Grayson Perry, Paralympics & Bog Rolls

A bits and bobs blog this week, I think…

I just got around to watching the final episode of Grayson Perry’s In the Best Possible Taste on 4oD. This was the episode focussing on the upper classes, and my reaction to it was, unexpectedly, a strange combination of loss and regret. Towards the end of the programme Grayson presented his tapestry to the people who had inspired it, and there was one particularly poignant moment where aristo ‘Rollo’ looked at an image of himself depicted as a felled stag being torn apart by hounds and muttered, somewhat shamefacedly and unconvincingly, ‘you know, there are occasions when the hunted stag arises…’

Rollo and his ilk are not the kind of people I generally find myself sympathising with, but I found the tenacity and determination of those featured inspiring and tragic in equal measure as they struggled to sustain lifestyles and uphold values that seemed as redundant in the twenty-first century as the dusty, stuffed relics of Imperial Supremacy lining the walls of their crumbling ancestral piles. Watching the inhabitants of my hometown, Tunbridge Wells, on last week’s episode about middle class aspirationalism I had felt no such emotional connection, my chief feelings then being a mixture of irritation, bemusement and disconnection. I find that juxtaposition unsettling on many levels.

There’s a song by Roy Harper that captures my feelings far more eloquently than any words I could type here, so I’ll just add a link to that instead and let the Grimethorpe Colliery Band and the hugely undervalued Mr H say it for me:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2PmnTvPfn4 .

Having switched from ‘oD’ to the regular telly I was watching Channel 4 again later in the evening when I saw a potentially great trailer for their Paralympics coverage featuring Britain’s wheelchair basketball squad. Between slow-motion sequences of powerfully built athletes smashing headlong into each other in pursuit of possession of the ball there were short sequences in which the players spoke articulately and with passion about their love of the game and discussed some of the injuries they had sustained while playing it. It was really positive, empowering stuff that avoided all the usual stereotypes and clichés, emphasising the universal spirit and determination that underpins all great sporting achievement regardless of any barriers – physical, financial or social – that might get in, or be placed in, the way. I’m not generally keen on sound-bites, but one lady made me smile when she said, laughing, ‘I’ve already broken my neck – what else can happen?’

And then, right at the end, Channel 4 went and spoiled it by inserting a voiceover inviting viewers to ‘tune in and watch the super-humans in action’ (or somesuch rubbish) that completely undermined everything that had gone before. Sorry, Channel 4, but the ‘heroic’ model of disability is every bit as clichéd and stereotypical as all the other models that emphasise collective ‘difference’ rather than valuing biodiversity in its wider context and acknowledging individual achievement. That the people shown were super athletes goes without saying, just as it does for every other athlete competing in the games whether disabled or non-disabled, but they are no more super human than any other athlete, or indeed than any other human being who happens, whether by choice or design, not to excel at sports.

I’m sure there are some who will feel I’m being overly pedantic, and they may well have a point. I wonder, though, whether an advert for the Olympics that measured the achievements of, say, women athletes or gay athletes purely in terms of their gender or sexuality and labelled them as superheroes on that basis would seem acceptable? Over thirty years ago Ian Dury was banned by the BBC for offering very similar observations during the International Year of the Disabled and for questioning why the achievements of disabled people should be overlooked or devalued the rest of the time. I think he was right to ask that question, and I really hope that three decades on the Paralympics gets the viewing figures it deserves for the reasons it deserves.

Personally, I won’t be watching much of the coverage – para or otherwise – at all as I don’t like watching sports. I admire the qualities and achievements of those who play them, though, and will take this opportunity to wish all competing athletes the very, very best.

On the subject of the Olympics, is anyone else as sick as I am of all the sponsorship going on? I mean it’s bad enough when a purveyor of obesity is listed as the ‘offical restaurant’ of the games, but do we really need an ‘official’ soap-powder (Arial) or an ‘official’ chocolate (Cadbury’s) too? And where does it stop? Is there an official haemorrhoid cream for all those sweaty arsed cyclists and runners, because chances are many of them are going to be looking for that kind of relief at some point? And what about official laxatives and/or costives for those poor souls afflicted with pre-event nerves – I mean, we can’t all be as up front about that kind of thing as Ms Radcliffe, now, can we? And that then begs the question of official toilet paper, because let’s face it when push comes to shove (sorry about that, no pun intended) we’re going to need plenty of tissue around after all those burgers, cokes and chocolate bars have been gobbled up and guzzled down, aren’t we?

