Culture

A Limerick Limerick

To celebrate Limerick being named as 2014 City of Culture (@Limerick2014), I’ve penned a limerick about Limerick:

The Limerick Limerick

A city on the banks of the Shannon

Renowned for its rugby and gammon

Though it’s not quite Paris

It spawned Richard Harris

A man who could drink like a salmon

“I drink, therefore I am” – Is alcohol a fundamental part of our society?

The so-called binge drinking culture and the problems of alcoholism have in recent years been the subject of much debate and government initiatives, but largely to no avail. A recent example is the Scottish government’s failed attempt to raise alcohol prices. Whether we like it or not alcohol is an integral part of the social and cultural fabric of these islands. In continental Western Europe where drunkenness is largely frowned upon the cafe culture is prevalent. The continental cafes are – much like our own pubs – social and communal meeting places, but where all sorts of food and drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are sold.

At the time of writing the Cartoon Museum in London has just opened a new exhibition on the relationship between alcohol and society. In a feature about the exhibition on BBC Radio 4’s morning news programme, a former newspaper editor, a recovering alcoholic himself pointed out that it would be pious to suggest that drunkenness isn’t funny – it is funny, but it’s also tragic.

We even have an entire culture based around various tribes and the type of beverages they imbibe. There is the 1980s phenomenon of the “lager lout” on the football terraces or the beaches of Ibiza, the stereotype of the bearded, jam-jar bespectacled “real ale twat” from Viz comic and in the upper strata of the society the Pimms brigade. The local pub is the social hub of a rural village or urban district, the source of gossip, where business deals are conducted, where friends and partners are made, but also where fights and arguments start and where lives are ruined.

When I was growing up in the 1980s alcohol advertising was all over the television, on giant billboard posters and on the shirts of famous footballers. This may still be the case today, but it seemed to be much more prominent back then. Although I grew up in a household where alcohol consumption was mostly confined to the odd glass of wine or sherry at Christmas or very occasionally to accompany the Sunday roast had you asked the 11-year old Ciaran Ward back in 1985 how many brands of alcoholic drinks he could name, he could have rhymed off about 10. Off the top of my head without resorting to Google the following slogans spring to mind which as an 11-year old I could have recited verbatim:

“Harp – Very much to a Viking’s liking” (as seen on billboard poster circa 1985)

“Get into the good taste of Guinness/Have a Guinness tonight”

“Smithwicks at the heart of the night/Smithwicks – it’s one great beer”

“Great stuff this Bass”

“Carlsberg – probably the best lager in the world” (spoken in a voice similar to that of Spock from Star Trek, but I’m not sure if it was definitely him)
“Fosters – the Australian for lager”
“Martini – anytime, anywhere”

Then there were the celebrities who made a tidy sum by advertising alcohol. Think of the comedian Griff Rhys-Jones as Marilyn Monroe’s plumber in the Holstein Pils ads, Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan as salt-of-the-earth Aussie stereotype in the Fosters commercials, comedian Peter Kay and John Smiths and more recently Top Gear’s James May extolling the pleasures of London Pride

Many of these ads were not surprisingly quite entertaining and innovative, given the fact that the drink manufacturers spent and continue to spend millions on promoting their wares. One particularly eye-catching commercial from the mid-80s was for a now long defunct variety of lager known as Lamot – see above. It featured an animated film of a knight in armour riding a tiger-like creature through a Tolkienesque fantasy sword and sorcery-type landscape on a quest to seek out this bog-standard beer. Such imagery would appeal to a 12-year old hobbit obsessive, who may never have tasted beer, but would certainly be imbued with the desire to try this particular brand.

It would be several years before I drank my first pint – as a naïve, awkward teenager my early experiences were with cider, then graduating to lager with a shot of lime to make it more agreeable to my inexperienced palate. But repeated exposure to the apparent pleasures and thrills of drinking alcohol during my schooldays through ruthless advertising had certainly whetted my appetite. And a few short years later those clever chaps in the drinks industry came up with a solution to the “problem” of awkward teenagers like my younger self being unfamiliar with alcohol by producing “alco-pops”, a cynical, almost criminal exploitation of the market for underage drinkers.

