It’s funny how time just moves on and, imperceptibly, things disappear without fanfare or farewell. Of course, technology is the reason for most things to become outdated. Among the recent cultural cullings are: Watching VHS, listening to CDs, using encyclopedias, knowing people’s phone numbers, arranging to meet someone at a specific time, booking your holiday at a travel agents (or through Ceephax if you were awesome), wearing a watch, writing a letter.
While the digital age has heralded much of this change, some of it is unrelated to technology and more of a fashion thing. It’s no longer relevant who is at number one in the charts. Neither is it cool to visibly belong to a youth subculture. Except in, like, Retford or Cumbria, where defiant Emo kids still cling longingly to the idea that thickness of eyeliner equates to emotional depth. As a DJ, I am no longer expected to announce people’s birthdays or ask “anyone here celebrating A-level results day tonight?” in a nightclub, thankfully.
But one thing that has passed imperceptibly into the past is Grannies. By which I mean real Grannies of the kind still depicted on TV like this:
Proper Grannies were so ubiquitous that we never thought we’d see the back of them. We thought that, as you got older, we’d all automatically start wearing nylon dresses and calling the radio the “wireless”. It seemed a natural part of the ageing process: As soon as your hair turned grey, you suddenly felt an uncontrollable urge to eat tongue sandwiches and switch to electric blankets and eiderdowns.
But something happened….
The proper Grannies went to the great whist drive in the sky and the baby boomers started reaching 50, then 60, then 70… Suddenly, your Granny has done more LSD than you have and makes better pesto to boot. Granny wants a Kindle Fire for Christmas. Granny has 2000 followers on Pinterest. Granny is glamping at Glastonbury (Emily Eavis follows her on Twitter).
So, before they are gone forever, let us remember:
Carriage clocks for 40 years’ loyal service
Listening to Perry Como/holidaying at Lake Como
Calling electricity ‘the electric’
Knowing/caring who Princess Grace of Monaco is
Motorbikes with sidecars
Tea urns in village halls
Saying ‘five bob’
Saying someone has ‘elfin’ features
Knowing how to play the piano
Thinking milk is healthy
Those brass lady/bell ornaments
What with the rise of British Bake-off and Sewing Bee, the hipster-fuelled return of knitting and the Swing music revival, some might argue that Granny culture is making a comeback. Or, like vinyl records, Caramacs and milk floats, it never actually went away if you knew where to look. More elderflower wine and damson jam is being consumed at more WI meetings now than at any time in the past 20 years. So while there is always a hint of tedious 21st century irony in the latter-day fad for bunting, shabby chic and Keep Calm and Carry On, at least we have some reminders of the Reenies and Mabels and Ethels who made our childhoods so full of joy. And Murray mints.
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It’s the Russell Brand or Johnny Rotten dilemma. Which Self-styled Countercultural Icon Should We Believe? Polly Tonbee opted for John Lydon while Jeremy Paxman seems to have gone for a Brand approach.
I have always had time for John Lydon. His vitriolic, caustic, Punk-as-fuck attitude and his keen lyrical wit are what makes his musical outings such an irresistible force. On the other hand, I have recently been much impressed by the off-the-wall rantings and giant-slaying kookiness of Russell Brand. They both agree that the political system is messed up, but Lydon says we must vote the current crop of failing politicians out, while Brand insists that voting is for dummies.
Russell Brand is essentially a hippie; he believes that the best way to alter reality is to change yourself. He has long espoused the benefits of transcendental meditation, so it’s no surprise that he believes that change comes from within the individual. In Brand’s world, there is no point in voting because it only encourages politicians. It legitimates their power. If you stop voting, you stop giving them that power.
If Russell Brand is Woodstock, then Johnny Lydon is Paris ’68. He is essentially a Marxist. Or perhaps more accurately, a Democratic Socialist. He believes that politics matters, that the working class need to vote for left-wing parties and through state intervention and good governance, everything will be OK. If only we had the right politics, the right government, the right policies … The way to bring about political change is more politics.
There are obvious flaws in both Brand and Lydon’s arguments. The trouble with Brand’s hippie anarchism is that you would need everybody to not vote. While there are still grannies and middle-Englanders religiously exercising their democratic right to vote, there will be a government. And one which reflects the voters’ interests (or perceived interests), not the interests of the apathetic non-voting youngsters.
The big flaw with John Lydon’s argument is that it assumes that we have somebody to vote for. The main three parties, plus UKIP, are essentially neo-liberal parties. They all want the same thing: Bail out the banks, feed the corporations, encourage austerity. Unless people actually start reading the Green Party Manifesto, which is hardly being encouraged by the media, there is no viable alternative.
