Terence Blacker: Mr Blobby's path to enlightenment

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The Independent Online

The nation has been roused from its summer slumber by a double slap of morality from the Bishop of London and the creator of Mr Blobby, Noel Edmonds. Each will have his supporters, some siding with the case for selflessness, responsibility and global awareness advanced by the bishop while others opt for the Blobbymeister's formula for happiness of a more directly personal type. There is, frankly, no middle way.

The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, has proposed to his fellow clerics that they should mount a major guilt offensive. The time has come for vicars to rail from the pulpit against such "symptoms of sin" as flying to a holiday destination or buying a car with an unacceptably large engine. "Sin is not just a restricted list of moral mistakes. It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions."

Supporting his team member, the Archbishop of Canterbury struck a weirdly fundamentalist note. "We stand before God's judgement in these matters," he thundered. There is more to morality than attitudes to sex or money; it involves making the right environmental choices.

So now, within moments of being told that we should each be aware of the carbon footprint we are leaving, there is a moral footprint to worry about, too. Just because you may be faithful to your spouse, kind to your neighbours, and give to charity, you are still not in the clear. How many low-energy light bulbs are in your house? What about that tap you left running while cleaning your teeth this morning?

The bishop's argument will appeal to the nation's scolders and blame-merchants, but no one else. Sin is a useful concept but it loses its point if it becomes so general that it covers leaving your TV on stand-by overnight.

If only Dr Rowan Williams had directed his bishops in the direction of a new book, Mr Blobby's Guide to Life, or, as it is more formally known, Positively Happy: Cosmic Ways to Change Your Life. After the woolly "symptoms of sin" guff, Edmonds' guide has a welcome simplicity. There is something called the cosmos. It can shape our lives. Its influence has helped Edmonds with his career, from The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop to Deal or No Deal.

How does it work? Simple. "Being truly, positively happy comes from proactively pursuing what you want to do." Years ago, Noel wanted to be a DJ. Fortunately, his rival Kenny Everett got 'flu and then was fired (cosmic harmony can cause collateral damage) and soon our man had taken over his show.

It's a tough creed with little time for introspection. "If you think about things too much, the gremlins will creep in and destroy your self-confidence," Noel says. It is also not entirely original. Pre-Blobby, there was Norman Vincent Peale and his power of positive thinking, and 100 years before that Samuel Smiles was delivering a similar message to the Victorians. The idea that God (or the cosmos) helps those who help themselves has always had a rather obvious appeal.

As a moral code, Positively Happy solves few of life's great mysteries - least of all, how Noel Edmonds keeps getting away with it - but it provides the sort of hope and belief which Anglicanism once offered before the gremlins of doubt crept in and destroyed its self-confidence.

It is what encourages millions of ridiculous optimists cheerfully to throw their money away on the National Lottery each week. By contrast, the Bishop of London's moral message merely leaves its audience feeling nagged at, tetchy and helpless.

Saddle up and stop sneering

Out here in East Anglia, there is increasing bewilderment at the way metropolitan sophisticates have sneered at a politician who happen to like dressing up as a cowboy. In these parts, it is customary to put on your rhinestones, Stetson and boots, mosey on down to a local saloon, watch a mock gunfight, do some line-dancing and then stand at the bar, spurs jangling, over a pint of Adnams.

Cowboy virtues are timeless: strength, courage, a distrust of the honeyed words of passing snake-oil salesmen. A cowboy lets his fists do the talking. He may get kind of tongue-tied when a little lady passes by, but she know that, in the words of the great Hank Wangford, cowboys stay on longer. Out here, we like John Prescott, and would trust him in a crisis before any lily-livered, soft-skinned city boy.

The decision to revive the 1970s game show Mr and Mrs is a rare stroke of TV genius. It is true that it once used to be the naffest show on air, but that was before marriage became interesting. Thirty years ago, watching a veteran married couple answering questions as to how she likes an egg cooked or whether he put the seat down after going to the lavatory was merely depressing.

Now long-time marriage has become a rarity. Couples who have lasted more than two decades are invited as curiosities to dinner-parties where other guests can ask them about their achievement with a mixture of curiosity, envy and pity. Newspapers have taken to asking wrinkly old couples the secret of how they managed to stay together. Conversation, was it? Silence? Lots of sex? Separate beds?

* The 21st-century Mr and Mrs will provide a compelling insight into this fascinating, endangered institution.

terblacker@aol.com

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