Where’s The Beef?
The following note was delivered to us by a small boy, who said he had been paid £1 by ‘a funny old geezer’ to hand it in. We make no further comment. Editor
A short while ago I broke one of my few rules by listening to the news and was, for the umpteenth time, stuck by its banality. I do not remember every detail, but do recall that the main item concerned a former government minister who was assisting some members of the Royal Family with their financial affairs. We then ‘descended’ to the problems of an Asian bank, progressing to a story about a pop star perishing in the Antipodes. Then came a complaint from a state in South America, to the effect that a British media personality had insulted the country concerned. After that came talk of a possible ban on certain computer games, allegations of smuttiness in a soap opera, measures against football hooligans and protests from a Cornish village, regarding implied doubts about its Arthurian heritage.
I remarked on all this to my wife, who retorted that I should be pleased, as it indicated that nothing much was happening and that no news was good news. She was right, but despite her comment I found myself a touch nostalgic for the raw red meat of yore. I couldn’t avoid the reminiscence of twiddling big black knobs on brown wood-effect wireless sets and hearing Winston munching through speeches to the effect that our backs were so far pressed to the wall that our eventual advance would reveal an imprint on the bricks. Those were trying times, but as our former foes put it: ‘Nichts kann der Mensch schlechter vertragen als eine Reihe von guten Tagen’, meaning, as far as I can maintain the metre, ‘The thing we find most hard to bear is days on end without a care’. I am not a bard, you understand.
There was nothing insipid about the tidings in those days. One could rely on hearing about forty-thousand-ton battleships going to the bottom, aircraft plunging from the skies as often as they could be sent up, cities falling to one side or the other as the conflict fluctuated, and legions of troops being rounded up at one go in some grey concrete Soviet conurbation. All stuff that a fellow could get his teeth into.
I am not suggesting a return to troubles on that scale, but a little substance wouldn’t come amiss. Appreciating that one must be thankful for small mercies, I would settle for something less cataclysmic than a world war. It might be worthwhile switching on to hear of, say, an epidemic of awesome proportions, a resounding stockmarket crash – say 3,000 points – a displaced hurricane wrecking one of our less pleasant cities, a canister of unthinkably virulent bacilli stolen by lunatic fundamentalists, a thriving trade in filched plutonium, a small state gobbled up by a slavering next-door neighbour, or a mass dive from a skyscraper by deranged members of an obscure sect. You see how modest one’s demands become.
Associated with this lack of solid fare is the inverse phenomenon of increasingly lurid language used to report trivial events. Nowadays, nobody is ever merely upset or disturbed. The minimum state of distress is to be devastated, though this may be over a two-day sugar shortage or the loss of a hubcap. We should have an official scale for these things. I will not set myself up as an arbiter, but would like to make the tentative suggestion that we might start the ladder with, say, ‘perturbed’, then climb to ‘agitated’, leading perhaps to ‘prostrated’ or ‘desolated’. We should always have one stage which has never been used before, which we can invoke if we are visited by hostile aliens, whose destructive capacity begins where ours ends. Is this asking too much?
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