this on the grounds that it all struck me as faintly sinister. So far as I was able to tell, ISA had taught Marian to actualise herself by blaming the trauma and difficulty of her childhood on other people, and often on me, which seemed unfair as I hadn't even been there. I'd more or less given up habitual grousing about work - my one pleasure - because even the mildest note of dissent shared with this supposed love of my life would trigger her ISA training and she would try to get me to self-actualise, or something.

So what are you going to do about it?, she would demand in response to even the most obviously rhetorical complaint, eyes popping out like a defiant Pekingese, a failed 1950s school mistress demanding to know how you propose to settle the debt of your crime.

I imagined Marian sat in her sack cloth robes amongst all those other ISA recruits in their dimly-lit chamber of caringness and empowerisationment, explaining to the Grand Poobah how pissed off she would get when people dropped their litter in the street.

So what are you going to do about it?, he would demand.

At 9:40AM we left, Marian in the lead, urging me to hurry as I hauled our cases along towards the bus-stop. We caught a bus to Camberwell, then Liverpool Street Station, then a train to Stanstead Airport. We arrived on the concourse at around 11:10AM just as it was announced that the gates by which we were to board our flight to Perpignan in the south of France were now closed.

Marian, having enjoyed what is generally described as a privileged upbringing, tended to regard everyone as potentially sullen waiters who had just brought her cold soup garnished with at least one fly. We were all just staff to her. She went to the desk, pulled herself up to her full 4' 7", and explained in shrill upper-class that our gate had closed before we were able to board, then demanded to know what they were going to do about it?

There were no more flights to Perpignan that day, so we both stumped up an additional ₤40 to reschedule for Tuesday morning and went to catch the train back to London in silence. Marian tried out a few general disparaging remarks on the subject of poor service and the unhelpful attitude of the woman working the desk, but I didn't respond. I wasn't going to be complicit in her shrugging off this latest balls-up, not with all the personal responsibility drivel she regularly laid at my door whenever I failed to purchase her preferred brand of toilet paper.

Forty minutes passed without a single word spoken as the train took us back to Liverpool Street. I was thinking about the bus journey, most of which had been taken up by Marian explaining how my arriving at her house prior to the agreed time had somehow made her late, and a number of other matters which she proposed should be taken into consideration as my fault; but at last, she was silent. I felt  calm as I tried not to smile.

'I suppose that was down to me,' she eventually said.

I gave no direct response, instead drawing attention to the fact that since leaving the airport I had not uttered a single word of reproach. This I offered by way of contrast to the many occasions when - for example - my failing to return a bath towel to the correct designated rung of the rack had effected her transformation into Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Marian was silent for a moment, then in duly chastened tones suggested we both needed to make a special effort to be on time tomorrow when making our second attempt to catch the daily flight to Perpignan. It had become our fault, and we had both made mistakes, which I knew was about as generous as could be expected. She spent the rest of the day in contemplative mood, and actually managed to stop being unpleasant for a few hours. It was strange and  unsettling, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Next morning, we caught the flight as planned. The plane went up into the sky, taking us to the south of France and a whole new set of screw-ups arising from my habitual failure to think of anyone but myself.

Friday, 12 April 2013

The End of an Error

About a million years ago back in the old days when everything was better than it is now, I was a much younger man attending an art foundation course at the Mid Warwickshire College of Further Education, Leamington Spa - England, in case that wasn't obvious. To be specific, it was 1984 - the year Orwell chose to signify an oppressive state which valued ideology over people - and a local authority of some kind had elected to host a peace festival in Jephson Gardens. The peace festival, staged over a warm weekend in June, entailed stalls, food, booze, music, holding hands, people failing to have fights, and the obligatory bunch of students. I was one of those students, and along with Sarah Kennedy, Tom O'Hare, Ian Johnson, Howard Jones, and possibly a few others, we staged an art installation of sorts. We were given a tent, itself containing a small enclosure in which was mounted a painting by Ian entitled Portrait of a Minority. I'd recorded some vaguely stately sounding music which played on a loop as one stood before the painting, something to suggest mourning, the passing of some anonymous individual depicted by Ian's canvas. The catch was that members of the public had to answer a series of faintly intrusive politically loaded questions prior to being granted access to the installation, and so we all dressed like insurance salesmen in deliberate contrast to the generally woolly spirit of the event and talked visitors through the interview process. I can no longer recall what the exact point of this might have been, what we were trying to say - the commodification of art or something - but it seemed to go down fairly well, although it became difficult to remain authentically officious as the afternoon wore on and beer took its toll.

