The moving finger types


I don’t like what I wrote last week. I don’t really like what I wrote yesterday. And I’m coming to regret starting this. It’s just always been a fact of life for me: you do your very best and know that tomorrow you’ll be wincing at how poor a writer you are.

A friend has a regular habit of re-reading his scripts from, say, five or ten years ago, and having a good laugh at himself. I re-read mine and weep.

Only, I was just searching for something on my Mac and I found this.

020502.2235
THE LAST OF THE BLONDE BOMBSHELLS
UK Drama 2100-2235
Impossibly, this is the first repeat for this charming and uplifting Alan Plater drama from two years ago.

It’s long been out on DVD in the US but here, curiously, not so much, so this is a rare and welcome chance to see the reunion of a (nearly) all-girl band.

Judi Dench is a gem as the woman who sets out to find her disreputable pals and maybe recapture their glory days.

Don’t be shocked: they manage it. But the game is in traveling desperately as much as it is in arriving.

If you really know your television drama history then “from two years ago” is enough to pin this text down in time. If you’re not then let me offer you my congratulations and say the clue is in that string of numbers at the top. That’s the instruction to BBC Ceefax’s systems that the text should be removed at that date and time. It should go off air at 22:35 on 02/05/02.

That’s 2002.

I wrote that 15 years ago.

And it’s not bad. You’re too young to remember Ceefax so let me explain that it would’ve been tricky to get one more letter, let alone one more word, into the page that text went on. That was the limit of a TV preview and actually of any writing on Ceefax at all. You could have multiple pages but readers would not necessarily see them in the right order so every page had to stand on its own.

So, given that it’s so very constrained in space, I read that text and think it does the job. Tells you what’s on, tells you some news about it and it gives you the plot as well as clearly being a recommendation.

Plus it’s got a bit of bounce to it.

That’s the element that gives me some pleasure. I also get some from the phrase ‘travelling desperately’ which I think works even if you don’t know it’s a quote from another Alan Plater drama. (Misterioso, if you’re wondering. My favourite.)

So I’m willing to tell you about this because my cold writer/producer’s head sees that it works and is no cause for weeping. But I want to tell you about it because of the way it just popped up while I was hunting for something else. Like a little peek into the past. An unexpected window into what feels now like a very different world and a very different me.

We think of online writing as transient and it’s true that all my Ceefax pages vanished the day after they were aired. Most of my writing is already long gone and usually not remembered but this morning a shard of it came back to poke me in the eye. Only because it was written on computers. I have a shelf of paper notebooks I used to use but I never look at them and I can’t read my own handwriting. Whereas a gallon of Ceefax writing just came back as if I’d typed it today.

I have no idea why I’ve still got this text on my Mac, especially as I didn’t get this machine until ten years after I wrote that. I am coming to see why my hard drive is so full, mind.

I think for once that I’m glad it’s there. I’m glad I can see that I wasn’t dreadful. The fact that I wrote around 16,000 pages of BBC Ceefax has come up quite often for some reason and now I think if they were all like that, I’m okay with it.

The gigantic majority were written in BBC Television Centre, typing directly into the systems there, so I don’t have even a significant fraction of the text on my Mac. But I have some from when I would be working at home and delivering copy: I think I’d send in a week’s worth of previews and reviews at a time. I feel sorry for the poor sod who then had to copy and paste them in, but I suppose I did that for other people too.

Ouch. I’ve just read a piece in the same document, a TV preview of some football thing.

040502.1800
THE FA CUP FINAL
BBC1 1210-1725/Sky Sports 2 1200-1800
Best get your bank holiday trip to the DIY store over with in the morning, then, unless this is a dull match.

What’re the odds? Arsenal meet Chelsea for a quiet, cosy kickabout with several million people roaring them on. That’s all this will be.

To make sure this appeals to everyone, the teams are London ones but filled with players from around the world.

Here’s an idea of how important this is: it starts at 1500. So the build-up is twice the length of the game.

