… Or haven’t until now.
1. The Explicit F
This, from The History Man by Malcolm Bradbury. It’s the mid-70s. Howard Kirk, radical sociology lecturer, has been savaging the work of a hapless, young-fogeyish undergraduate called Carmody. Carmody has protested to Professor Marvin – head of department – and asked him to re-mark his essays:
“‘You mean you think Carmody’s essays are good?’ asks Howard. ‘No,’ says Professor Marvin, ‘they’re bad and problematic. The trouble is they’re evasive, they don’t meet the tests you’ve set the man. But they also have intelligence, shrewdness, and cultural insight. The problem is to assess the level of the badness of the failure.’ ‘I see no problem,’ says Howard, ‘they’re outright, failing bad.’ ‘I’ve read each one three times, Howard,’ says Marvin. ‘Now markers frequently disagree, and have learned ways of resolving their disagreements. My impression is simply that you’re not using our elegant marking scale, with its plusses and minusses and query plus minusses, with quite the delicacy you might. So I found, reading them, that I often had here the sense of a C, there an intimation even of lower B, where you go for the full punitive weight of the outright and explicit F.'”
Every year, we see a form of this in the early weeks of Strictly, when weak but popular contestants outstay their welcome at the expense of better dancers. Darcey, Len and Bruno may sense a four, possibly a nuanced five. Craig will go for ‘the full punitive weight of the outright and explicit’ two. (To be fair, he has his reasons.) It’s a running gag of the show, and mentioning The History Man every time it happens is a tired running Dad-gag in our household.
Strictly is entertainment, nothing more. But is seems we are ever more ready to reach for our well-thumbed two or scrawl a big red F whenever we engage with the world at large, and in our communications with each other.
This has been a very strange year, with so much to drive us to cart our furniture and granny’s piano to the end of the street to reinforce the barricade. If we climb over the top and explore the neighbouring streets we find much the same thing. Each of these barricades presents us with a simple choice: to man it, or storm it. Not only is this unsurprising, quite often this simple ‘pass or fail’ approach has been the only rational course open to us. So much right now is ‘outright, failing bad,’ and it’s right to call it. Trouble is, the same combative mindset can contaminate all aspects of our thinking. Everything becomes a battleground. We hector and are hectored in our turn and to hell with nuance. Before we know it, we’re demanding on Facebook that anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with our views on Jeremy Corbyn or Bob Dylan or putting the milk in first should unfriend us immediately. These days, when e-texting by whatever means so often replaces talking to someone we can see and hear, nuance is in short supply. We fear it in others, suspicious that it maybe sophistry in disguise. And we fear it in ourselves, reluctant to expose ourselves to charges of ‘deviation’ or worse. But the moment we lose nuance is the moment we lose understanding. And when we lose the will to understand, we stop listening.
What has this to do with not blogging? There have been private pressures, too, but lately I’ve found it difficult to free myself from the real or imagined barricades to dwell on the simple pleasures of radio or long-lost albums by Ralph McTell. I’ve been busy feeling hectored or hectoring in my turn, awarding punitive Fs left, right and centre on social media. And the F doesn’t only stand for fail. In short, I’m as f***ed off as everyone else and I haven’t trusted myself not to carry the feeling into this space.
2. What’s The Point?
When so much around you seems to be ‘outright, failing bad’ why would you waste time writing about smaller things? It’s completely unimportant whether you blog or not, especially when your posts are a) unremarkable and b) read by few. Why add your tuning-fork hum to the background, when others can back themselves with symphony orchestras or Marshall amps?
It’s hard to argue against this.
And in my case, ‘What’s the point?’ is also one of the great ‘Hey Jude’ choruses of depressive illness.
3. ‘Sleeve Notes’
It’s nearly a year since I wrote anything about radio. And like picking up the phone to someone you’ve lost touch with, it gets harder the longer you leave it. Guilt builds up, too. The feeling that to break the silence would be unfair on all the people you didn’t speak about before. However …
As it’s still available on iPlayer, I’m going to encourage you to listen to Agnieszka Dale’s A Happy Nation, read by Daniela Denby-Ashe. And not just because it’s a good radio story.
And in a spirit of redress, here’s a list – alphabetical and not distinguishing between writers, actors and radio professionals – of the talented people I’ve been lucky enough to work with directly, or with whose work I’ve engaged, during ‘the silence’:
Matthew Abbott, Alaa Al-Aswany, Lorraine Ashbourne, Jon Calver, Morven Crumlish, Lucy Durneen, Amir El-Masry, Peter Firth, Polly Frame, Bryony Hannah, Sophie Hannah, Tania Hershman, M.J. Hyland, Shirley Jackson, Rob Jarvis, Sohm Kapila, Martina Laird, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Toby Litt, Alison Macleod, Adnan Mahmutovic, Sinead Matthews, Tim McInnerny, Nafisa Muhtadi, Peter Nicholls, Emerald O’Hanrahan, Ben Pedroche, Claire Powell, Raad Rawi, Farshid Rokey, Karen Rose, Daniel Ryan, Julian Simpson, Holly Slater, The Soundhouse, Anita Sullivan, Thom Tuck, Sarah Tombling, Hannah Vincent and Nicola Walker.
This is an attempt to clean the slate. It still doesn’t matter at all if I don’t blog. Equally, ‘t’aint nobody’s business if I do.’
And maybe it’s time to get an additional hat …