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.

A natter of life and death

That’s all, just a natter and a blather. In the run up to a general election, my mind wanders around more than ever and chiefly it’s focusing on, grabbing on to, just about anything except politics. Just possibly not today.

I do remember my family worrying that I had no interest in the news when I was growing up. They’re sick of me now: I read hundreds of articles a day through my RSS reader and they aren’t sure what RSS is or why I like it so much. But, grief, the ability to just check out the headlines on your phone while you wait for the kettle to boil, it is beyond handy. I could go to each news site in turn on the phone’s web browser but what am I, a barbarian? The news comes to me, all of it, from everywhere.

There are myriad RSS newsreaders, by the way, and they’re available to you on any phone. I have an iPhone and swear by one called Reeder.

I also swear at a lot of the news I read. Maybe that’s what my family doesn’t like. But the consequence of RSS, swearing and – okay, okay – getting older is that I have never been so politically aware.

And therefore so politically depressed.

There is no party I want to vote for, no person nationally or locally that I want to see in power. No one. Well, I do delight in Nicola Sturgeon but I don’t know much about her nor is it physically possible to vote for a Scottish party here in England. She does just tick two boxes that make me happy: for one thing she’s an adult woman where the other leaders feel like schoolboys. For the other, the concept of Scotland being decisive in this general election is dramatically exquisite to me because of the previous bollocks about whether the country should split from the UK or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know what I think about it leaving, I just see that I was right about what would happen if it stayed. Specifically if it stayed because of the promises made to it. I’ve written before about how England, UK and Conservative promises to the Scottish people sounded like a pissed boyfriend vowing to be better from now on. They never are, you know they never are, and these promises never would be, you knew they never would be. I barely listened to the promises: I knew they’d vanish after Scotland agreed to give it one more go.

Now, maybe – maybe – that boyfriend is going to need a favour.

I’m not usually right about politics yet sometimes it is obvious and I think unfortunately the obvious stuff is always bad. Prime Minister David Cameron made a comment recently about how abhorrent an idea it is that Scotland could have sway over the whole UK, that decisions made in one part of the nation could affect everyone. He makes decisions in one part of the nation that affect everyone. He makes those decisions in one room. It’s the Cabinet, which curiously enough seems to be the extent of his care when we’re not near an election: does policy X or Y personally benefit and profit someone in the Cabinet? Then we’ll do that.

You see how easy it is to be cynical? I’m not convinced it’s possible to be anything else at the moment. For the first time in my life I do see the logic in not voting at all. Our democratic system is arguably built to favour the incumbent, it’s certainly built to support the system itself and the furtherance of the status quo. I can see the argument that voting is supporting a system that feels theoretically right but practically broken.

In other words, I can see that voting only encourages them.

Nonetheless, I will vote. I cannot do anything else. Cannot.

This may seem a somewhat un-topical reason but amongst everything I think about democracy, amongst everything I want to see happen and everything that I fear will instead, I have to vote because of the Suffragettes.

Don’t get me started on the idiocy, the shameful idiocy that women haven’t just always had precisely the same right to vote as men. Don’t. I’ll go off on one about how human beings can so often create society structures that speak of equality and fairness, that have laws and standards and decency but also a giant bloody hole in them. Democracy for all, oh except women. Treat your neighbour as you would want them to treat you, oh except if they’re not the same sex, religion or race as you, then it’s fine, do what you want.

That’s not me going off on one, by the way. Me going off on one about this is a seven-hour lecture.

The Suffragettes did not support the system, they changed it. Think how impossible that seems now and dial back a century to how even more impossible it must’ve been then.

The system we have now is materially better than it was. Look at Nicola Sturgeon again: one hundred years ago she wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, now she’s head of a political party. Things are actually better. Genuinely, truthfully better.

Just don’t look at the standard of lying we get from politicians today. If I can see that this claim doesn’t match that claim – and doesn’t even come close to this fact – then the standard of pork pies is so low as to be insulting. If you’re going to tell me bollocks, at least put some effort into it.

And just don’t look at any debate, certainly never tune in to Question Time which has become about as bad as Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Parliament.

I’m going to vote but it will be for my best guess at the least worst option available and I have little confidence that I’ll get it right.

I’d like to see a Suffragette-level shake up of the system. But I’ll settle for us reevaluating Eton. We keep saying that’s a great school because we keep being told it is by our politicians who chiefly all went there.

A bastion of British education.

Schools are supposed to form you into an adult. Eton takes the child, makes a schoolboy, and stops. You can name politicians you like, you can point to adult and responsible things they do, but still when you hear them talk and argue, when you see what they do, what they achieve, the word that comes to mind is only similar to bastion.