The most successful part of the event had been included as a peripheral attraction, something to keep people entertained whilst they stood around waiting to be interviewed and wondering what the hell we were playing at. Tom had spent some time churning out hundreds of screen-printed images of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on cheap paper, and these were made available on a trestle table set up in front of our tent. Kids were supplied with felt tipped pens and invited to add as many horns, Hitler moustaches, swastikas, pimples, beards and the like as they saw fit, and we pinned the funniest on the side of the tent. I may be remembering this wrong but I'm pretty sure Tom's foot thick stack of prints was all used up by the end of the first day. Margaret Thatcher had been Prime Minister for five years and so the kids, some of whom probably hadn't been born when she took office, went to town because it's fun to draw Hitler moustaches on authority figures, and here they were being actively encouraged to just go for it. It perhaps wasn't as deep and meaningful as the accompanying installation, but if anything it's probably the part that people still remember and still understand.

I'm old enough to recall watching the news with my grandmother - a conservative voter defined mainly by what she didn't like - as Margaret Thatcher ousted Ted Heath from the leadership position of the party; and then again when I was thirteen and the former grocer's daughter became Prime Minister. Sat at the dining room table, my grandmother smoked her fag and approved. I recognised that there was probably something worthwhile about a woman winning the election, and having said so, left it at that. As I grew older and began to acquire a more thorough understanding of the world in general, my opinion of Margaret Thatcher changed from favourable ignorance to a realisation that this woman represented all that was evil; and yes, it really was that simple.

Although I was not to realise this until much later, Margaret Thatcher reintroduced the cult of personality to British politics, the dynamic leader, the figurehead, the larger than life Iron Lady - an insult levelled at her by a Soviet journalist and adopted because it suited her so well. Doubtless it would be crass and offensive to discuss her political persona with reference to the Führerprinzip of the German National Socialists, but nevertheless her transformation from shrill housewife superstar to voice coached She-Warrior of Destiny set an unfortunate precedent, ushering in an age of elections won by image and monosyllabic sentiment rather than policy, with intellect as something to be regarded with suspicion, the province of liberals and those fancy types with all that damn book learnin'. As with America, the prevailing political philosophy - such as it was - seemed to hold that money and finance should take priority over people, because a free market would create conditions under which everything else would be just dandy providing you weren't some whining beardie communist wearing socks with sandals. I may have that wrong, because that sort of thing always did bore me rigid. Politicians throughout history have been paid more than enough to understand and care about the economy, so it would be nice to be able to trust them to just get on with it without doing anything too offensive.

Some hope.

Off the top of my head, those specific acts which characterised the general thrust of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet would be firstly - approving the order to attack the ARA General Belgrano during the Falklands War despite its being thirty-six miles outside of the established Maritime Exclusion Zone and thus not a legitimate military target by the agreed terms of combat. Of those aboard, 323 were killed, and there is a possibility that the vessel may have been in retreat at the time.

Then, Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, specifically a particularly unpleasant amendment stating that local authority should neither intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality, nor promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship - innocuous as any of the vague laws in Orwell's 1984 wherein no-one quite understood what was forbidden, thus fostering a climate of paranoid obeisance. Aside from the somewhat obscene idea that government should have a general say in matters of individual sexuality, or at least whether anyone is even allowed to discuss such topics, it seemed to betray an increased tendency for policies designed to appease reactionary nutcases who under other circumstances would have been told to piss off and grow up, but no - we can't have those raving lesbo-lefties forcing British kids to be gay innit blah blah blah hell in a handcart thin end of the wedge dole scroungers blah blah blah...

