From ‘The Wind’ into ‘Pamphleteering for Ceefax’

Happy New Year.

My latest project is called ‘Pamphleteering for Ceefax’ in which I discuss the ways in which my attraction for test cards/continuity/idents and the transitions in late night/early morning TV and Radio signify deeper meanings.

Today, an early morning conversation with an old pal of mine over Facebook started off with a jovial sharing of test card clips and continuity and idents. Jeff Wayne of ‘The War of the Worlds’ fame’s music for ‘Good Morning Britain’ played over the IBA startup page, a blue screen with white lettering, that I used to gawp in front of whilst waiting for the programmes to start, swimming in the blue pool on the screen. We shared clips of the Channel 4 holding screens on the early 80s, where, instead of adverts or promos, a single page would be displayed with with ‘…Part 2 Follows Shortly’ for three to four minutes, in order for the viewer to put the kettle on. And of course we talked about the little flashing white and black box in the corner of the screen, still used today, that signfies the end of a show, the passing of time. After my dreams of death this morning, and the birth that is soon to come, all this is scrambling my brain nicely! Going on of course to this…

In 2004 I believe, whilst gorging myself on such ephemera and nostalgia that I unlocked hidden memories of not only this life, but also that of a recent past life, where I died in 1975/6 in Selly Oak, and was re-born in Selly Oak in 1979 – and this was triggered by a certain piece of music playing which I recognised. ‘Pamphleteering for Ceefax’ has this motif as part of the narrative and this extract below tries to examine this. It’s not dead profound (none of my work is) but it’s dead good. It was also going to appear in ‘The Wind’ in the ‘Flight of the Festering Cabbage-Man’ chapter, but it may be re-written and now appear in ‘Pamphleteering for Ceefax’ instead.

It was time for a bath after the morning’s activity. I retreated swiftly to the bathroom as the news bulletin came on. The real world of murder, rape and celebrity for the second time that day, and now on the big screen. Luckily, I took my laptop with me, and positioned it on the toilet seat lid so I could carry on with my nostalgic relaxation whilst having a bath. Bath turned on, I loaded up YouTube again and this time I selected a playlist of different television continuity announcements; closedowns, when television used to stop transmissions for the night, and start-ups, when television commenced transmissions for the day. A holding screen or a test card would appear, and soft, light easy listening muzak would play in the background. I became instantly more relaxed, the tones and textures of the muzak, be it piano, saxophone or classical guitar seemingly mixing in with the steam coming from the running bath. The test cards and Ceefax pages reminded me of my youth, sitting in front of the television in lounges and dining rooms, gaping into the void of the still screens. To me as a child of around 3 or 4 or 5 back in the 1980s, the world outside was still a mystery, something to be explored, but at that time, sitting in the rooms with the television on, waiting for the next programmes to start, being locked in this still limbo was something I really enjoyed. Everything seemed so sedate and peaceful. When I first had regular access to the Internet in 2004, I was delighted to find that there were entire website devoted to this entertainment. Enthusiasts had uploaded clips upon clips of all sorts of television ephemera that would send me back to my youth, of my days in the lounges. When I discovered these sites, I greedily downloaded anything that I could get my hands on. The day after, I hid in my office with tea and toast and a warm nostalgic glow, watching these clips on repeat and repeat. The Open University jingle. The blue and yellow BBC Globe spinning on its axis, rotating mechanically. There was one clip which I found that had special interest for me.

The clip bridged the gap between programming for schools and colleges on the BBC back in the 1970s, and consisted of yellow diamonds emerging out of a blue background, multiplying and getting larger, and then when fully formed, they’d rotate and pulse in a beautiful ballet, dancing and reflecting each other’s image, and then, after their brief life, they’d sink back into the blue void again, and the programme would start. When I watched this in my office, I reckoned that I had seen this clip in a previous life, as an unbathed drop-out in his bedsit in Selly Oak. I had taken too much, and was strung out in front of the schools and colleges programming, too gone to move a muscle. The diamonds appeared, and they danced their beautiful dance for me. A smile had formed across my face as I knew that my time was up. As they disappeared into the ether, it wasn’t too long that I fell into the abyss with them. This memory of a perceived memory played in my mind as I stopped the bath tap.

I was lying there, in the bath, staring my laptop, which was now playing a Closedown clip. ‘God Save The Queen’, darkness, and then Test Card F with the girl and the clown smiling over an 880hz test signal. I marvelled at the instant accessibility of material on the Internet. With the popular conception that humans only use 10% of their brains power, I reckoned humans probably only used about 10% of the Internet, and had yet to unlock the true power behind it, instead, like me, to use it to gorge themselves on nostalgia whilst putting the world to rights with people they’d probably never meet in real life. I was fascinated with the relatively new marketplace, this new world of the Internet. However, I believed that I had succumbed to a barrage of useless information that I didn’t need, and instead of making the internet work for me, it was the other way around. I was now a slave to the information, desperately hunting around for my next hit of nostalgia. I had an idea for a short story which I was taking ages to getting around to writing, possibly due to the amount of time I was beginning to waste on the Internet. It was a short story called ‘Top Charme’, which imagined a computer program of the same name which, when installed, would automatically gain them real-time carnal knowledge of anybody they would meet, right there and then. Users would see the objects of their desire, and, storing the objects’ statistics in their memory, would have instant access to fully immersive sexual gratification, made real, at any time, using the programs cheap Virtual Reality hardware, a brain chip. The hardware would transport the user into an orgy of sensual pleasure like never before, and soon, the lines between fantasy and reality would become blurred, with devastating results for the male species whom would be locked in a relentless, never-ending warp of instant gratification. As the test signal wowed and fluttered, I thought how that this story was becoming more salient now in 2012. The instant hits within the infinite libraries, the search engines, the one-click payments. In a room, with curtains closed off to the outside world, business could be conducted, food could be delivered, and transactions could be made. There would be no need to venture outside anymore. With instant connectivity, there was no need for public interaction. You could do anything you wanted, and anything you didn’t like, you could ignore. You’d be able to live in an utopian bubble with processed sound and a constant whirr of electricity from the computer signals. Here, I was programming my own television schedule right here, with the 880hz test signal tone, which I had decided was far more preferable than the BBC News.  Here, in the realm of the internet, everything was perfect.

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