The debate between Brand and Lydon is, to my mind, another manifestation of the age-old debate which has been raging in the left for over a hundred years. It began in the Russian Revolution, cropped up in (and indeed scuppered) the Spanish Civil War, was resurrected in the 60s and is now back with a vengeance. The question is whether the left wants Anarchism or Socialism. Unlike in the past, however, the nation state is no longer the unit of power. So this is why I’m going to say Russell Brand is right and John Lydon is hopelessly out of date.
Power lies in the corporations and banks, not national Governments. And banks and corporations are already answerable to us, as we are their customers. Even though their fattest customers are more banks and corporations, somewhere near the bottom is the little guy who has to pay off his debts and shop in Tesco’s. We don’t need to vote in a polling booth. We can vote with our pockets. In that sense, Brand is right: The way to change the world is to choose a better bank, to shop locally, to consume less. As the hippies say, the world is an illusion. If we stop believing in Tesco’s, it will go away. In fact, it’s already happening.
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If you’re looking for day trip ideas from London, the Suffolk coast provides a little bit of olde England, just an hour or so by car or train. The charming resorts of Southwold and Aldeburgh transport you back in time to bucket and spade holidays of the 1950s, with their easy-going atmosphere, locally-sourced food and superlative fish and chip cafes. The Suffolk coast makes an up-market and far more peaceful alternative to the likes of Brighton and allows you to really feel like you’ve got away from it all.
Here are some iphone snaps I took on a recent Redpig road trip. A long weekend was ample time to recharge the batteries, sample the local cuisine and seek out a few ‘secret’ beaches.
Doing stuff ‘before it was cool’ is – generally speaking – a sound principle. Being that it might include such coups as seeing Blondie at CBGBs, or, I dunno, buying that JK Galbraith book before everyone knew it was JK Rowling, that sort of thing. But living in East London ten years ago? Please. This is not something to be proud of. It was flippin’ awful.
There was nothing trendy about living amongst dirty chicken emporiums, crackpot evangelical churches, unlit streets of bleak empty warehousing, derelict bombed-out wasteground (and some council estates you wished the Luftwaffe would return for), Pat Butcher lookalikes, Eels, liqour sauce, stabby pubs, handy shops where you could buy wigs and transfer money abroad all in one place, prozzies, squatters with rotweillers, Mitchell Brothers lookalikes and an overground train service that ran every other Tuesday, weather permitting.
Those were the days. The good old days before the overground when you had to spend three hours getting to Clissold Park only to find you were 10 years too early and were then unceremoniously lynched by 13 year-olds in Kappa.
“Oh, but what about gentrification? I was a ‘real’ person who had no money and had to live here. I’m not gamourising it. I’m legit”. Oh, congratulations. Here – have a medal. It’s from the people of Glasgow congratulating you on your working class credentials. I hear there’s a plaque with your name on it in the Miner’s Welfare in Merthyr Tydfil now, too.
Let’s not forget: You weren’t born East. If you’d have been born there, you’d be now residing in Chingford, topping up your perma-tan, glad to be finally rid of the life-sucking hell-hole once and for all instead of cycling round Stokey complaining about peak beard.
On a recent trip to the Peak District, I stopped by Hadfield, the location for Royston Vasey in the TV series The League of Gentlemen. I didn’t see Tubbs and Edward, unfortunately, but I did see a Daily Mail branded newsagents wishing us Merry Christmas and a surprisingly sexy pie advert. Also good to know British Rail still run there, as I could have sworn it was privatised in 1993.
In March this year, my husband and I drove down to Italy in our camper van (the van is affectionately known as The Red Pig). We saw bits of France and Belgium on the way there and back. As you can see, the weather was pleasant most of the time, and lots of places were completely deserted.
Going out of season was great, as it cut out queues at nearly all the museums. It also allowed us to pull up and snooze in the van more or less wherever we liked. Below are some iPhone snaps I took en route.
In the early 70s, perhaps catalyzed by LSD or Marxism (or possibly both), academics in the humanities very briefly experienced a mini enlightenment. Social Science articles from the 70s are mostly awesome and way more fun that all the neoliberal crap we are force-fed these days in my humble opinion. One of the most enlightening articles from this era, which I would recommend anyone read – if only the first couple of paragraphs – is Marshal Sahlin’s The Original Affluent Society.
