Short term memory loass

George Austin is ageing

It is easy to see who is thought to be watching television during the day, when the adverts are directed so obviously at those of us who are moving towards our dotage. There is Richard Briars’ voiceover asking gently, ‘Have you heard about HSL beds?’ We are shown how ‘at the press of a button’ we can sleep in beds that raise us up, partially to read or fully to breakfast in bed. Chairs too that lift our legs or tip us out, presumably in the direction of a zimmer frame.

And we can install stair lifts to carry us up and down stairs. I realized I was part of the target audience when our son came to stay for Christmas. Gazing contemplatively at our fairly narrow staircase, he mused ‘You’ll never fit your Stannah stair lift in there.’ And there are walk-in baths or others into which we can be lowered by mean of a hoist. Much to look forward to for us all. I can hardly wait.

Garden Rubbish

For the more active, Frank Windsor advises us on garden aids. These I ignore, as my friends who are active and health-conscious seem to die younger than those who are not. He promises to help us to grow more, while others advise us on tools that prevent us from having to bend down. When in the 1960s we had a two and a half acre garden I did try my hand at growing vegetables, but it seemed such a lot of effort when even in those far off days we could buy them from the supermarket, picked and fresh-frozen. I have never done any gardening since then and I don’t intend to start again now.

Other adverts show us how we can realize on the value of our house (‘and still have something left for your children to inherit’) by handing it over to a finance company with a generous heart who will kindly give us part of its value. I am not sure if that is that greedy or stupid, should we be so foolish as to take them up on it.

Burial Customs

Most ominously we are advised by to make arrangements, for a very small amount every month, to cover the cost our eventual funeral. Stephanie Cole, June Whitfield and Christopher Timothy are all very persuasive on this, but I’ve never been too much into grand funerals – for me, the dead body is merely the chrysalis left behind by the loved one who is now enjoying eternal life.

I shall certainly make other arrangements for my funeral having been to some, the like of which if my own bears any resemblance I shall feel bound to return to haunt those who conducted it. One priest friend wrote clear instructions beforehand that at his funeral there was to be no sermon, eulogy, panegyric, nor in their place was the minister to say, ‘but I think I must just say a few words about the deceased.’ Amen to that.

Across the Channels

But we couch potatoes don’t watch afternoon television for the adverts, which can be used as a time for making a cup of tea or, more often, for attending to that which one has to perform ever more frequently as the years pass. No, thanks especially to Sky channels we can see repeats of long forgotten programmes. It could be depressing to have more than 200 channels from which to choose and yet find that for the most part there is still nothing worth watching.

However, if you concentrate on about a dozen of these, you can find programmes like Inspector Morse, The Professionals, Dad’s Army, Perry Mason, Ironside, Bergerac, Midsomer Murders and Kojak endlessly repeated. And the great advantage of ageing is that when you (or at least, when I) watch Poirot or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or other murder stories, the identity of who-done-it remains as much a mystery as when it was first shown so that I can watch them again and again and again.

And thanks to ageing, I can have seen a programme only a few weeks previously and still not remember who the culprit was. But I am happy to watch it in ignorance until all is revealed at the end, for there is a quality of acting and direction that never pales. And with all due respect for an afternoon’s enjoyment it is much more fulfilling than attending meetings of the diocesan advisory committee or board of education.

Women and Crime

And why, I have often pondered, are so many of the best crime writers women? Dorothy L Sayers – a great Catholic Anglican, by the way – has not, I think, had her Lord Peter Wimsey transferred to television. But there is Agatha Christie with Poirot and Miss Marple, Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn, Ruth Rendell, and of course the incomparable PD James with Commander Dalgliesh.

I recently watched an Agatha Christie in which Poirot was played by Peter Ustinov, with David Suchet as a CID officer. It did not work for to me Suchet is Poirot, just as Joan Hickson is Miss Marple. I know, I know, Christie is two-dimensional and the murderer always the least likely character. But even though it always follows a similar pattern it is not repetitive in the way that, say, Columbo is.

There is an odd fact that I have only just noticed about golden oldies (I mean the programmes, not those who watch them), and that is how they reflect the culture of the age. Even in series made only a decade or so ago and set in the period that for them was present day, police will go into a building to face armed criminals with revolvers but no body armour. It is a reflection on what our society has become that today it would be unthinkable to do so without the support of an armed response unit.

Moral fibre

And what of morality? We live in an age in which the permissive society has come of age and both soaps and series reflect that this is so in the ease with which everyone pops in and out of bed with each other. Of course it did happen in older series – Bodie and Doyle in The Professionals and Regan and his side-kick in The Sweeney were not exactly monogamous, even though we did not have to endue today’s voyeurism.

Contrast that with Inspector Alleyne and his relationship with Troy, played by Belinda Lang, and set in the 1940s, where he can barely bring himself to kiss his lovely lady. For a pleasant afternoon’s television this couch potato knows which he prefers. But then, you may say, that shows Austin really is ageing.

George Austin, a former Archdeacon of York, is now glued to the set.