Needing the services of a certain shop last week, I found myself waiting in it for three quarters of an hour. The staff were perfectly pleasant and it was not their fault that I had to wait; but what was nearly intolerable to me (nearly intolerable, because in the end I did tolerate it for the sake of the service I needed) was the radio played at high volume, inescapable and all-encompassing, a truly leprous distilment poured into everyone’s ears.
The station was called Absolute Radio. It is strange how the purveyors of radiophonic drivel around the world have precisely the same intonation; there is something relentlessly bright and facetiously emphatic about it. Even in a country of whose language you speak not a word, you can recognise it and know that the speaker is talking to create a mood or fill a vacuum rather than convey a meaning. Considerable intelligence and skill are required to produce this constant stream of aural pabulum, which means that they are employed in the most cynical fashion imaginable: knowingly producing what is ugly and worthless.
On this occasion, the pabulum did not even rise to the level of prolefeed as described in Nineteen Eighty-Four. By comparison with prolefeed – ‘rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope known as a versificator’ – the outpourings of the radio were monotonous and horrible. As it was a Saturday morning, there was music of a type so brutal that it made you long for cheap sentimentality and a diet of football in between. People sent in their thoughts about the prospect of their local team – local in the sense of the stadium, of course, not the players, who were from the four corners of the world.
I overheard two customers praise the radio station. What they liked about it was that it played a mixture of music, ‘old and new.’ By old, they meant from the 1980s: before that it was all one with Sargon and Sennacherib.
I remembered an art student who was a patient of mine. She told me she was learning art history and I asked her what she was learning. ‘Roy Lichtenstein,’ she replied. It wasn’t only sex that began in 1963: it was the world itself. Thus Bishop Ussher, who worked out that the world was created in 4004 BC grossly miscalculated: the world is much younger than that.