The impact of alcohol advertising on a pre-teen as described above is somewhat disturbing when one considers the culture of underage drinking and the binge sessions which occur throughout our towns, villages and cities on any Friday or Saturday night. And as if this wasn’t enough, during freshers’ week at universities up and down the country there are organised pub crawls and special offers of cheap drink.

After many years of compulsory government health warnings featuring prominently on tobacco products we now have similar warnings on bottles and cans, promoting the “Drinkaware” website. This is a move in the right direction, but in my humble opinion, not enough. The roots of the problem must be addressed.
It may be an unpopular proposal, especially among those who wish to stem the influence of the “nanny state”, but although I enjoy the odd drink or two myself, I personally believe that all forms of alcohol advertising should be banned. The manufacturers, distributors and the pub and off-licence trades would no doubt be up in arms at such a move, but in desperate times desperate measures need to be taken. The burden on an already struggling health service in dealing with alcohol-related injuries and illnesses is phenomenal. An all-out ban on alcohol advertising wouldn’t stop those who already drink from continuing to drink, but if young children and teenagers were less familiar with well-known brands the desire to start drinking in the first place may well to a certain extent be quelled. We can still enjoy our favourite tipple down a t the local without having to see it on TV, at football matches or billboard posters.

Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter

Another inglorious end to England’s overinflated World Cup dreams and the post mortems go on.  Was it due to discord in the camp?  Did Capello get the tactics wrong?  Was it the disallowed goal that disrupted the flow of play?  Were the players just worn out after a hectic Premiere League and Champions League schedule?  Did manager and players just not connect?

At the end of the day it’s difficult to feel any sympathy for a bunch of overpaid, overrated, overindulged bunch of tattooed philandering underachievers who earn more in a week than most of their supporters earn in five years.  The fans who travelled several thousand miles and spent several thousand miles deserve better.  If Never has there been a stronger argument for the introduction of performance-related pay in football.

But whether England win or lose, the tabloid press always have a field day.  The punning headlines never fail to impress,  The front page of the Mirror screamed “ROUT OF AFRICA” (rather than the less politically correct KRAUT ROUT) on its front page and TORN TO FRITZ on its second page, while its back page responded with the line FABIGO.  Even the more subtle Times got in on the act with EIN ZWEI DREI…YOUR TEARS.

 But the possibilities are endless.  We could also have had:

 ENGLAND’S WÜRST EVER PERFORMANCE

 THE END OF THE FRAULEIN FOR ENGLAND

 ENGLAND HERR TODAY GONE TOMORROW

LAST OF THE SUMMER SCHWEIN

 Or if an England fan had put money at the bookies on England to win the World Cup the headline could have read:

 AUF WIEDERSEHEN BET!

 If German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been at the match and a bad decision had gone against Germany she might have invaded the pitch to angrily remonstrate with the referee:

 MAJOR FRAU ERUPTS.

 And finally anyone who says the Germans have no sense of humour should check out this marvellously satirical and self-deprecatory song from the mid-‘80s by Udo Lindenberg, Lindenberg,a well known and respected rock musician in his own country plays on the stereotypical images of his compatriots – ie a highly efficient and hardworking, but ultimately dull and humourless people.  But Lindenberg can hardly be described as dull or humourless.

The blond german Fräuleins are pretty, but vain
You say ‘Guten Tag’ and they say ‘Auf wiedersehen’
They’re very hard workers, from Monday to Friday
Make love on the weekends, and yodel like Heidi
  [This line followed by some very impressive yodelling]

Classic stuff.

The Scarlet Beehive – A Return to the 1980s?

Plus ça change plus c'est la meme chose

Another election over.  It was the result I had predicted (see previous blog post “Never a frown with Gordon Brown), although not the one I had hoped for.  Nevertheless, as the Ant and Dec of politics begin their historic coalition government we can rest assured that interesting times lie ahead.

As regular readers of this blog (both of them in fact) will know I tend to find myself stuck in a time warp from the 1980s recalling the heady days of my youth.  Back then the Conservative Party led by a certain M. Thatcher (but albeit without the help of the Lib Dems) was in power.  Thatcher’s iron-fisted rule led to a certain discontentment among a section of society resulting in a flurry of creative activity within the fields of art, literature, comedy, cinema and music.  With retro-nostalgia back in vogue one wonders if we’re in for something of an artistic renaissance.

