Thursday, August 27, 2015

You want silliness in this silly season? How about the silliness of denying the fruits of life to several more merely because we would have to put up with just a little less?

They call it the silly season, the month when ‘nothing happens’ and our newspapers are required to resort to printing all kinds of nonsensical rubbish just to fill their pages and justify the ad rates they charge. Well, from where I sit if the guiding criterion is being prepared to print all kinds of nonsensical rubbish, the newspaper silly season here in Britain runs from January 1 to December 31.

The month of August, at least not for the past ten years has been any sillier. It depends, of course, on which newspaper you read. Those here in Britain – I should say those self-regarding types here in Britain – who like to think they have a conscience and regard themselves as ‘thinkers’ head for the Guardian and the Independent. But neither could yield an inch to those papers popularly seen as being rather further down the food-chain when it comes to silliness.

In the Guardian, for instance – and I will grant that it does in part still cling on to being a newspaper of record rather than sensation – you’re as likely to find bizarre items in its lifestyle section on how to make the perfect something or other as you will find high-minded agonising about global warming (yes, that’s still around, although apparently temperatures have stopped creeping up now for the past 15 years).

The latest installment is How To Make The Perfect Porchetta and I don’t mind admitting that until I came across the piece for the purposes of digging up an example, I had no idea what porchetta was. Several weeks ago, I spoofed that uniquely Guardianista piece with How To Pour The Perfect Glass Of Water on Facebook (below) and got just one like. That probably says more about the limits to my

circle of Facebook friends than anything else, but I was surprised it got just one, especially as I had
gone to some trouble to spoor what looked like a bona fide link to the story in the Guardian.

As for real silliness, in season or out of it, you really can do no better than what is popularly known as the Mail Online’s Column Of Shame. These are ineffably fluffy pieces recording such important events such as Kim Kardashian appearing in public wearing the same dress for the second time or Orland Bloom popping into his nearest Starbucks for a coffee. I shan’t bother with a specific link as Mail Online manages to outdo itself in complete silliness every day, seven days a week the year round.

More intriguing in the silliness stakes is the story of how the once quite mighty Daily Telegraph is dying on its feet before our eyes. Ten years ago, that paper, regarded for decades as the voice of Conservatism in Britain, was still selling well over one and a half million copies a day, and no other of its British broadsheet competitors – the Guardian, the Independent and that most middlebrow of middlebrow pretensions, The Times, came anywhere close in terms of circulation. Now it is knocking along at the bottom along with its competitors, selling a great deal less than half a million copies a day and striving to stay afloat by indulging itself in the most futile of all futile survival strategies, laying off staff.

Where once it had a comparable editorial team to, well my gang, the Daily Mail, it has rid itself of anyone able to hold a pen and allows gangs of whoever it can scoop up for the day from the alleyways of Victoria to sub-edit its pages. And it shows. Christ does it show. These folk are given a bottle of stout and a pack of cheese and onion sandwiches plus ten Senior Service and told not to let any word longer than eight letters into the paper. Obviously, being the roughest of the rough and ill-educated to boot, they usually fail and quite substantial words of 12/13 letters or more are still creeping into the paper, though always used in an inappropriate way.

By way of being a ‘paper of record’, the Telegraph has espoused that most obvious of standbys, the list: the ten/twenty Premier League players managers most want to get rid of; the twenty best pubs in Britain; twenty comments you just can’t be without when you are at a cocktail party; twenty ways of definitely upsetting royalty. Anyone at all interested in that once mighty paper’s decline should consult Britain’s Private Eye (still described as a ‘satirical journal’, although I can’t for the life of me see why) which is taking a great delight in chronicling the abject decline into irrelevance of the Daily Telegraph.

. . .

Exactly how silly the season isn’t can be gauged by two stories in the headlines here in Britain (and Europe): there’s the desperate attempts by tens of thousands of migrants from various parts of North Africa to get into the EU in search of a better life; and there’s the unsettling decline of share prices on the Chinese stock market (though not the Hong Kong Stock Exchange which has so far avoided whatever virus is going aroung). As for the migrants, well despite the nasty traits of my character, they have my best wishes.

For decades we here in the West (the ‘civilised West) have been encouraged to make the most of ourselves, to strive to raise our standard of living, to ensure we take care of our families and the rest, yet when folk fleeing often certain death in Syria, Libya, Ethiopia and Eritrea try to do the same we clutch our skirts in horror. Why exactly?

Well, I’ll tell you why: if we did do the decent thing and give refuge to as many of them as we could it would – to be very blunt – cost us. The good folk of Western Europe might have to do without getting a new car every few years, taking a foreign holiday every year, eating out at some expense whenever they chose: it is one thing expressing apparently heartfelt fellow feeling, but quite another doing something about it. I know that I am about to sound like some dickhead socialist and that I am not – I might be a dickhead, but I am no lefty. But here goes: there is more than enough to go around here in Western Europe for several million additional folk. Yes, it would take some readjusting and, yes, it would be difficult, but it would be quite possible with thought and sense to re-organise life and for all of us already established here to make slight sacrifices.

Who says we are obliged to raise our standard of living in perpetuity? Why those flogging us stuff, of course. Here in Britain the average household has at least two TV sets and two cars. Today I went to the local council recycling facility to drop off a guitar amp which had long given up the ghost and was simply gathering dust. And what did I see: at least 40 or 50 perfectly reasonable TV sets, some of them of the new plasma flatscreen kind, tossed out to make way for a newer, more expensive model. (Incidentally, despite the fact that thousands of more TV sets are shifted every day, the crap on TV remains the same: does EastEnders (or whatever your soap is) improve simply because you are watching it one a 40/50in wide plasma TV?)

The wobble, and it could become far more than a wobble, of the Chinese stock exchange, is potentially more serious. Although I am advocating a restructuring of our Western economies to spread the goodies a little more with a lot more people, it is the kind of thing which has to be done slowly and carefully. But a worldwide collapse in stock markets and doubtlessly a resultant imploding of economies is not the way to do it. But the danger is the suddenness of it, not the fact that share prices are falling. So much for silliness.

. . .

Next week I am off to Spain again for what has become an annual trip. Four holidays in five months? And you preach to us about a fat living? Well, it’s a little less complicated than that (of course). I get 20 paid holiday days a year, but for the past few years I have ended up at the end of the holiday year with ‘days owed’ and was obliged to take a week of in October doing nothing just to take them.

Well, this year, possibly my last in work, I decided to organies myself a little more. Eh, that’s it. I am not taking more holiday, just ensuring what I take is spent in slightly warmer parts than were hereto fore. I am off to see one Seth Cardew, the potter, in his bolthole a few miles north of Els Inbarsos in Castellon, and I shall keep you posted. As always – I really can’t pass up any opportunity to pontificate.

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