Then there was the poll tax; destruction of the unions; privatisation of just about anything that moved thus introducing the idea of profit margin being more important than service whilst plastering over the shortfall with endless customer satisfaction questionnaires in the hope of fostering an illusion of concern; the miners' strike which brought us the spectacle of unarmed civilians assaulted by mounted police; the refusal to respect European Community sanctions against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa whilst dubbing the opposing African National Congress a terrorist organisation; buddying up with former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and so on and so forth. Perhaps these were all complex issues which can only be fully understood and appreciated in a much wider historical context, but from where I was standing it all looked like the work of a maniac, or at the very least someone who happily facilitated maniacs, and to put my Hallmark cards on the table, I'd say as soon as you start bleating about economics, money, or the open market in terms of events that have ruined the lives of great swathes of the population, you've already lost the argument.

Whilst I would never claim my own life was ruined by Thatcher's time in office, I'm only speaking for myself here, and I'm not aware of any of the supposed benefits of Thatcherism ever trickling down so far as my own social stratum, which is unfortunate as I thought that was supposed to be the entire point - run it all for profit and everyone gets a better deal. Whilst her emphasis on self-reliance might be deemed commendable up to a point, it always struck me as slightly rich that the populace should all be expected to become thrusting self-reliant competitors overnight whilst still paying tax towards all those institutions which my father's generation fought hard to build from the ruins of the second world war - the National Health Service to name but one, and of course the Post Office - even as those same institutions were being dismantled from within in the name of economic streamlining.

I joined Royal Mail in 1988 just as it disengaged from the telephone company in the hope that healthy competition would lead to what would hopefully be a better, more efficient, profitable service. Since the 1970s, the unions had taken a bashing, and this was certainly true of the Communication Worker's Union which had been pretty much castrated by the time I joined, just in case anyone was thinking of staging a 1970s style eight week strike over unsatisfactory toilet paper because, you know - striking was always such a wizard wheeze; no pay for week after week, it was always such a hoot, honestly! We just couldn't help ourselves.

By the time I left Royal Mail in 2009, the union was in such a pathetic state that I'd considered leaving on several occasions. Management had been walking all over us for years, and the CWU representative was some guy who showed up every few months with special union deals on cheap car insurance. The problem - which is probably another much longer story - was an organisation now run according to Thatcherite ideals: competitive, businesslike, modern, moving forward and all the other low calorie adjectival landfill that has served for modern business practice since the mid-1980s, all of which amounted to a heavier workload carried by fewer people. The practicalities of doing the job had ceased to be a consideration by the late 1990s - what mattered was that we could meet arbitrary targets pulled out of the ass of some business graduate who had probably never set foot inside a sorting office, and if we couldn't then we had to find a way; and when we failed, it was because we lacked can do attitude or we weren't team players or some such motivational drivel. It was bullshit - twenty years of hard back-breaking slog and any time we squeaked out a desperate objection to supposed improvements that were actually making our jobs significantly more difficult we became the lazy, striking postmen you would read about in the newspapers.

This is the thing about hard work. I am intimately familiar with what it feels like, so I become disgruntled when enmeshed within any system which holds up hard work as a virtue in its own right like it's something I might not recognise because I'm not someone who really grafts like, you know, a bank manager or somebody who matters.

