Skip Bandele reflects on life and his world – as he sees it.
THE RELENTLESS passage of time is propelling us further and further into a future that our predecessors could only dream about. From Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to Orwell’s 1984, we have now been there and are charting unknown territory. My first X Certificate film was Death Race 2000, a horrific vision of a road-rage future now passé, and later I listened to Prince’s 1999. Oh, nostalgia!
England seems to be one of those places where the clocks tick faster than elsewhere and all of us straying away live largely from fond memories that often bear no resemblance to today’s harsh realities.
Robert Louis Stevenson, pining in self-imposed exile in Samoa, wrote the following lines:
“Blows the wind today
And the sun and the rain are flying
Blows the wind today and now
Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are flying
My heart remembers how.
Grey recumbent tombs of the dead in desert places
Standing stones on the vacant wine-red moor
Hills of sheep and the lowes of the silent vanished races
And winds, austere and pure.
Be it granted to me to behold you again in dying
Hills of home and to hear again the call
Hear about the graves of the martyrs the peepers crying
And hear no more at all.”
Would that he wrote them today! After all, even the Blairs prefer to spend Easter in Barbados, Christmas in Egypt and the rest of the year God knows where. No wonder the country is going to pot!
My personal set of recollections centres round London in the ’70s and ’80s. It was a good place to live. You could hop onto a Routemaster double-decker at a zebra crossing and pay two new pence for the privilege of travelling a few stops. Now, automatic doors bar the way and a gold-plated credit card would probably be needed to cover the cost if you did manage to board. I remember paper rounds, going up to the West End and walking home at night. You knew the postman by name and shared a hasty pint with the milkman on Sunday lunchtimes, between 12 and 2pm sharp. Policemen said good morning and even the less upmarket areas, such as Balham, Wembley or East Ham, bore no menace. All this is a far cry from what a returnee might be faced with in England’s capital today.
The paper boy or girl would probably either sue the newsagent for exploitation, claim disability benefit for a bad back and never work again, or be stalked by paedophiles hiding behind respectable suburban net curtains. The city’s centre has become a no-go area, pinstriped Threadneedle Street yobs competing with stockbroker belt teenagers in the vomiting stakes. If you still, somehow, manage to get there and avoid the treacherous puddles, walking home would be out of the question. You would either be mugged, robbed, beaten up or shot by a Bobby too scared to ask where you are going.
Royal Mail statistics lead one to believe that you may be lucky to see your postman twice a year, and wouldn’t be able to pronounce his or her name anyway, and the milkman is more likely to share a joint with you in the dole queue.
Equality, whether sexual, racial or any other kind, has also reached ridiculous levels. During last month’s annual high street feeding frenzy, a Mother Christmas sued a store because she was sacked for having breasts. Work that one out! I suppose that case still conjures up a more pleasant scenario than that of the Great Yarmouth Santa who was arrested for brawling, thereby upsetting local children.
Contradictions rule in 21st century Britain. Epitomised by the leadership bickering and backbiting between Blair and Brown, no one seems to be able to define a clear line anymore. Rising violence is a major social issue meant to be tackled by Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBO), yet parents face up to five years in jail for smacking their unruly offspring and fathers end up with criminal records for protecting their infants from bullies. Convicted burglars take their victims to court, national binge-drinking is combated with 24-hour licensing laws and Royalty horses around in Nazi uniforms while the army’s reward for toppling a dictator is to be severely reduced in size. Monty Python would have had a field-day!
However, some things remain uniquely British and the humble cup of tea is one of them. Ever since John Brown led a group of rebels in what became known as the Boston Tea Party in 1773, thus initiating the American Revolution, tea has become inseparable from the idea of Englishness. 196 million cups of the stuff are drank in Britain every day! Prime Minister William Gladstone wrote in 1865 that, “if you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you”.
Tea contains antioxidants called flavanoids, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. There are some claims that green tea can reduce cholesterol levels and tea may also help prevent cancer. Anyway, where would we be without the ‘tea break’, a traditional institution dating back 200 years? Even controversial ’80s icon, Boy George, sings the special brew’s praises, saying “I’d rather have a cup of tea than go to bed with someone any day”. Whereas I wouldn’t go that far, I see no reason whatsoever why I should not enjoy my cuppa in the relative tranquillity of my chosen ‘exile’.
Portugal, this winter, may not be able to boast the ‘green, green grass’ Tom Jones sang about, but it is more of a home than tomorrow’s England can ever be. I am content to observe from afar, my cure-it-all steaming away, my memories untainted.