Wednesday, 30 August 2017

While Washing Up

I have discovered that it is a rare bit of washing up that cannot be done in the time it takes to listen to an episode of that British institution, Radio 4's The Archers. I do remember Victoria Wood saying once that she'd stopped listening to The Archers and started going into the shed and staring at the wall and found that much more interesting, but she was being harsh. Such a judgment is also, sadly, out of date, as the programme is now maddeningly racy, whereas before it was like cricket on the radio, (or, in Australia, the parliamentary live broadcast), just soothing background noise.

Unfortunately, The Archers is now:

a: a branch of whichever ministry is in charge of government service announcements, ("Oh, have you heard that lichen has been disappearing in the countryside because of spraying, Joe?", "No, Bert, but I've noticed there's not so much lichen on the village stone walls as there once was." "Yerrsse, well apparently there's a spray called 245T that we didn't ought to be using, but everyone is using it." "Is that right, Jo? Why, I think I've got a tin of that somewhere," "Well you should take it into Borchester to be safely disposed of, the offices in question are open nationwide between the hours of 6 and 10 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and they will welcome your visit, I'm absolutely certain", etc, etc)

and b: the place ex-Eastenders producers, directors and writers go for audio frolics.  As a result, while we may not be subjected to the kind of graphic sex Geoff Dyer decided to suddenly shove into one of the most up until then amusing books I'd ever read - (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; what was he thinking? Either that he could do DH Lawrence better than DH Lawrence, when it comes to sex, or that it was quite funny to claim that a few pages later that he wasn't the kind of man who boasts about sex, or just that he felt like shoving our faces in it; my view is that very detailed depictions of other people, fictitious or not, performing sexual acts upon one another leave the person doing the reading or viewing in the position of a voyeur and that there should therefore be warnings on such works of art so that those of us who would prefer not to be voyeurs could choose something else to look at or read) - we do get a lot of story lines about lurve rather than about almost nothing, which is what one used to expect from "an everyday story of country folk", (come to think of it, is The Archers still characterised in that way by the BBC? Probably not).

And not only lurve - there has also been masses of anguished stuff about rural poverty, domestic violence, gambling addiction, not to mention fermented and artisanal food. Worse still, the perfectly good actors who used to play, for example, Tom and his father, Tony, suddenly got replaced (on the grounds, I read, that they weren't experienced enough; I suspect some form of nepotism somewhere), and we were supposed not to notice. How could anyone not notice that suddenly we had one of the men from A Very Peculiar Practice playing Tony and a person with a much more annoying manner playing Tom, (which I suppose you could argue is a good move, given that Tom is very annoying as a character. But then aren't they all?)

So, if it is all such a disappointment, why do I keep on listening? Well, as I say, it does fit in very well with the time it takes to do the washing up. Additionally, and more importantly, very, very occasionally, the programme is, if not stupendously brilliant, at least faintly perceptive. An example of this occurred last week, when in a very short piece of dialogue the problem at the heart of the disintegration of contemporary life was expressed for all to hear.

The dialogue in question took place between a fairly new character,  filthy rich, new-money businessman Justin and old-money, widowed Oliver. They were talking about the possible sale of Oliver's dead wife's hotel, Grey Gables. Oliver has some debts, but he cannot bear to sell his farm, as the Grundys, the programmes ne'er-do-well heart-of-gold yokels, live there and he has promised not to shift them. Thus he wants to sell the hotel instead.

Justin, talking about Grey Gables: Old charm can only take you so far when you're trying to maximise profits
Oliver: Which is what you want to do?
Justin: It's what everyone wants to do. That might mean redundancies, high staff turnover ...
Oliver:That's my greatest concern - Caroline had such a loyal staff. They loved her and I don't want to let them down
Justin: It's a hard world out there, Oliver

There we have it, that phrase "maximise profits". What the hell happened to making a profit? Why isn't that enough, in combination with running a business that takes care of its staff and customers? Why is maximising profits at all costs the new thing? What happened to the idea of business being both profitable and community minded? How can we change back to that better way - the pre-Thatcher, triple-bottom-line approach? I think we urgently need to do so.

For the long version of how frightful everything is because of the unrelenting, singleminded drive to maximise profits at all costs, regardless of the consequences, this is a very complicated but utterly absorbing and hair-raising read. For the short version, stay tuned to the washing up and The Archers. Grey Gables will soon be luxury apartments, sod old world charm; you mark my words.

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