As you will perhaps have noticed by the dates given, not all of the above transpired during Margaret Thatcher's time in office. Nevertheless I attribute to her the creation of the economic and social climate in which all of this has come about. She introduced politics as broad strokes in primary colours that can be understood by those who regularly fulminate over that which doesn't affect them - the silent majority who don't know too much about such and such, but know that it isn't right and that somebody should do something; politics for people who regard intellectual as a term of abuse, the mark of a failure, someone who doesn't have what it takes to survive. Margaret Thatcher made Tony Blair, effectively destroying the opposition by obliging it to play the game by her rules. Whether directly or otherwise, Margaret Thatcher made England into a cold, callous and carnivorous country from which I am very happy to have emigrated.

Over the past few days, following her death at the age of eighty-seven, it has been suggested that I might refrain from taking delight in her passing, for such would amount to the sort of dehumanisation which has proven such an effective currency for both her and her supporters over the years. I can understand and appreciate the argument, although I'm less sympathetic towards the suggestions  telling me I should be ashamed to make unkind comments at the death of an old lady, mother, and grandmother - these suggestions coming from people who regularly fume over dole scroungers, gay marriage and asylum seekers, bitter morons who need someone to blame for matters that don't actually affect them, and because it makes them feel like something other than the useless pie-scoffing work units they've chosen to be.

I could rise above it all, but simply, I don't feel I should have to. Margaret Thatcher dehumanised herself when she took on the persona of the Iron Lady as a consolidation of her political power and by her own choice became a symbol. Sometimes it isn't simply a matter of different strokes for different folks, and there are people who constitute genuine evil - assuming we all agree that evil falls roughly somewhere between an inability to empathise and a conviction of knowing what is absolutely right for someone you've never met. As a rule I tend not to experience joy when hearing someone has died, but on this occasion I just can't help myself. It's not a conscious choice. She made it personal, like an anthropomorphic embodiment of the forces of sheer carnivorous will insinuating tendrils of misery into every avenue of human existence, and doing it over and over and over simply because that was what she did. The world can be a cold, unforgiving place full of truly vile people who see you as a means to an end at best, at worst as something to be ploughed into the soil in order to yield that precious 0.00001% increase on the profit of their cash crop of choice, and yes, it is that simple, and yes, I am really, really glad that a symbol of just about everything that is wrong with human society is pushing up the daisies; and if you can't appreciate that, I feel truly sorry for you.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Tin of Doom

One morning I was at work, delivering letters and the like down Hindmans Road in East Dulwich. It was approaching noon and I still had a good hour and a half of work ahead of me. My cellphone rang and I guessed it would be Marian, my girlfriend at the time who, enjoying only sporadic employment, rarely rose from bed before 11:30AM. It was common for her to call me at work and ask favours, usually could I pick
up something on the way home and if so how long would I be?

I was correct. It was indeed Marian. How long would it be before I was home, she asked.

'Hours,' I told her truthfully.

'I need you to come home right now,' she said.

The request was not so bizarre as it may seem given that Hindmans Road was a mere five minutes walk from Marian's house, in which I was living as a lodger. She explained that she was unable to open a tin of tuna for Pringle, one of her three cats. Pringle was not allowed to eat cat food for reasons I never fully understood, and so lived on a diet of tuna, and sometimes rice - however the fuck that works.

'You can't open a tin of tuna,' I repeated. 'You want me to come home to open a tin of tuna for you?'

'Yes. That's what I said.'

'What's wrong with the tin?'

'I can't get it open.'

'So you want me to stop work and come home and open a tin of tuna for you?'

'Yes,' she confirmed testily, like I was some slow learner who had failed to grasp a very simple point. 'Pringle is really hungry and he's meowing,' she added for emphasis, letting me know that I now had an important decision to make, and I had better make it fast otherwise my selfishness (etc. etc.) was soon to cause the universe to explode. I decided it wasn't worth arguing. I locked up my delivery trolley, walked home, opened the can of tuna like any ordinary functioning human being would have done, smiled and said nothing when asked what the hell my problem was? Usually in these situations Marian would wheel out oh - so now I'm not allowed to ask you to help me out!, thus pre-empting any eyebrow I might dare to raise in respect to a fucked-up situation.

