Friday, April 20, 2007

My own little "Life On Mars"

While I was posting a comment over on ATW, I started to talk about my childhood and how, from a very young age, my father would take me to the local Working Men's Club. I thought it would be worth repeating and expanding on my own blog.

The actual post on ATW was about Enoch Powell and the "Rivers of blood" speech that effectively ended his political career. As I point out on ATW, the irony of that speech is that it actually made Powell a hero amongst the ordinary working class who were then, and are now, most often the victims of mass immigration. It is their wages that are pushed down by immigration. It is their housing that is hardest hit by immigration. It is the services they need that are most stretched by immigration - and Slough, with it's massive industrial estate, was a huge working class area and hugely popular with immigrants (still is).

I remember listening to those working class men - simple, honest, ordinary and hard working men - as they talked and remember that one of the few politicians that any of them had a kind word for was Enoch Powell. There is no doubt that, had Powell gone on to become leader of the Conservative party, these men would have voted for him - regardless of his party.

My visits to the WMC used to be the highlights of my week. Sometimes it would be just me and my dad on a Saturday afternoon when I'd sit quietly in the corner with a bottle of Coca Cola and a straw, a bag of salted crisps (the sort that came with a little blue bag of salt which you shook over the crisps before giving the whole bag another good shake) and watch these men as they played dominoes and put the world to rights.

Sometimes - most often in the summer - it would be the whole family going there on a Saturday evening. Dad would wear a suit and tie, mum would "glam up" with a bit of makeup and put on her best dress and shoes and my brothers and I would wear our poshest clothes too (which for me, meant my best school shorts, a proper button up shirt, tidy socks, clean shoes and a smart jacket (my only jacket).

As neither my mum or my dad owned a car, getting to the WMC meant getting a bus. Not a problem back then as buses were plentiful, regular, clean and reliable. They were also proper, big red double decker Routemaster buses too - with conductors. Going on a Routemaster was, for a young boy, a bit of an adventure in itself. Something kids today could not understand - chauffeured everywhere, as they are, in their sterile identikit modern cars by their parents.

Once there we'd meet up with relatives and friends of my mum and dad. They would also bring their kids along and there would usually be around 15-20 of us youngsters - aged from about 7 to 13 who would be running around the place. Inside and out. The dads would all stand together at the bar with their beers - bitter, mild, stout, but never ever lager - the mums at the tables with their Babychams - and us kids all over the place with our Coke's and crisps.

After a while the men would return to the tables and the entertainment got going. The entertainment would usually consist of a bit of bingo followed by a "turn" or two. Usually a rather lousy - but clean - comedian (although my parents used to find them funny) and a band with a singer doing some dubious covers of Frankie Valli, Tony Bennett and Matt Monro songs. Most of the time, while the entertainment was going on, us kids would be running around outside doing what kids did back then - playing chase, climbing trees, grazing our knees and getting messed up.

Come chucking out time we would all somehow end up back with our respective parents and make our way home. More often that not, we'd get a lift back in someones car - often 4 adults and a half dozen kids piled into a creaking estate car with four or five kids sitting in the luggage area.

It was the sort of night out and entertainment that we would sneer at as "unsophisticated" in today's post modern world. And it was. But it was also unpretentious, a fantastic family social evening and created a community bond that is all but gone. It was also bloody good fun. As I said earlier, our regular visits to the WMC would be the highlight of my week and the remarkable thing is - even though I went there dozens of times over a number of years, even though the men were generally coarse working class men, even though there would be much consumption of alcohol - I can not recall a single incident of fighting breaking out. Perhaps even more remarkably in this day and age, I can not recall a time when the men would swear and cuss in front of the women and children other than an occasional "bloody" (for which they would be swiftly reprimanded by the women).

They were good, simple times spent with good, simple people living good, simple lives. I know that both my mum and dad (when he was alive) believed those days to have been a golden time for them as parents with children. It was certainly a golden time for me as a child growing up in the late sixties and early seventies. If you listen to many modern commentators - and watch shows like "Life On Mars" it would be easy to get the impression that those times were truly awful. Ugly, grey, depressing. They weren't.

After "Life On Mars" ended I looked around various sites that discussed the show to see what they made of the ending. Almost all of them took the view that Sam Tyler was actually a seventies cop who somehow dreamed he was from the future. How he could have dreamed up the future police procedures so accurately seems to have escaped them - along with how he could have predicted a line from the film Robocop which wouldn't get made for another 14 years.

My view is that Sam Tyler really was from 2006, really was in a coma and really had "gone back in time" in his mind. It really was all in his head. However, on recovering from the coma and being returned to his real time, he realised just how superficial and false the current times are. Everything looks shiny and new on the outside. Every material need is met, every desire satisfied - but it was all hollow and empty. A shiny shell of materialism with a rotten core - and the only way to cope with that was to anaesthetise yourself to it with more materialism, more desires being satisfied.

"You have to be alive to feel".

Sam Tyler realised that his real life was less "real" than his dream life and took a conscious decision to end his real life in an attempt to return to his dream life - where he really did feel. The Britain of the seventies may not have had the shiny surface of modern Britain, but beneath it all there was a cohesion - a heart and soul - which the modern Britain lacks.


Sir Henry Morgan said...


On all counts.

Anonymous said...

Top post, Stan.

Absolutely spot on.

Dick Turpin said...

Spot on, my old son. I stopped watching after that episode which depicted an ambulance crew as slovenly, smoking incompetents. I would match any 70's service, be it medic, nurse, ambulance, fire, police with their 'modern' counterpart. Police? ...ah yes the real hero, Gene Hunt, or DCI Reagan meets the West Midlands Regional crime squad. This is where the series went pear shaped for the social engineers, with widespread fears by educationalists of Garibaldi abuse of the female gender. The 60's, 70's and even some of the 80's were brill, nuf sed. In my dotage, if I can't wind the mensahibs up by pouring copious praise on Posh Spice, or Heather Mills ...I can always call them Luv.

Tom Tyler said...

Yes, your analysis of the ending of LOM is pretty much how it came across in my mind, too. At first I was disappointed as I thought that the ending (and "meaning") seemed to have been thought up at the last minute - Tyler spends the whole of the series rolling his eyes at 1973, there isn't much development of the idea that he secretly likes being there, until right at he end.
Then I remembered the 2006 scene from the start of season 1, when Maya starts to say "I just feel that we should..." and Tyler responds "What good are feelings in this place?". So perhaps this was always the theme of the show?
It wasn't as good as "The Prisoner" (where, even though there was a mystery to be answered, you still knew from every episode that the show was about exploring the issue of individual freedom) but nonetheless, I think LOM will stand the test of time - for a while, anyway. I wonder will 2040 be as different from 2007 as 1973 was?

TDK said...

Certainly your reading of the ending matched my own, but I wonder it the creators, particularly the writer, intended it to be so.

Stan said...

I don' know TDK. Perhaps that's the idea - for everyone to be able to interpret it the way they want to. But I certainly got the impression that the writers were trying to convey the idea that modern Britain is superficial and lacks the depth that existed in 1973.

Tom -

I think 2040 will be very different from now - but not that different from 1940.