Oh. That reminds me. Ben and I have been doing our bit to save the planet by wiping our bums on recycled paper for well over a decade now, and for the past four or five years have stuck fairly consistently (see previous brackets) to ‘Nouvelle’. We’ve always been fairly happy with it, but to be honest it does sometimes seem a bit flimsy, demanding five or six stacked sheets per ‘pass’ to fully ensure against an inadvertent rectal examination. With that in mind we recently made a switch to the new Andrex product which is made with ‘90% recycled fibres and 10% sustainable bamboo’, and I think it’s a choice we’ll be sticking with (and again), because it seems reassuringly sturdy while mostly living up to its claim of ‘luxury’ softness.

For anyone else aiming to save the planet by dint of wiping their dents we can heartily recommend it, though I’ve got to admit to some degree of nervousness during early test runs on the basis of anecdotes I’ve heard down the years about Japanese POW’s and the agonies they suffered after having bamboo introduced to various parts of their anatomies. Mind you, for anyone who remembers the horrors of San Izal tracing paper, as popular in school toilets and public conveniences throughout the sixties and seventies, I guess the tiny – and purely hypothetical – risk of secondary bamboo damage would seem like small potatoes. As I typed ‘small potatoes’ then I wondered briefly whether a further set of brackets might be called for, but then decided against it. I’m all for running jokes (hem hem) etc but you can get too much even of a good thing, and I think this particular topic has run its course…

IN OTHER NEWS:  On Sunday I took Ben and his BFF to cinema to watch Prometheus. The ticket girl said ‘is that one adult and two teens?’ I said ‘yes’. She said ‘neither of them is over seventeen then?’ I said ‘No, he’s fifteen,’ pointing at BFF, ‘and he’s 14’ pointing at son………

It’s a fifteen, Prometheus, ennit… I recovered pretty quickly, but not quickly enough for the ‘more than her jobsworth’ manageress who was standing within ear shot. We came home and watched a DVD instead. I am a bit unpopular at the moment.

In fairness, only myself to blame, but bloody annoying given that son is only a few weeks shy of 15 and half the herbs in the 2-3 years below him at school have already seen it. And don’t even get me started with the 8 yr olds online playing GTA or bashing away unsupervised in their bedrooms at personal computers that have never even heard of a Net Nanny. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr….

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2 thoughts on “Grayson Perry, Paralympics & Bog Rolls”

  1. I liked the Upper Classes because they didn’t care what they had, they didn’t have to buy to prove they had the money to buy, mainly as they had run out of the money to buy with. Rather unfortunately the people chosen to be shown from Kings Hill and Tunbridge Wells were just buying things so their peers could see they were good at buying things. But that is why most of those people were chosen, they aren’t the whole of Tunbridge Wells. So I think Grayson Perry started out with an idea of what he wanted, then came and found it?

    1. Hmmm… not so sure. I agree with the point you make about ‘not the whole of TW’, but do think what he found very representative of the typical ‘Middle Class T.W. Type’. Certainly the farmer’s market’s, Vintage fairs etc seemed wholly in keeping with the ‘Village’ set. Something I find slightly ironic is that from responses to the programme I’ve read on Twitter etc the people of TW recognised and were often very judgemental about the values/lifestyle choices they saw championed at kingshill but totally failed to recognise or acknowledge the same or very similar traits in the context of their own lives. I’m not sure how Grayson found the people featured in his programme but assume for the most part they found him – which is how these things are usually done – by responding to general enquiries for participants in the media etc. If that is the case, then they themselves would have believed themselves typical of TW middle classes, if that’s what the producers were asking for. In a nutshell, I’d agree he possibly found what he was looking for but I suspect he wouldn’t have had to work too hard to find what he was looking for and that when he did it was relatively representative. Of course, there’s no one size fits all model of any class set or even subset, but the turnouts at the kind of events featured suggest more than a casual or coincidental association. 😀

      Thanks for feedback, BTW. Hugely appreciated. *thumbs up*

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