I still don't know whether Marian was so genuinely physically weak as to have been unable to open the tin of doom - given that she once had me carry a sandwich for her on the grounds of it being 'too heavy', this is possible - or whether this was just one more weird control exercise, one more sledgehammer effort at compensating for being four foot something tall and having a lousy personality. I don't know, and I no longer care, and it feels good.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Doctor, Why?

'He into his bikes, is he?' The question was asked by Peter Sweet,  someone my father knew through mutual love of massive, noisy motorcycles. Even though I was not yet ten years old, we lived on a farm and I was male so I suppose it had seemed reasonable to assume that I was probably into Status Quo, Aston Villa and motorbikes.

'Oh no - he's a Doctor Who man,' my father explained as they headed out the door, intent on keeping a date with a lake of beer and lively conversation about gear boxes.

Without even knowing quite why, even then I resented the label, even though it was certainly fitting. I'd been terrified by Doctor Who up until the age of five at which point, having just watched Jon Pertwee menaced by a man pretending to be an animated stone gargoyle without quacking my pants, I informed my mother that I would be okay to watch the programme from that point on; and I was, never missing an episode until Colin Baker took to the screen and I moved away from home and into a house with no television set, which was possibly ironic in so much as I had relocated in order to study film and video production at Maidstone College of Art. Inevitably I drifted away from the programme because I was eighteen and, without wishing to cast doubt on the quality of either the Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy years, I had other, more interesting things to do.

Roughly a decade went by without my giving so much as a passing thought to this phenomenon which had once been so integral to my childhood, but then the same is true of Enid Blyton's Adventures of the Wishing Chair, so it's really not such a big deal. Then some time in the early 1990s my friend Andrew gave me a VHS tape of an old Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story for my birthday, and like Clark Kent recalling his secret origin, it all came flooding back in one massive bolus of memory sherbert. I bought some more of these tapes and was surprised at how well the stories had endured for what was essentially a children's programme without much in the way of a budget. Those later years during which the show had tried so hard not to fall off the bottom of the screen had completely passed me by, and I was intrigued by the idea that the clown from Vision On had somehow ended up in the lead role; so I bought tapes of episodes from the Sylvester McCoy era and found I even liked those. This in turn led to my reading the novels published by Virgin Books which continued the story on from the show's cancellation in 1989, with efforts made towards being decent science-fiction novels in their own right - which some of them certainly were.

In summary, Doctor Who was never my reason for living, but I had an investment I suppose you would say. I wouldn't go so far as to claim it for my native mythology as does Lawrence Miles, but it meant something and, more importantly, it led me to other, more interesting places. I can trace, for one example, at least half of the music I now listen to back to the soundtrack of jarring electronic farts scored by Malcolm Clarke for 1972's The Sea Devils.

Then in 2005, Doctor Who was once more recognised as being a viable entertainment franchise and returned to our television screens with Christopher Ecclescake in the lead role. I tried with this revived version but ultimately found myself forced to admit that it really wasn't for me. It's difficult to place the blame on any one thing that has remained consistently poor since its return - aside from Murray Lead's unrelenting incidental music which has remained efficiently and intrusively crass from the beginning - so I tend to attribute its failure to a combination of general shoddy workmanship and the stench of corporately regulated spontaneity and leave it at that.

Of course, I strive to keep such views to myself most of the time. Regardless of whether love or loathing are involved, centring each day around one's feelings for a television programme can never be healthy. I've seen what happens on internet forums gripped by the hysteria of such product overinvestment, and it isn't nice; and nor is there anything to be gained from arguing with someone for whom a fictional character is their life. They won't listen, and the more intellectually inert of their brethren will only counter your argument with viewing statistics, because if Fifty Shades of Gray, The X-Factor, Sex and the City, Justin Bieber and Adolf Hitler's rise to power have taught us anything at all, it is that the cultural or historical value of a phenomenon is apparently proportional to the quota of bums on seats. E.V. Rieu's 1946 translation of Homer's Odyssey sold three-million copies; Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has sold eighty-million copies worldwide and is by this logic the artistically superior title.

