Friday, November 09, 2012

Outside The Office Hangs The Man On The Gibbet

Greetings playmates. well, yet another strange week, but interesting.
We have an old sayin' 'round these parts, and it is part law too:
Never Dip Your Nib In The Office Ink
Meaning don't get your real life involved in your work, or in our case, don't help yourself to any of the cargo.
But we had to.
We couldn't lay into port and we were short rationed.
Mog offered us some of his fermenting Cod, but I've been there before and had to warn everyone. It's no use with an entire crew making the side of your boat look like a sea-cliff, so we had to see what we had below.
We ended up with some very nice Jaspers Cheese, from the Santaroga Valley **. it was curious stuff, but you know what, I think it brought us all closer together.
Mr.Sheephouse had his on some crackers with half a bottle of port.
He vanished for a day or so, and then emerged into the noon sun, waving some scraps of paper, his usually crisp white linen shirt stained with rummelled.
Yes, strange stuff, but it did a power of good.
Even Mog had some spread on a freshly caught Conger.


Let me take you back friends . . . waaaaay back.
Back to a time, some 40 years ago, when people were people.
Where cheese was guaranteed.
Where, looking back from this wonderful viewpoint of the 21st Century, we never had it so good!
Yes, it's the 1970's.
I never ever thought I would say this, but now I can see the '70's as some sort of cultural highpoint. It really is an astonishing thing to say that isn't it, who could have imagined that the Brown Decade could be considered to be anything other than ten years of nonsense.
Of course the nonsense was there, but I am going to be contentious here; rather like there are numerous people who say that "if you can remember the '60's you weren't really there", there are people at large who say the 70's was a time defined by Abigail's Party, Cheesy Pop Music, Flares and Moustaches. A time where every man looked like a catalogue advert, and where every woman drifted around in either a.) dreamy, flowing dresses or b.) platforms and midi-skirts. The men were either Bond or Bowie, Carradine or Travolta, or (ahem) The Fonz; the women either Greer, Twiggy, Farah Fawcett or a 'Dolly Bird'.
Lovely to be able to gather culture together so neatly eh!
Well folks, it was almost nothing like that.
I have a good memory for these things.
The 70's started out in a semi-impoverished state where the greyness of the late 40's and early 50's was still carried over, blended with new found-60's freedom and an unhealthy dose of Americana, and ended in a massive release of youth-inspired energy, which tore down the walls for ever.
It was a time of strikes, factions, civil outrage, injustice and very real violence - you could get your head kicked in pretty much anywhere .
Football violence, racial violence, plain stupidity.
The youth of the day also had a lot to be angry about and they showed it - no wonder - look at the clothes they had to wear!
Ah, clothing, the great leveller - what a joyous subject. Strangely, these days the '70's are a lot less lampooned than they used to be, or should be, but by Jingo . . why?
There were some truly shocking styles, running the gamut from Hippy-inspired Chic, through Droopy Collars and Hipsters, Velveteen, Corduroy, Tanktops, Tesco's PVC Bomber Jackets ('Tesco's Bomber' - always a term of insult on my estate) through to Levi 501's, Doctor Martens, Braces, Sta-Press, Ben Sherman, Brushed Denim, Rayon, Lee Cooper, Brentford Nylons and a healthy dose of design blindness.
Adults started the decade still looking sort of like their Mums and Dads, then had a quick run by Jason King's house for some nice gear and a droopy moustache, and by the end of the decade they were the newly burgeoning Yuppie generation.
Kids wore what they were told to, and it was always awful.
Strangely for me, I escaped a large amount of this 'stylishness' simply because my parents couldn't afford it, so it was Green Flash or Rucanor plimsouls, Levi jeans (cos they lasted longest), Fred Perry polo shirts (ditto) and a hand me down windcheater!