Thanks to modern technology (Youtube take a bow) I’m able to recreate the memories of my youth.

Thanks to the said site I was able to find two songs from late 1980s which I hadn’t heard for over 20 years.

One is I walk the earth – the official anthem of the Rambler Association (not really, but it would be a good idea) by the “Anglo-American college rock/alternative band” (Wikipedia’s description, not mine) Voice of the Beehive, who had a string of hits at this time, but son faded back into obscurity.  Which is a shame as they did make some decent tunes.

The other song is a one hit wonder (and a rather good one at that), Scarlet Fantastic’s No Memory – the official anthem of the Amnesiacs Association (very bad taste I know).  No doubt complaints will flood in – that is if anyone actually reads this blog!  Big hair and cleavage were the order of the day in this video.

It’s funny how listening to a certain pierce of music can trigger off memories in the subconscious. 

 Think inner city riots, anti-apartheid demonstrations, boycotting South African fruit in the supermarkets, skeletal bearded men wrapped in blankets in filthy shit-smeared prison cells, running battles between police and striking miners, Russian tanks rolling over Afghanistan, Americans in Grenada, warfare amidst the penguins and sheep on wind-swept South Atlantic islands, loud-mouthed Dubliners ranting about famine in Ethiopia, the Chernobyl disaster, statues of communist dictators being toppled, BMX bikes, footballers in tight shorts with bubble perms and moustaches, Joan Collins in shoulder pads, Rubiks cubes, grotesque rubber puppets imitating the politicians and celebrities of the day…I could go on all day.

A high Viz-ibility comic

viz_big_hard_number_two_300x400

I first came across that disgusting (yet sometimes incredibly funny) rag called Viz at the age of 15 or 16 when a copy (owned by a chap called Donagh McCullagh and ably assisted and encouraged by Paul McGrade, neither of whom I’ve seen for some time) was doing the rounds of the 4th year classrooms.

The idea that a comic could contain bad language, extreme violence (albeit rather surreal cartoon-style violence), biting satire and “adult” humour (although adolescent or schoolboy/student humour may be a more appropriate description) was a novel one.  Another major appealing factor was that I’d read more traditional children’s comics of the day like the Beano and Dandy in my youth, but Viz went a step further by employing a similar style, yet creating grotesque parodies of these familiar characters.

 20 years later I’m still an avid reader…

Billy Connolly, when questioned about his style once said words to the effect of “I’d like to think I’m ‘dangerous’. I’d like to imagine there’s a 15-year old somewhere listening to one of my tapes, but he’s got the volume turned down low, because he doesn’t want his parents to know”. It was a similar illicit thrill with Viz. Smuggling copies into your bedroom under the noses of your parents was all part of the adventure.

It was during that time of life when there are certain things you can’t legally do. So buying Viz at the newsagents was like the thrill of getting served alcohol on licensed premises or being admitted to an 18 cert film when you’re still only 17¾.

As well as the traditional comic strip stories there are also of course the Joke newspaper tabloid-style headlines of bizarre celebrity scoops, letters from readers and handy tips.

Biffa gets hoofed in the "knackaz" once again.

Biffa gets hoofed in the "knackaz" once again.

I remember once being tortured while driving down the M25 to a wedding in Kent by my highly irritating passenger (who incidentally is also an occasional contributor to this blog) who consistently asked the question “what does the tattoo on Biffa Bacon’s mum’s arm say?” I felt like deliberately crashing the car just to put a stop to this. My passenger remains unrepentant to this day.

The multitudinous characters and stories which have graced the pages of Viz over the last 30 years are too numerous to mention here, but I’ll touch on a few of my favourites.

Jack Black and his dog – parody of the boy’s own adventure story or Enid Blyton style Famous Five adventure, sending up the right wing attitudes and xenophobic conservative values espoused by such children’s literature of the day.  In the standard formulaic plots young Jack Black and his dog are perpetually on summer holiday at his Aunt Meg’s cottage in some idyllic rural village, the type of place where strangers, particularly foreign ones aren’t tolerated.  Jack notices that one of the locals (or a recent incomer to the area) has been acting strangely of late and some unusual events are occurring in the village. With the help of his faithful dog and the local friendly bobby Jack unravels the mystery, which is usually something ludicrous involving Nazi war criminals, Islamic fundamentalists or drug and prostitution rings. The guilty party is generally brought to justice by meeting an unpleasant end at the hands of the enraged villagers. Cruel, but not that far removed from the stories it sends up.