Where Doctor Who in its heyday was spawned of a BBC populated with cranky eccentrics who tended not to play well with others but were good at imaginative programming, now it is imagineered by committee according to the guidelines of focus groups, and if it isn't, then it feels like it is to me, having more in common with Friends or Sex and the City than with its predecessor. Someone somewhere decided that the eccentric charm of the original could be rebranded and marketed with a 45% increased efficiency per unit of metric quirk to the benefit of shareholders and audience alike, floating the selfsame adventuresome zanyplex on the open market thus allowing it to compete with the likes of Spielberg, Buffy the Vampire Portfolio, and other wilfully culty TV shows about teenagers in warehouses full of stuff that fell off the back of a UFO. Even some of Doctor Who's fans now refer to it as a franchise.

Characters routinely undergo modular emotional journeys - the usual generic tripe about how daddy was never there and so on, standard soap-opera fare - scored without exception to a deafening barrage of boo hoo music just in case we didn't realise that a crying girl with big eyes is supposed to make us have a sad and because no-one trusts the script to deliver anything beyond tiresomely snappy wordplay and plot explanations; and it's no wonder when said scripts amount to a collage of time-tested set pieces already proven to have got the job done on other shows - the Doctor pleading you don't have to do this to the pissed-off alleged Silurian just like a million Nicholas Cages before him all talking the terrorist out of detonating the bomb, and nine times out of ten building up to the worst ever threat to the continued existence of everything ever yet again. It's all piss, wind, and bluster - just meaningless scale presented over and over because the steering committee understand sales targets and viewer ratings better than they understand the basic mechanics of telling a story, or why anyone would even want to tell a story without first consulting the Financial Times. This is why Doctor Who now so closely resembles proven-sellers - Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Harry Potter as the the camera zooms in for a close up, the music swells, Matt Smith looking directly into the camera to deliver one of those lines you only ever hear in the bronchial voiceover of a cinematic trailer: this ends here; the time for something or other is over; there's one thing you don't ever put in a trap; bring it on, numbnuts and so on and so forth. It's a magical funtime ride of wonderment and adventure because Tim Burton didn't win all those awards just for combing his hair. That's commercial, as Borgia Ginz observes in Derek Jarman's Jubilee.

I object to this because I dislike being condescended to by anything more stupid than myself, anything which assumes that like a south-sea island tribesman I will be impressed by bright flashing lights and loud music and so fail to notice the absence of content, or that the dribbling stream of trite jokes and twee observations aren't actually that funny. The sheer insincerity is breathtaking.

I've worked hard over the years to elevate myself above the level of gurgling idiocy to which I was born, and unfortunately this has meant that as I grow older and hopefully a little more discerning, some things just don't cut it any more. I get bored easily, particularly when confronted with the sort of mechanically-reclaimed science-fiction that has recently become so popular, and was actually already somewhat limited in its scope thirty years ago when Star Wars put an untimely end to those pleasantly cerebral science-fiction films of the early 1970s by reintroducing us to the Flash Gordon method of storytelling. I dislike being sold the same idea over and over, particularly when the idea really wasn't that amazing in the first place. Doubtless this may sound elitist, but I prefer to think of it as having standards, the ability to tell the difference between McDonalds and actual food. If that makes anyone feel threatened or somehow inadequate, that's really a shame.

I dislike contemporary Doctor Who because it smothers any story it might be trying to tell with the narrative equivalent of sex aids - something novel to spice up that which lacks the proverbial wood - and because it just isn't anywhere near so clever as it wants us to believe it is. It has been suggested to me that this is simply the way television is made these days, as though I might like to try getting used to it or else piss off back to my penny farthing and wax cylinders. That this is simply the way television is made these days is not strictly accurate, but rather seems to be one of those stock phrases people tend to repeat because they've heard someone else say it and it saves them having to think about whether or not it's true. There's really quite a bit of television employing narrative language entirely unlike that of Doctor Who, mostly television scripted by people who can actually write, who don't require smoke and mirrors to compensate for any lack in the production; and to condense all of the above into a single sentence, I dislike contemporary Doctor Who because it's Nickelback trying to fool us into thinking they're The Sex Pistols.