Two Pages From The Oracle.
Mid-1970's Kays Catalogue

Very Typical Indeed. Nice.
Just About Every Girl That Got On The 114 Bus Looked Like This

It was a world away from the now populist cod-70's view based upon the magazines of the time (oh the power of advertising - it was so good, it is now taken as historical accuracy!) and perpetuated and evolved from the 'Yeah Baby' Austen Powers view of the 60's.
Anyway, I have headed off across country again, so let's get back on the main road . . vroom vroom!
In the early '70's my friend Steve and I used to indulge in something which these days would be questionable.
If not downright dangerous.
And frowned upon.
Can you imagine, two twelve year old lads left to their own devices.
What are they going to do?
Yes, you've guessed it . . . head up to London on their own and spend the day wandering around museums!
We had two favourites - the Geology Museum (literally one of the finest and most interesting museums I have ever been in) and the absolute pinnacle, The Imperial War Museum.
(I had been fascinated with all things war from a very early age and it still surprises me that I never joined the Army, but then again all that male bonding stuff was never my scene. I can sort of imagine what it would have been like though, after working for a summer with the Forestry Commission: they were a hard bunch of guys, both drinkers and talkers, but I sort of found my footing and actually the cameraderie they showed towards me is something I have an incredible fondness for.)
Anyway, more digression. The Imperial War Museum (or just IWM from now on) is an incredible place. And it isn't all battles and bombs and tanks and subs either. It has a huge social aspect to it, and I suppose, now, thinking back, this was what I found fascinating.
My mother had been a nurse at Ashridge Hospital dealing with burns victims (one of them a poor RAF pilot with 80% burns); my father an engineer at CAV involved in the manufacture of fuel injection systems for Merlin engines and so on. The roots of my wartime fascination were here, as there were cupboards in our house where there were lots of old looking things: my father's kitbag from when he had initially joined the Royal Artillery (though he was called back as a reserved occupation, being an engineer and all that); an ARP helmet; an ARP medical tin (with instructions!); a Royal Artillery collar badge; a Notts Forest Yeomanry badge; an Australian army hat (with a side that popped up); lots of stuff like that basically.
I suppose rooted in my subconscious were questions like: 
What must it have been like facing down the might of the German Armies?
Dealing with rationing and hardship?
Bombing and bad news?
That next silence after a V1's engine cut out, might well have your name on it.
Anyway, Steve and I used to get the tube and head up to town on a regular basis.
London at the time was nothing like it is now. Yes, it was the hub of the nation. Yes, it was incredibly busy. Yes, it was somewhat daunting. But it was also fascinating and along with that fascination, the museums occupied days for us - they were and still are incredible places.
Forget shopping . . we were teenage boys!
How could we be bored in London when there was all that free entertainment!
We interspersed our museum visits with trips to HMS Belfast, and long walks along the South bank of the river between the Belfast and Tower Bridge.
These days it is unrecognisable. Not that I've been there since the late 1970's, but you see it on TV and in films - changed beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Back then, it was a labyrthine collection of warehouses and wrecked buildings, dirty, tired streets and pends. Evidence of war was still very obvious.
It was littered with small greasy spoons and pubs, bric-a-brac shops and stables, warehouses and manufacturers, occupied by remnants of London's mid-low underclasses: shabby old men and proto-bag ladies; hardened teenagers; neat gentlemen working hard at their trade; workmen in Transit vans going about shady looking business; draymen with horse-drawn drays and cheery road sweepers. Newsagents shops, billowing fag smoke out onto the street, occupied by older ladies and gents of the wartime generation who remembered what it was like to have incendiary bombs raining down on their heads.
The pubs were run down and brown from decades of smoke. Bodies slumped in gutters, not from drugs, but from whisky and rum and beer.
In a word, it had character.
But back to the main meat and potatoes . . . during my first visit to the IWM, I purchased something which I wish I still had . . but it fell apart years ago.
It was a poster, a fairly large one actually, but I loved it, because it said something.
I stuck it on my wall, and absorbed its message, which is a truism more appropriate today than it ever was.

This poster was designed by the cartoonist Kenneth Bird, otherwise known under his pseudonym ‘Fougasse’.
He was the Art Editor for Punch from 1937 – 1948.
Pure genius, and like most of Bird’s propaganda during the Second World War, given to the nation.

