Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Monday 16 February

I often wonder what a visitor from another planet would make of life in modern day Britain and London, if they suddenly arrived here and had to draw conclusions from some of the detritus and abandoned media that they would find.

For example, if they were to judge diet and culinary habits based solely on the leaflets that come through my front door, they would assume that people live on a diet consisting specifically of delivered pizza - in a wide variety of flavours and special stuffed crusts - and free bottles of cola. They might also conclude that on special occasions the inhabitants of London - when not eating pizza - feasted themselves on a variety of take-away Thai food and perhaps occasionally Chinese. Thus, visitors would conclude that the inhabitants of London clearly did very little cooking, relying instead on a fleet of delivery vans and motorcycles scurrying round the nation’s capital, bringing hot food at all times of day and night. They would also think that many more people than actually do so live behind our communal front door, given the vast quantities of leaflets that cascade through the letterbox on a regular basis.

Even stranger conclusions might be drawn if these visitors based their understanding of the British on recent headlines in the tabloid press. These days, the hoys of reading physical copies of The Sun, Daily Mirror, and Daily Mail are but a distant memory (thankfully, in the case of the latter, with its “little England” views), but I am still familiar with what they are saying through the reviews that I hear on the radio.

Two stories dominating the tabloids caught my eye, metaphorically speaking. Firstly, the nation reeled with moral indignation recently when a 13-year-old boy was pictured with his 15-year-old girlfriend, pleased as punch over the birth of their new baby. Both parents looked young and apprehensive - despite their radiant happiness - but it was the youthful father who received most of the attention with accusations that he was barely out of primary school and that he was just “too young”.

Now I suspect our interplanetary visitors would have been a trifle confused. Why, they might have mused, was there this enormous fuss when clearly both parents were physically mature enough to go through the process of reproduction and birth? Why was society fixed on an arbitrary age at which young people suddenly became regarded as suitable for having children and engaging in sexual activity? And if blessed with the gift of time travel as well, our interplanetary visitors would have found great variations in what was regarded as an “appropriate age” from century to century, country to country, and civilisation to civilisation. Here is probably not the place for a discussion as to the appropriate age to which a young person becomes both physically and emotionally mature enough to engage in sex and the act of reproduction, but I do think that an observer from another planet would be astonished at the furore that this case provoked.

The other story that kept popping up was that of the unfortunate Jade Goody, and her losing battle with cancer. Leaving aside the fact that the news coverage is being manipulated by Max Clifford, and that she unashamedly is trying to make as much money as possible in order to provide for her children after her death, the curiosity is why this woman should apparently have captivated the nation’s hearts!

This is another of those stories where a visitor from another planet would be nonplussed. The extent of the coverage would suggest that Jade Goody was a great national figure - perhaps someone who has served as a leader or has been a huge inspiration to the nation - or through public service, has won an affectionate place in people’s hearts in the same way that Diana, Princess of Wales became the “people’s princess”. But no. Jade’s great claim to success is having been a contestant in Big Brother and having become notorious for her bigoted and racist views, her colourful choice of language, and being the archetypal Essex girl who had managed to achieve notoriety as a C list celebrity.

So another case where those observers from another planet would be left scratching their heads, as am I, wondering what it is that makes Jade Goody’s terminal illness something of a national tragedy!

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