I even made football jokes. Now I’m wondering if someone else wrote all of these. It would explain some things.

England will leave Europe

I don’t know the details, I don’t really follow all of this, but history shows us that without question, England will be beaten by Paraguay or France or some such team. It will be a sporting tragedy that will make people across the entire continent cry out “Was England in Euro 2016? Really?”

Wait, that’s not what you thought I meant, was it? Yes, of course, you’re right: this is all about the forthcoming vote on whether the UK will leave the Eurovision Song Contest.

You have to wonder, now that Australia is in Europe, but you can’t presume, you can’t be sure. The UK is genuinely important to Eurovision because of the money it contributes to the show. If we didn’t do that, we could keep that money for ourselves and could put it toward the NHS.

Of course then the BBC would have fund the missing Saturday night television, it would have to put more money into all the pre-Contest coverage that currently hides away on digital-only BBC podcasts.

I started to say this to you as a joke: I was nodding off during BBC News’s coverage of some football thing and my mind wandered from the Euros to the Euro to Eurovision and on to chocolate. That last was unrelated.

Only, Eurovision and the money the BBC contributes to it is pretty analogous to everything the UK does with Europe. Stand by to be shocked here as you’ve never subscribed to something or opened a bank account or had a loyalty card, but the BBC puts money into Eurovision and it gets programmes out of it.

The first thing about the whole Brexit argument that ticked me off was, well, it was the word Brexit. But the second was the claim that the UK pays eleventy-billion pounds into Europe. I remember watching the politician saying this and assuming TV news had cut away before he said “and we get back this other amount”.

We can blame TV news a lot for this. For instance, they will show Michael Gove saying that Brussels passes laws that cripple our sovereign state and which we had zero input to. They’ll cut away before he presumably adds that he’s kidding. There’s the small matter that the UK is party to these laws and not just the whipping-boy recipient, there is the fact that Gove knows this and is involved. There is the small fact that if this were true, if Britain were powerless against the might of Brussels laws, then that’s why we’ve got the minimum wage. The bastards.

That would go if we left Europe. There’s not much you can be certain about, but there’s one. Minimum wage dies. On a completely unrelated note, and I don’t even know why I bring it up now, there are UK businesses that very much want to leave the EU. Can’t imagine why.

The leave campaign people would have you believe that we graciously give the European Union your hard-earned money and all we get back are laws that override our own. Britain joined the EU in 1973: if this were really what happens, our government chose to pay over money and take the law lumps and our government also chose to continue doing it for 43 years. On that basis alone, I’d rather we really were run by Europe or anyone but our own government.

As it is, you know that of course the UK gets a benefit from doing this. It is impossible that it wouldn’t. Yet the leave campaign hopes you don’t know that, it hopes that you are so thick that you just go yeah, yeah, we need that money for our own NHS. They’re crossing their fingers that you then assume that they would give the NHS this money.

The leave campaign is doing an awful lot of assuming and unfortunately the side saying we should stay in, is not. The stay campaign is making one assumption: that nobody could be so stupid as to think Britain is forever bailing out Europe from the goodness of its heart.

I think this is why the leave campaign has its word Brexit and the stay campaign has no word at all. It’s got a campaign name but I don’t remember what it is.

I do know that there is a Leave poster near my house which says something to the effect of how you should vote to leave the EU because that’s “the safe choice”.

The leave campaign appeals to politicians who are enjoying the ride and would quite like to be Prime Minister please. It appeals to old people who for some reason believe Britain was a superpower in their living memory and can be again. It appeals to people who think Britain still has any industry. That safe choice poster is trying to mop up the people who are lazy about this. Oh, just vote to leave, that’s safer.

Everything the leave campaign says, without exception, is scaremongering or out and out lies. You shouldn’t vote based on how you resent being lied to all the time, but it’s tempting. I also just think the sheer totality of the bollocks is a reason to be suspicious, at least.

But then, what do I know? I work in the Arts. If the UK leaves the EU my industry would be reliant on the British government and that’s the safe choice.