A few might agree with the above, or at least with some of the above, and there are many, many who would disagree in the strongest possible terms. Being able to cope with the notion that others might hold views different to my own, I don't have a problem with that. If people wish to spend their time watching Doctor Who then fine. Not everything has to be The Deer Hunter, and as for myself it'll be a cold day in hell before I get tired of Godzilla movies, absurd though they may well be. However, I do object to those individuals who seem unable to cope with anyone holding opinions so wildly divergent to their own, and who for some reason seem to take any insult to their beloved yet entirely fictitious Doctor Who Magic Telly Man as an assault upon them, their children, their children's children, and everything that is right and true. If you hate it so much, they bleat because they've seen the question posed before and it seemed to work for the previous guy, then why do you watch it?

Truthfully, I don't. I gave up after struggling through the first ten minutes of Hitler, Go Home or whatever it was called. Matt Smith had just made an amusing remark about wearing either a fez or a bow-tie. The woman who played Dirty Den's second wife in Eastenders had quipped hello, darling to hilarious effect whilst Rory died and Amy McBoggle pulled that feisty popeyed face she does every few minutes, and I knew I just couldn't stand it any longer. I knew it was never going to improve, and that both Steven Moffat and I were wasting each other's time. Later I trawled the internet seeking commentary upon the episode and found I know Hitler was a bit of a bad lad and all, but surely even he deserved better than that..

Unfortunately Doctor Who, whether you watch it or not, has become difficult to avoid, and it's impossible to entirely disassociate oneself from something you enjoyed for at least a few decades of your life, particularly when you still have some sneaking regard for the previous version. It's also difficult to prevent strong opinions such as those expressed above boiling to the surface when any view you might share is pounced on by ravening hordes driven by the sort of religious bloodlust that Tomás de Torquemada would have regarded as slightly creepy. You are the ones, they scream, who can't let go, the jealous losers who take it all too seriously, who can't stand that it's back and that it's more brilliant than ever before, and so on and so forth to paraphrase a Doctor Who author whose books I will never buy. More than anything it comes across as terrible insecurity: tread softly because you tread on my dreams...

Well, that's how it sounds with the slightly more rabid defenders of the faith, but who knows what they're thinking? I suppose you might argue that in writing this I too am failing to let go, but I really feel the accusation would be rendered somewhat flaccid by the word count of material I've written which has nothing to do with Magic Doctor Who Man Telly Adventure Time. Often it is suggested that my fellow naysayers and I might like to shut the fuck up lest we somehow spoil other's enjoyment, because if history has taught us anything it is that those who made unkind comments about the Bay City Rollers, Kenny, Curiosity Killed the Cat, the Jo-Boxers, Bros, Oasis, Take That, Westlife, Busted, and One Direction must ever live with the shame of knowing how their hurtful remarks have destroyed people's lives and engulfed orphanages in the terrible killing flames of death; which is why wanting something to not be rubbish is frowned upon, I suppose.

Essentially I like people, and try to see the best in everyone. I like to see people making something of themselves and doing whatever it is they do well, generally speaking, developing themselves and learning to appreciate what a great world we live in. Therefore it pisses me off when I see people wilfully wasting their time on that which doesn't matter, or coming out with moronic drivel because they've never made the effort, or even been inspired to make the effort, to expand themselves - like the person who in intellectual terms lives in the same town their entire life, never once expressing an interest in the world beyond the horizon of their television set, who justifies such myopia with reasoning amounting to well I think you'll find Solihull has a lot to offer on the face of it. I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want more, and the sheer lack of curiosity about experiencing that which one might not have previously experienced is terrifying - failing to engage with any form of culture not bearing a specific logo, for example. There is no-one on Earth who eats at McDonalds to the complete exclusion of all other gastronomic options, and yet there do seem to be people who bifurcate the world into Doctor Who and all that other stuff.

