Terence Blacker: A sad lament for bimbos (and misguided baby goats)

It could be argued that, by trying to convey their magic, one simply makes oneself look old-fashioned
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The Independent Online

It is not all misery out there, you know. There are good things - smiling faces around the TV, watching Jonathan Ross as he trades quips with the irrepressible Ricky Gervais, inspirational stories from disaster zones, celebrities ballroom-dancing for kids in Africa. It's a wonderful world.

On the other hand, as the adults are left alone to stare into the fire late at night, the many hours of forced good humour curdling into seasonal biliousness, it is difficult to resist a mild sense of loss. So many aspects of our precious national life slip away, year by year. Soon the children will only occasionally glimpse them, perhaps reading the headlines of an old newspaper that had been lining a suitcase in the attic.

"Daddy," they will ask. "What exactly is a bimbo?"

And you will chuckle, shake your head affectionately as the memories return of a time before all celebrities read books, were in touch with their emotional intelligence and were concerned about the future of the planet. There was a time, you will tell them, when stupidity was a good thing. If you happened to be young, gorgeous, female and apt to lose your clothes now and then, thinking was regarded as an optional extra.

No one actually boasted of being a bimbo, but it was generally accepted that bimboness played a part in the way we lived. Snooty old writers could make themselves and their readers feel superior by telling stories about girls called Sharon. The day when being called a bimbo became accepted as an insult took a splash of colour - magenta pink, probably - from national life.

According to Michael Bywater's rather brilliant Lost Worlds, these losses are part of a general pattern. "Look at the world we have left to the hapless adolescents of the early 21st century," he writes. "A world of food fads and neuroses, of exploitation through mass media. The affectless uniformity of the web. Danger lurking: perverts round every corner, terrorists in the shadows. A world where the sea kills fish, rain dissolves trees and sex means death. Of crumbling infrastructures, gridlock, collapsing health services. A world where only a few will be able to afford a house. A world of McJobs or no jobs or insane jobs which eat the whole of life. Where illusions are buried, childhood torn short, innocence drowned. A world of gendering and relativism, of spyware and databases, of political correctness. Hell of a world."

It is, of course, far too cheery a view. There may indeed be perverts round every corner, but there is something particularly modern, bony and nasty about the way they look and lurk these days. Frankly we don't make perverts like we used to. Once the dirty old man was a stock character of British life. Everyone's childhood would contain at least one dirty-old-man incident, complete with a mackintosh, hands sunk deep in the pockets, unshaven features, shifty eyes, then suddenly - aaaggghhh! It was part of growing up. There must still be flashers but they are gradually being laughed into extinction, like kerb-crawlers, hereditary peers and Pekingeses.

Bywater's tour d'horizon also fails to take into account declines in family life. There was a time not so long ago when no radio phone-in would be complete without at least one call from someone who introduced herself as "an average mum" and went on to say what these people needed was hanging/flogging/castration to make the world safer for all (another endangered group) right-thinking folk. Where did they go, those average mums? Their pride in their own domestic, Persil-washes-whiter stupidity was part of what made Britain great.

Then there are other generations. Once there were tug-of-love tots, victims of selfish parents whom we could all agree to hate. There must in reality be more tug-of-love tots than ever, yet somehow they have lost their capacity to tug at the heartstrings of the nation. The older generation is fading, too. The concept of the little old lady or the nice old gentleman has given way to something altogether less interesting, more drearily fun-loving. So that dependable symbol of Britishness, the have-a-go granny, who sees off a street mugger with a right hook or a startling burst of speed and a rugby tackle, is a thing of the past.

Even the animal kingdom has lost some of its magic. It has been some time since I have looked at copy of a Sunday Express, but I am prepared to bet that I would be unable to find that regular pictorial feature, the baby goat that thinks it's a kitten, or the fox cub being raised by a proud mother hen.

It's no good blubbing about the loss of these things. We have to face the fact that life has become duller. There are fewer of those bewildering cards offering a French polishing service in the newsagents' windows, we can rarely if ever be outraged by a foul-mouthed outburst on Channel Four-Letter-Word. A sweet, bewildered Tory wife is now unlikely to appear before the cameras and vow to stand by her adulterous husband for the sake of the family. Trendy vicars, eggheads out of touch with real life, hairy-legged feminists, the chattering classes are all well on their way to extinction.

It may be argued life is better, more honest, without many of these colourful aspects of our past and that, by trying to convey their magic, one simply makes oneself look old-fashioned. It is better perhaps that we should quietly raise a late-night glass to them. We shall not see their like again.

terblacker@aol.com

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