It’s not just the political right who come in for ridicule though. There is “The ModernParents” – Malcolm and Cressida, parents whose obsession with political correctness, rights for indigenous peoples and social minorities, third world issues and alternative new age lifestyles leads to ridiculous situations much to the bemusement of their long-suffering children.  A magnificent parody of the liberal middle class type parents whose hypocrisy is always exposed at the end of each story.  There’s also Millie Tant, a stereotypical radical lesbian feminist who regularly becomes victim of her own highly strung principles. 

Millie Tant

Millie Tant

One of the comic’s most celebrated stories has to be “Biffa Bacon”, a character loosely based on Bully Beef from the Dandy. The Bacons, a dysfunctional family from the north-east of England who thrive on extreme physical cartoon violence. Mutha, Fatha (and occasionally Uncle Dekka who get their kicks from inflicting pain on their long-suffering son Biffa on the flimisiest of pretexts, who in turn takes it out on unsuspecting members of the public. But unlike the Beano et al, where the tormented underdog finally gives the bully his come-uppance there is rarely any justice at the end. Biffa or the innocent bystander usually ends up in a worse state than they started. In effect, Viz often subverts the traditional comic formula by letting evil triumph over good, thus reflecting real life much more accurately!

The fact that the dialogue is spelt phonetically to reflect the Geordie dialect makes it all the more authentic.

Roger Mellie (“the man on the telly”) – a foul-mouthed, bigoted, lecherous drunken TV presenter who despite (and often because of) his constantly atrocious behaviour always manages to maintain his lucrative broadcasting career. Not that far-removed from reality when you think about the high jinks of the despicable Jonathan Ross and his Houdini-style escapes from public justice.

Roger Mellie

Roger Mellie

Then there are the characters with ludicrous attributes such as Buster Gonad the boy with giant-sized testicles who often finds himself in excruciatingly painful situations, Felix and his amazing underpants , Finbarr Saunders, a boy who finds highly suggestive sexual innuendoes within the most innocuous phrases, like an extreme version of the “Carry On” films or the “saucy” English seaside postcards.

Mr Logic – a socially inept individual obsessed with  pedantry– who usually pays for his blinkered literal mindedness by getting beaten up or killed at the end of each story, yet returns in the following month’s issue as if nothing had happened.

Suicidal Syd – constantly depressed, but always fails his suicide attempts, then discovers that life isn’t so bad and decides to make a fresh start, only to come to a sticky end through bizarre and totally unexpected accident.

plodPostman Plod – a lazy, bad-tempered postal worker who takes pleasure in opening other people’s mail, skiving off work and playing football with the parcels in the sorting office – an ingenious send-up of the children’s character Postman Pat.

The comic has come a long way since the days of a few photocopies pages stapled together and sold by two brothers in the pubs of Newcastle.

And yes, some of the sexual and scatological humour ranges from the distasteful to the downright disgusting and is not always pleasant to digest, but Viz will be Viz.   Long may it continue to be!

The “Nice video, shame about the song” effect

Nice video - shame about the song

Nice video - shame about the song

In the early 1980s the popular BBC comedy show Not the Nine O’Clock News mocked the pretensions of the contemporary pop video phenomenon in the famous sketch “Nice Video Shame About the Song” (avaialble on Youtube if you’re interested).  It was a magnificent piece of satire, highlighting the fact that pop videos had become over-elaborate and relied heavily on the state of the art special effects of the time like Quantel and Paintbox, as if in an attempt to make up for the crapness of the song.  Bands like the Human League, Duran Duran and Visage were particularly guilty of this.