Where Doctor Who was once a show that at least aspired to inspire, to open up a wider world to young viewers without giving any attendant adults too much of a headache, now it is concerned principally with the perpetuation of its own mythology. It has become a marketing exercise garnished with tried and tested signifiers of authenticity - generic emotive or humorous sequences as the televisual equivalent of McDonalds deciding to sell fruit or using twee folk music as part of their advertising campaign - and its only purpose seems to be the occupation of as much cultural bandwidth as it can appropriate before everyone wises up and starts spending their money elsewhere. What this boils down to, at least for me, is an issue of fundamental curiosity regarding what's out there, all the books I will never have time to read, films I may never see, or places I may never visit. I try to broaden my horizons as I proceed through life, to experience as much as I can, not least through reading; and I read a great deal of science-fiction because that's what I enjoy, but I try not restrict myself to any one genre. It depresses me that there are people out there who will never pick up a book without it bearing some relation to Doctor Who, who may bang on about science-fiction literature on some stupid forum without actually quite knowing even who Isaac Asimov or Clifford Simak were; or worse, who might not even read at all, just sit there drooling over the same crappy DVD they've seen a million times whilst assuming that a broadened horizon means watching fucking Stargate instead. I don't want to live in a world full of morons. I don't want to live in a culture where you have to drive fifty miles to find a Denny's or a Jim's because no-one understands why you would want anything other than a Big Mac. The great energy harvester of western society feeds us quite enough fake homogenised culture as it is without our encouraging it further.

Of course, in the end it's up to the individual, and I have many valued friends who I actually hope don't read this because I know it will piss them off, and it needn't because it really isn't about them (apart from Steve*). I don't tend to make friends based on mutual appreciation of the same bands because I'm not sixteen years old, and I can make a distinction between the individual and whatever they have printed on their T-shirt; and I can even, under the ordinary circumstances of friendship, respect their holding views differing wildly from my own. By extension, I'm not interested in discourse with any individual unable to extend the same courtesies to others, and so I don't see why anyone should be expected to shut up about something they dislike, particularly if they are able to offer some illuminating reason as to why they dislike it.

Doctor Who has often been sold as an ongoing story with almost limitless possibilities, mainly because that's a neat little phrase and no-one really stops to think about it too hard; but its possibilities are only limitless within the confines of every single variant requiring the involvement of a man in a box having adventures whilst his chums stands around asking questions. You might just as well say Garfield is an ongoing story with almost limitless possibilities, then accordingly revise Crime and Punishment in order to illustrate this, having Raskolnikov debate the morality of his actions with a wisecracking pizza-scoffing cat. If it really is about the story rather than the franchise, then why would anyone settle for an inferior model simply because it carries a familiar logo?

So there you go. It took a lot of squeezing but I think that's most of the pimple in so much as there's nothing much I could add without further repeating myself. That's my view pretty much in full and set to a semblance of order so that I shouldn't need to do it again. Hopefully the reader will have gained something from the above, one way or the other, and may at least appreciate why I hold such views: it's not so much about my opinion of, for example, Moffat as an alleged writer, whether new Doctor Who episodes will ever attain the giddy creative heights of The Twin Dilemma or Timelash, or any of the specific and deeply uninteresting details. It's mostly about possibilities, people bothering to look outside their front door, accepting that views divergent from their own may be equally or even more valid, and maybe even learning to recognise when they're being diddled; and to invert the stock challenge so beloved of a certain type of contemporary Doctor Who fan, if you hate all of that so much, then why did you read this?
*: Relax, dude. I'm joking.