In The Original Affluent Society, Sahlins explains that contemporary (ie-1966) hunter-gatherers like the Kalahari Bushmen or Inuits spend on average three hours a day working. Yet they live in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. Imagine how easy it must have been for stone-age hunter-gatherers living in temperate parts of Europe or America to survive. Their surroundings were so abundant they could procure everything completely for free from nature’s larder within minutes of their doorsteps – if they indeed had doors. They also had the knowledge to just go out and make anything they wanted – again completely free and gratis, using their extensive knowledge of the environment. This is why it’s a good idea to remain skeptical about the development agenda. If a person is “surviving on $1 a day in Africa”, it might actually mean they are actually rather well-off. Introducing waged labour and that economists’ pet obsession, property rights, to these communities turns them from being the most affluent people on earth into the poorest overnight. Way to go economists.
So, what does this have to do with us? Well, if you’re like me, you’ll have noticed: hold on a minute – three hours a day? In the arctic? WTF are we doing here in the West? We have the mechanisation of agriculture, digitisation of just about everything and roboticisation. Yet we humans are working more and more hours. We work 40 hours a week – probably around 4 times the amount of our paleolithic forebears. Something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong. We should be living in some kind of utopia where everybody is drinking drinks with umbrellas while robot slaves do our housework. What happened? Why do we live in such an inefficient society? Especially when capitalism claims to be so big on efficiency?
Unfortunately, the answer to this has been known for over ages. Herbert Marcuse predicted in 1956:
“the closer the real possibility of liberating the individual from the constraints once justified by scarcity and immaturity, the greater the need for maintaining and streamlining these constraints lest the established order of domination dissolve. Civilisation has to defend itself against the specter of a world which could be free. If society cannot use its growing productivity for reducing repression (because such usage would upset the hierarchy of the status quo), productivity must be turned against the individuals, it becomes itself an instrument of universal control.”
Marcuse, Eros and Civilization
Which, in a nutshell means: Capitalism wants to keep people busy. People must keep working to live and living to work, otherwise society will start – gulp – thinking for itself.
Those of you long enough in the tooth to remember the 70s might remember that Marcuse’s predictions about productivity had started to become a reality. Human labour capacity was outstripping demand and a “leisure society” was inevitable. There was talk of a three day working week and the question was posed: what are we going to do with all our free time? Freed from the shackles of employment, humanity would reach a new era of unprecedented creativity. People could live in tipis in Wales while robots and computers did all the human work. It was going to be like Woodstock every day. But with robots. Of course, all western governments realised this was terrible news for them. How can a Labour party survive with no workers? And how can right-wingers and Liberals survive with no consumers? Luckily for them, they had a solution: Bureaucracy.
Keep people busy at all costs. Introduce audits and targets and league tables and managers at all levels in the nationalised industries. Make them feel indispensable. Devise outreach schemes and health and safety drives and equal opportunity commissions; make sure that these new jobs are promoting equality and diversity, then any left-leaning person will be unable to question them. Make the public sector one huge, teetering bureaucracy where everybody feels they are helping society. Even though all society really needs is a few nurses, teachers and possibly policemen. If this bureaucracy idea is implemented, we can ensure that all people will be kept:
a. Too busy to change the status quo
b. Dependent on the state
Which is what happened. Ask any teacher, nurse, doctor, policeman, lecturer or social worker about their job and they will all, without exception, tell you that is blighted by inordinate amounts of pointless paperwork. The drop-out rate of new teachers is approaching 50%. A large proportion of them cite overwork as the cause. They are even talking of scrapping the long summer holidays, so it must be bad. Tenured university lecturers in the UK have to spend over half their working week on paperwork instead of doing new research or teaching students. Nurses and doctors spend as much time reporting on what they have just done as doing it.
The Protestant work ethic is so embedded in Anglo-American society that everyone from the unemployed demanding the “right to work” to the super-rich who do internships instead of just whatever the fuck they like all day are all in it together. The drudgery of wage slavery is the only way to feel fulfilled in our society. The long-term unemployed become suicidal. We are urged to detest those on Benefits Street because they are refusing to play along with the game.
The fact of the matter is that our society only really needs a two or three day working week. The other two and a half days create the surplus value which feeds capitalism by creating the consumer society. If people had those extra two and a half days, they might start their own businesses and compete with large scale capitalism by owning the means of production. ‘Owning the means of production’… of course, all this Marxist language sounds hideously old-fashioned to us now. It may be outdated, boring, passé, but let’s face it: It’s bang on the money, right?