I was reminded of this recently when on a Ryanair flight which arrived at its destination ahead of schedule.  To celebrate this momentous event a trumpet fanfare was played and an American voice announced over the tannoy how great Ryanair was. I’ve been a regular flyer with Ryanair for the best part of a decade now. To be fair, I’ve only had two bad experiences with them, one of which was mostly my own fault for being late. So, in principle I’ve got no problem in flying with Ryanair, but I can’t say I care much for the airline’s chief executive, the publicity-seeking, money-grabbing Michael O’Leary as I’ve made clear in a previous post.

Essentially what I’m getting at here is the fact that it is quite possible to admire great works of art, literature and music without liking their creator.

U2 are without doubt a fine bunch of musicians, but their lead singer is equally without doubt a egomaniacal, sanctimonious, self-righteous irritating little tosser – as I’ve made clear in a previous piece.  Another loud-mouthed Dubliner, not quite as nauseating, but almost as sanctimonious was a fine musician and songwriter in his day. I don’t like Mondays, Rat Trap and Banana Republic are among the greatest songs of the 1970s, but the man who wrote them is an arrogant tosser.

Also, take Andrew Lloyd-Webber for instance.  Cats, Evita and Phantom of the Opera are all outstanding works of musical theatre, even though their creator is an obnoxious trout-faced, medieval-haired twat.

An obnoxious trout-faced medieval-haired twat

An obnoxious trout-faced medieval-haired twat

Blackadder is in my view one of the greatest comedy shows ever – but I don’t care much for its co-writers Ben Elton and Richard Curtis and their smug, self-righteous “oh look how great we are” demeanours.

So when you bring Ben Elton and Andrew Lloyd-Webber together (a match made in Hell if ever there was one) as was the case for The Beautiful Game, a musical about a Belfast youth soccer club amidst the backdrop of the violence which enguled the city in the early days of the troubles, the result is an abomination.  Two rich middle class prats from the English Home Counties lecturing people on how bad it all was in Belfast back then.  It’s almost as bad as mega-rich rock musicians from Dublin lecturing the world on how bad things are in Africa.  If they really feel that strongly about it they should go and live in Africa.

At this point I will grudgingly admit that I was a teenage U2 fan during my younger and more foolish days.  Then I gradually saw the error of my ways.

Nice songs,  shame about the singer, etc.

 

 
 

 

A Reasoned and Considered Rant against Big Corporate Brands and Globalisation

The anti-globalisation movement hasn’t had the best public image, with the stereotype of the dreadlock-adorned, dayglo-wearing lentil and organic rice-eating new age type with multiple piercings and henna tattoos. But in the age of global economic meltdown and credit crunches, such beliefs are becoming more mainstream.

Opposition to the dominance of big corporate brands over small businesses and traditional cottage industries shouldn’t by any means be in the exclusive interests of dreadlock-adorned, dayglo-wearing lentil and organic rice-eating new age types, nor even of the political left. We should all be concerned.

Do we want the traditional earthy pub like the Blue Tiger, the Frog and Fuck, the Puke of Pork – with their real ales beloved of bearded chunky sweater wearing CAMRA types, the old guy in the corner who reminisces about the old times to anyone who’ll listen to him, the barstool bore who knows the solution to all the world’s problems but will only tell you if you buy him a pint, the amateur Casanova who, despite rapidly expanding beer belly and thinning hairline tries (however unsuccessfully) to chat up the well-endowed barmaid – to be replaced by shallow, characterless chains like Whateverspoons or All Bar None frequented by pin-striped city types crying into their Pimms or trendy designer lagers, (a bottle of which costs the equivalent of the government bail-out of the said banks) after being made redundant by Deutsche Wank and blowing their million pound pay-offs on coke and hookers.

Imagine your local town centre being taken over by Starfucks, Boots, Specsavers, McDonalds, O’Neills (the plastic Paddy Irish pub chain that is, not the popular Irish sportswear manufacturer), WH Smiths et al. Or has this already happened?

It’s a trend that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the comedian and Socialist Workers party supporter Mark Steel in his latest book “What’s It All About”:

 

“Now you could go to a shopping centre in Croydon, Penzance, Lincoln or Dundee, and guarantee there’d be a Body Shop, Clinton Cards, Going Places Travel, HMV, Waterstones, fake Irish pub, Wetherspoons, Pizza Hut with a little glass screw-top jar of Parmesan cheese, JJB Sports, Burger King, a bloke in a green pullover trying to recruit you into the AA and a bunch of Peruvians playing ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ on the poxy panpipes”.
 

