I have, for some time, had to face the realisation that I would be considered by many to be a member of the much-maligned liberal metropolitan elite.
I am probably quite liberal – though also somewhat practical and so object to wishy-washy “thinking” – and am a firm believer that a working, if implicit, social contract is a very hard thing to create but really quite easy to damage or destroy. As a result, in enlightened self-interest, if nothing else (and I like to believe there is “something else”), I feel that a society which mis-treats its weak, its disadvantaged and its outsiders is one storing up trouble for the future (as well as being a rather disagreeable place to live).
For the vast majority of my adult life, I have lived in or near to major centres of population – which does rather mark me as metropolitan (even without a purple line and immortalisation by Betjeman). I’m very fond of the country, just not as a place to live.
For me the elite epithet is the hardest to claim. Obviously, given my age and other proclivities, I did enjoy playing the space trading game on the BBC Micro back in the eighties – but that’s about as close to Elite as I feel I can realistically boast. However, I suppose my hobbies (or how I fritter away my slack hours as I call them) which tend to revolve around the arts, science and culture might be considered to be of the elite by some.
However, I think my activities of yesterday evening may have put the tin-lid on my LME status for many. As is not entirely uncommon, it was spent watching BBC4 – but the programming was unusual even for BBC4. We started with a glorious hour of birdsong taken from the dawn chorus in three locations in southwest England – no voice-over, no background music just the sounds of nature (plus the occasional plane and a little traffic). The odd caption assisted with the identification of which bird was singing – and to share a few other salient facts. One of these other facts was that dawn singing (for the male bird) is a way of showing his fitness – an activity, were I to indulge in at this time of year, would illustrate both my insomnia (all to frequently real) and a complete disregard for my neighbours (something I try and avoid). I would use an entirely different method to show my fitness – and would probably refrain even from doing that at dawn (well, the middle-aged body can be a trifle stiff at that time of the morning). However, bird song was only the starter – the main course was even more nourishing.
We were fed with two half hour programmes each showing a skilled craftsman at work – again, without music or commentary. First, a glass blower at work: showing the near miraculous creation of a jug from a chunk of glass broken off a larger rod in what seemed to be real-time. The process was quite fascinating – and, for me at least, made glass seem even more magical. The extraordinary plasticity of almost-molten glass coupled with its amazing cohesive properties does far more to make me believe in a creator god than the intricacies of the human eye (though does still fall a ways short). However, I do still wonder how they get the glass to stick to the end of the metal blowing rod – I may have to re-watch the show to see if I blinked at this point.
The second showed a chap making what looked like a 9″ cook’s knife from a sheet of metal and a block of wood. This was not in real-time as the process took 16 hours – and this was using power tools and a modern forge. However, the time was well spent as the final product was a thing of true beauty – the blade and its patterning, in particular, was incredible. I very much want one!
It made me realise that all craft, once it reaches a certain level, is Art. All that labour and heat (and for the knife, violence) applied to such unprepossessing raw materials – what an astonishingly cunning species we can be! I was also struck that without factory production of our kitchenware, it would a lot more expensive – though its cheapness and impersonal back-story might also help to explain our throw-away culture. I start to think that I should only allow new things into the flat if they are well-made (though I’m not going the full Morris or Ruskin) – if nothing else, it would help to alleviate the storage issues created by my modest floor space as I suspect I could afford very few such things.
Most importantly, this was television which did not condescend to the viewer and could not have been done better on the radio or with a book. None of the programmes felt like n minutes of content had been stretched to fill mn (for m≥2) minutes of schedule time. All three programmes would have been weakened by being interrupted by messages from our sponsors. I suspect that despite the vast cast of people who worked on the programmes, as revealed by the closing credits, this was even relatively cheap content to produce. You wouldn’t want to spend every night this way, but perhaps more than once in 49 years could be an achievable objective for the future.