If  ever a hammer was used to crack a nut it was the Careless Talk campaign - simply brilliant, managing to get home the importance of wartime secrecy in the very foundations of society, in a funny but utterly memorable way.
They were the work of Kenneth Bird otherwise known as 'Fougasse', a cartoonist and editor for Punch magazine.
They are graphic design heaven, and  I can say that because I trained as one!
To my mind they sum up the war years perfectly. Their clean lines and concise use of words getting a profound message across in just a glance, sending you on your way with a laugh and a smile and a remembered point.
Here are some more for your enjoyment and elightenment:

As you can see, it was an extensive campaign.
Don't you just love how he has managed to incorporate Hitler and Goering into most of the images.
Having heard the phrase 'Walls Have Ears' used frequently during my life I can only concur that it found its way into the national consciousness, which was the intention in the first place.
Incredible the power of good copy isn't it!
So why am I showing you all this stuff from 60 years ago?
Simple really.
The message has never been more necessary!
Far from it for me to tell you what to do, you have to realise one thing, these days, walls really do have ears!
From the inappropriate Facebook comment, to Tweeting about shite that you're unhappy with; from blethering aloud on the bus about just when you are going on holiday, to emailing a friend about just why you hate your boss, it is all out there, and all accessible. From the overheard and misconstrued remark, to the quotation taken out of context, you have to be cautious.
And total, stupid un-cautiousness is an obvious and very real danger these days.
I have sat on buses and heard people saying when they were going away and for how long. I've stood in B&Q and listened whilst a hapless husband has told his wife that the lock they were looking for to replace the broken one wasn't in stock, so did she think they could just shut the door and leave it unlocked!
Were I of a certain frame of mind, I could follow these people and bingo, an easy target for a burglary!
You know all the stories of arrests made because of Facebook comments, of Tweets that have gone awry.
I think people view the digital world we have created as some happy clappy playground, where everything is joy and light, and like a playground, adults will be around to protect you from the dark exterior. This is not the case at all. There are vast numbers of predators out there, both benevolent and malicious.
And they all want one thing. You. Whether it be to protect you from yourself; whether it be to take away someone's (albeit often stupid) freedom of speech. Your money or identity? Your passwords or information?
The wolves are circling and there is little we can do about it.
This Blog will be being registered somewhere.
The thought police will even at this moment be wondering why I recommended the Olympus Trip 35 as the perfect covert camera (my post 'Granny Takes A Trip' is by far my most popular, and I am wondering whether that is due to the fact that it describes the Trip as covert).
In other words we are being monitored, 24/7 as they say in the colloquial. Big Brother is here and now and masquearding as a benevolent Big Brother, working hard to help you live a happy life so that you can keep paying your taxes and knuckling under.
And it is utterly bizarre to me to think how the simple world of my childhood (where two twelve year olds could walk relatively safely around the more down-at-heel parts of Central London) has been so vastly changed.
These days, lone children are viewed with suspicion, and you know what, being suspected and expected of being suspicious can only lead to one thing in a rebellious mind! Rebellion. 
Trust has been replaced with fear. Truth has been replaced with falsehood.
The real guardians are gone and the wolves rule the forests.
The digital plantation owners are the establishment, and you'd better believe that for all the lovely, generous bonhomie, there is a truly serious price to pay.
You are watched and tracked and monitored.
Your phone is as good as a voluntary tracking device.
Every word you type and send out into the world; every unguarded remark.
Your registration with Facebook and Twitter shackles you to machines that crunch everything about you - likes  and dislikes, thoughts, preferences, whereabouts. ***
For all our so-called 'freedom' we are hardly free.
The machine age is here, we are in thrall to it.
Can you imagine?
Mankind without freedom?
Why, that sounds a lot like slavery to me.
Be safe, and be guarded.
Thanks for listening, God bless for reading, and remember, this Sunday, on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, all those men, women and children who gave their lives for something that is fast becoming, in today's upside-down world, an abstract concept.

Walls Have Ears

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