 

Go to an independent café rather than Starfucks or Costa Coffe (Costa Fortune more like) and you invariably get more generous portions often of superior quality and value for money. Who wants to go to Caffe Grande Cazzo sponsored by Figlio di Putana casual wear and pay £5.50 for a prosciutto and mozarella pannini (basically a glorified ham and cheese toastie) or £3.00 for a thimble full of espresso which you can down in one go and it barely fill a cavity in your tooth?

An Americano used to be what Clint Eastwood in a poncho was called by the Mexican bandits in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, but now it’s a fucking coffee.  And I thought moccachinos were what Italian American Indians wore on their feet.

You couldn’t make it up.

Red Hands Drub Dubs as Ronnie Drew his last breath

It’s been a sad weekend for Dubliners in both the sporting an musical arenas.  In a bizarre twist of fate I found myself celebrating the former and mourning the latter. 

Ronnie Drew RIP, one of the world's great Dubliners
Ronnie Drew RIP

The passing away of Ronnie Drew, former frontman with the Dubliners and celebrated wit, raconteur and all-round colourful character will be greatly mourned the world over.   Drew and his bearded cohorts broke the mould in successfully demolishing the homespun squeaky clean aran sweater-wearing image of folk music with their anarchic brand of bawdy, anti-estabishment music and tongue-in-cheek piss-take of revered and formerly untouchable Irish institutions.

The proliferation of beards among the Tyrone players starting a new trend for facial hair was almost as if they were paying tribute to Ronnie by way of apologising for the demolition of his native county in the All Ireland quarter final.  Written off before the game as a spent force, Tyrone defied the critics in style by producing an inspirational performance.

One shot the Dublin goalie couldn’t shave: It’s back to the drawing beard for the Dubs as Tyrone and Omagh’s Joe McMahon celebrates his razor-sharp skills after scoring a spectacular goal.

Likely Lads stage unlikely Return



 
I was thrilled to hear that the classic situation comedy series of the 1960s and early ’70s The Likely Lads is being relaunched as a stage show. Following the mixed fortunes of Bob Ferris and Terry Collier, two young working class men, played brilliantly by Rodney Bewes and James Bolam in an unspecified location in the north-east of England the show captured the spirit of the times and although it does seem dated, its humour has a timeless appeal.
Co-writers Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais (also known for Auf Wiederschen Pet and the other classic ’70s sitcom Porridge) appeared on the radio to promote their new venture which will feature fresh young actors rather than ageing members of the origianl cast.
 
The superior sequel Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?, made a few years after the original series ended is described by Stuart Maconie in Pies and Prejudice, his masterpiece of social and cultural history on the north of England as “the best British comedy series ever”.  I wouldn’t quite go that far, as for me the inimitable Fawlty Towers holds its own at the top of the comedy premiere league. However, Whatever Happened would certainly feature in my all time top 10 greatest sitcoms alongside Porridge, Dad’s Army, Blackadder, The Young Ones, Father Ted, Red Dwarf, The Office and Peep Show – though not necessarily in that order.
 
In Whatever Happened the two characters’ paths diverge. Bob becomes the social climber who marries Thelma the sensible librarian and joins the ranks of the white collar professional, settling down to a life of middle class suburban domestic bliss. Terry by contrast has returned to the banks of the Tyne/Wear/Tees(?) after a spell as a squaddie in Germany with a failed marriage behind him and remains the salt of the earth working class boy, irresponsible and badly behaved – and this is where much of the comedy derives from.
However, the running joke throughout is that fact that Bob now thinks he’s superior to Terry, because of his new-found social status as expressed by his membership of the badminton club and skiing holidays, but in reality is no better and often just as badly-behaved. Deep down Bob still wants to chase women and get pissed down at the Fat Ox.
 
I’m too young to have seen the show during its original airing, but was inducted via the occasional repeat run which many other popular comedies of the era have enjoyed – and later on via DVD.
 
The show emerged out of the kitchen dramas of the ’60s, the new wave of British cinema known as social realism which broke the mould by depicting the everyday lives of ordinary working class people. The genre was concentrated particularly (but not exclusively) in the north of England, and thus became popularly known as the “it’s grim up north” film. Classic examples include Kes, A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Billy Liar.
 
