Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Steptoe And Son - Oil Drum Lane Dialectics

Steptoe and Son

During the initial few months of the current Conservative-Lib Dem coalition here in the United Kingdom there was a considerable amount of analysis in the media harking back to the Edward Heath government of the early Seventies. This by way of comparisons to the ghastly circumstances leading to the arrival of Selsdon Man at the Palace of Westminster in 1970 or the equally appalling state of industrial relations at the time of his or its electoral defeat four years later.

Two of the greatest of all British social commentators - Albert and Harold Steptoe - reflected upon the state of the nation in depth in the 1974 Back in Fashion episode of Steptoe and Son. In the useless shite-enclosed yard at Oil Drum Lane Harold pretends to be a po-faced BBC newsreader while reflecting upon the surety of a right-wing government to come alongside the introduction of curfew restrictions, the showtrial of Harold Wilson, the "disappearance" of Tony Benn, Barbara Castle's suicide while in private hospital and the military defeat of the TUC at the hands of the Royal Navy. Another commentary in this segment of the episode was as politically incorrect as giving a modern-day seven-year-old a Sven Hassel paperback for his or her birthday. Or indeed my old work colleague's dismissive commentary upon the corporate mindset underpinning compulsory after-hours workplace team bonding - "Softball is for bisexuals".

Still, for all the plebian horror of mid-Seventies Shepherd's Bush, Brook Green and Hammersmith it was nice to see a glimpse in Steptoe and Son of a society where people had at least one other interest apart from the value of their property or the secure status of their elderly parents' Dignitas booking. Even if that was just football and smoking - or of course sectarianism in Belfast and Glasgow.

The Seventies, for all the myriad problems of the time, are so halcyon in contrast to today's national meltdown that they may as well consist of a decade-long loop of Mike Batt dancing with Pans People to Summertime City.

Earlier this week I was reading and listening to some of Alan Watt's Zen reflections. Alongside incredibly moving commentary on death and the philosophical limitations of the "I" identity he managed to capture in three mere minutes the rank lunacy of not living for the moment. In modern London in contrast I know not a single soul who is living for the moment, is in a position to live for the moment or even knows anybody else pulling this magical trick off.

The growing degree of user generated content on news websites that suggest that at least a considerable percentage of the British population has completely sussed out the lunacy of property hyperinflation - as relating to future societal stability for everybody who is not an estate agent - does not override the fact that current lifestyle imbalances are firmly rooted in a bed of national selective amnesia and unselective idiocy alike. A fortnight ago a close friend - who works in what 100% of the country would consider a middle class profession - noted to me how the highlight of his weekend had consisted of a Sunday afternoon stroll down to public plastic recycling facilities in the knowledge that he could not even afford a pint of ale in transit. And also that while about to emark on such a journey he heard some cunt on Radio 4 reflecting on the demise or otherwise of the British food renaissance.

This of course is similar to the property features in weekend newspaper supplements singing the praises of some filthy outer London suburban griefhole that is without doubt awaiting cast-iron guaranteed medium-term gentrification along the lines of Notting Hill and Shoreditch. The only current selling point in the meantime being its ten minute proximity by bus to another larger urban warzone that happens to have some train or tube connection.

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