Part of the show’s appeal, along with that of many other programmes of the time is the cosy sense of false nostalgia it evokes, aided in part by its catchy, almost melancholic theme song (“Oh what happened to you, whatever happened to me…). We like deluding ourselves into thinking that life was better back then, things were simpler, people more down-to-earth, the world was a safer place, etc – total bollocks of course, but a nice thought all the same.
 
It would be interesting to see how Bob and Terry would fare as old men, 35 years after their last outing. Unfortunately a reunion is unlikely due to the bad blood between Bewes and Bolam – a disappointment for fans, but a common occurrence in comic double acts. Steptoe and Son, Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore spring to mind. So whatever happens to those likely lads (if you’ll pardon the cliché) the memories of classic comedy will linger on.

 

Separating the wheat from the chav

After Irish President Mary McAleese made a somewhat undiplomatic remark about comparing Protestants to Nazis a few years ago, the protests which accompanied her visit to a school in a loyalist area of Coleraine were not totally unexpected.

There was the inevitable lively debate on Slugger O’Toole which inevitably turned into another “them ‘uns is worse than us ‘uns” style sectarian bun fight, but what struck me were the semi-humorous comments directed at the socio-economic background of the protesting parents – a selection of which I’ve reproduced below:

“I can picture the scene, buggies with weans in them (for the cameras) waving flags. Assorted hoop earings XL XXL XXXL for the “ladies” and “discreet” for the “gentlemen” Rings on all fingers and cheap fags hanging from the lips. Fake designer trakkies for both genders thought “muffin Tops” a must for the ladies and the obligitory peroxide multi-toned hair colour.”
“Beer-Bellied, hairy-arsed layabouts-and that was just the women. All that was missing was a pair of duelling banjos.”

Another urged them to “get their fat arses off their sofas and away from the eejits lantern and they’ll get a chance to breathe in some fresh air instead of the usual diet of tobacco smoke and stale pub air.”

Other commenters (most of whom I think it’s fair to assume are well-educated and from middle class backgrounds) referred to the protestors as “gutter runners”, “chavs” and “ugly trampy women” While such comments were made half-seriously and half in jest and I did find myself amused by some, they do make an important statement on how a certain section of society is perceived. The social sub-class to which the protestors apparently belong, is not of course confined to the Protestant/loyalist community. Simply swap the Rangers shirts and the union flags which were on display for Celtic shirts and tricolours (but retain the fake tans, fake designer sportswear, cigarettes, prominent tattoos and the inexpensive jewellery known as “Argos bling”) and you have the mirror image from the other side.   One only has to think of the Republican Sinn Féin idiot protesting outside Croke Park holding up a placard saying “No to foreign games” totally oblivious to the irony that he’s wearing a Celtic shirt. 

 One could argue however that the problem is more acute on the loyalist side which harbours a disenfranchised working class in a post-industrial society no longer able to get jobs in traditional industries such as shipbuilding and linen who feel deprived of a coherent voice – but that’s another debate altogether which I won’t go into at this point (but if anyone reading this would like to discuss the topic further I’d be happy to continue – in fact a more discerning commentator on Slugger articulates this view, referring to a social grouping who are “not aided by a lumpen-middle class (well represented I suspect on this board) who cling to the notion that their own outdated politics and prejudices are somehow more respectable that that of their working class co-religionists.”) 
Instead my thesis will explore within the wider context the phenomenon of one of the most demonised groups in contemporary western society, the white underclass.

It’s easy to indulge in snobbery and elitism where chavery is concerned – something which I, myself in all my smug middle class complacency, am guilty of to an extent. It’s also difficult to write about the subject without coming across as patronising, but there’s no point in pretending we have a classless society, when we quite blantly do.

Chavs, spides, skangers, trailer trash – ubiquitous throughout the English-speaking western world. Stereotypes mix with reality in a confusing mish-mash amidst the council estates of South London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Dublin, Limerick and many other large cities, dreary provincial towns and downmarket seaside resorts across these isles. It’s not hard to conjure up the negative images – rows of rundown houses, each one sprouting a satellite dish, the almost compulsory burnt mattress in the garden, heavily tattooed muscular midle-aged men in the mould of Johnny Adair sporting chunky gold jewellery and sportswear walking pit bull terriers or rottweilers on leads, overweight young mothers, Sporty Spice lookalikes, wearing low-necklined top revealing huge rose or butterfly tattoo on the upper breast area, wheeling pushchairs, the child inside often of mixed race (cf Kathy Burke’s Waynetta Slob character “I want a braaaahhhnnn bybie!”), large gangs of hooded youths drinking cheap cider, abandoned pubs boarded up with wooden planks, or in certain parts of Dublin, scrawny tracksuited boys astride half-starved, malnourished horses.

Such characters enjoy their fair share of representation in popular culture, partcularly as objects of comic derison.  On television think Little Britain’s Vicky “Yeah, but no but” Pollard, Catherine Tate’s Lauren “I ain’t bovvered” character, Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke as “the Slobs”, the dysfunctional Battersby family in Coronation Street, Cletus, the trailer park-dwelling redneck in The Simpsons and the exploited guests who appear on the human zoos disguised as trashy daytime shows like Oprah Winfrey or the odious Jeremy Kyle.  In the pages of Viz comic we have the Bacon family, the fat slags and Tasha Slapper and in contemporary literature the novels of Irvine Welsh and Roddy Doyle pull no punches when it comes to the depiction of disaffected working class communities.

 

This section of our society is all too easy to mock and ridicule – like the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel. Chav-baiting has almost become fashionable.  Ironically the members of this sub-group within so-called “working class” allegedly don’t work and are branded by the reactionery right wing press such as the Daily Mail in the UK and the Sunday Independent in Ireland as dole-ite welfare scroungers and chain-smoking, beer-guzzling couch potato layabouts who have no intention of earning an honest day’s crust.  Ethnic minorities, homosexuals and the disabled are all protected by political correctness, but the indigenous underclass is supposedly fair game for satire and ridicule.  Racism, sexism, ageism are all banned by a militantly PC society, but classism is still very much alive.

Is it all about income and financial status though?  Not neccessarily.  The emergence of the “celebrity chav” as popularised by Wayne Rooney and Colleen Mc Loughlin, Katie Price and Peter Andre and former Big Brother contestant Jade Goody indicates that money doesn’t automatically convey respectability or acceptance. 

Michael Collins in his excellent book The Likes of us, a history of the white British working class with a healthy sprinkling of humour provides a succinct summary of the situation:

“Traditionally, the white working class would take to the street only for the end of a war or the beginning of a sale, with the exception of the death of a princess. Naturally there were other exceptional occasions: Jarrow marchers, the dockers responding to the Powell furore, and in the 1980s, in Southwark, there was rumour of revolt when the call went out for the muzzling of Staffordshire bull terriers. But more recently within the working class, there were those women taking to the streets against paedophiles. There were the taxi-drivers protesting during the petrol price debacle, and the Billingsgate porters’ bid to reclaim the streets when they marched to oppose London’s congestion charge. Those who champion democracy, direct action and single-issue pressure groups were suddenly referring to many of these protesters as “mobs”, and even suggesting that the police be sent in to form a thin blue line. Then there was the more pressing concern of a growing support for the British National Party. In Slade Green a BNP member beat the Tory candidate to second place in a by-election. Behind this “protest” vote – as it has been described in the press – are working-class whites in poor areas who believe they have been neglected and ghettoised, their views ignored.”
The meaning of the term “working class” however has become somewhat ambiguous. Skilled trades such as plumbing, carpentry and plastering, all traditional working class blue collar occupations are now in similar (if not higher)  income brackets to white collar professions such as teaching and the civil service – and have thus effectively become “middle class”.  With a university education no longer a guarantee of a good job, it seems that more and more middle class parents are now encouraging their children to become plumbers and electricians rather than get themselves into thousands of pounds in debt and end up as low-paid office clerks or call centre workers.
The real underclass among the native white population of these isles are the welfare state generation – what we call the “working class” don’t actually work – much like the upper classes of the traditonal aristocracy who tended to inherit money rather than earn it, and thus had no need to work.
Society has come full circle.