Steve’s First Trip to Devon

Note: This is the first in what will probably become a series of life-writing exercises, published in this blog to enable friends to find it easily. Should any of these exercises ever interest anybody else, well, that’s a bonus…

I first went down to Devon in 1975. My friend Phil had moved there in the autumn of 1973. I knew Phil from secondary school, where he was also friends with my friends Chris and John. Phil had lived in the same town as us for a couple of years, those formative teenage years when we began to share the same tastes in music, books and other aspects of culture, such as the occult, the supernatural and UFOs, thus making us deeply repugnant to the girls in the school. Phil’s mother and guardian were, however, restless, and they found a house on the edge of Torbay, and so Phil left us.

When Phil moved to Devon, we never supposed we’d all remain in contact for many years afterwards. Why should we suppose such a thing? We were young, and people move on. But Phil’s parents returned to Warminster occasionally to visit friends, enabling Phil to also visit us; and he took the step of actually writing a letter to us, which encouraged us to write back, initiating a long-lasting epistolary exchange. And as soon as we were old enough, having maintained this contact, we started visiting each other.

Chris and I first made plans to visit Devon during the summer of 1974, and various close and not so close friends had toyed with the idea of joining us. After all, what young person wouldn’t like the idea of a trip to Devon? To be sixteen-ish and to have a holiday without parents? Of course, Phil’s mum and guardian would be there to watch over us part of the time, but we could visit Torquay, Paignton, Totnes and Brixham alone, without grown-up concerns shaping our days.

Unfortunately, in the end I couldn’t go. I don’t know why. I almost certainly had no money. I was never keen on shelf-stacking, whereas Chris would happily slave in Gateways in exchange for the money required to feed his appetite for books and albums. I simply visited his house and listened to his music, and bought very cheap second-hand books with my paltry pocket-money. I probably had a paper-round, but money from that was almost certainly used to maintain my drum-kit.

So, in July 1974, Chris alone made the trip to the house on the hill in Marldon. Phil was by now going out with his first girlfriend, Alison, and Chris returned with tales of the fun he’d had down there, how great Alison was, the walks they’d gone on, the places they’d visited. Chris was now, in a way, different. He now had knowledge and experiences I hadn’t.

Chris and I made a plan to visit over the Easter break in 1975. This time, I was determined to go. This would be my first holiday without parents. I was sixteen and three-quarters, Chris was seventeen and half. This was to be the only time Chris and I went to Devon together, and I think this might have been Chris’s last visit to Phil’s.

Chris and I hitch-hiked down to Devon on the 27th March. The hitch was  smooth, and we arrived at Phil’s relatively quickly. There is nothing really memorable about the hitch, except I do remember that one of our lifts dropped us off on the A303 near Wincanton. There was no bypass then, and the road to the west of Wincanton was  twisty. We had to walk quite a long way to find a safe and practical spot at which vehicles were likely to stop and pick us up.

The house in which Phil lived occupied an enviable position just off the Torbay ring-road, on a hill outside the village of Marldon, with a view of the sea at Torbay. All around were fields and lanes waiting to be explored. Close by was Blue Mountain (which wasn’t really a mountain). There were footpaths to Torquay and Paignton, although I don’t remember visiting either of them on this trip.

What remains most memorable about this visit is snow. Just after we arrived it began to snow. A soft, slow fall of wet, heavy flakes that was to persist into the evening. As it fell into the night enough settled to leave a thin covering of wet snow and slush the next day. For the week we were there the weather remained cold or cool and often grey.

Our three protagonists brave the elements

We slept in a caravan parked in the drive. We had as many spare sheets and blankets, sleeping bags and coats as we could muster to keep us warm. Before we got into our beds, we read by and were kept warm by gas burners on the wall. Using these, however, caused condensation to form on the walls and windows as the water vapour from the burning gas met the cold metal and glass of the caravan. The heat quickly leaked away through the thin walls once the burners were off. We were young, though, and covered by many layers. Rather than the cold, what I remember is droplets of water running down the walls, and the smell of the gas burners, which is almost impossible to describe as no immediate analogue comes to mind. I think, perhaps, it is the smell of burnt propane and hot ceramics.

The next morning, there was still some snow cover on the hills, and the sun came out.

Marldon in the snow

I recall very little of the rest of the week, except the notions the photos trigger. There was a lot of walking over the few days we were there. It was cold to begin our visit, as evidenced by the snow and the coats.

Phil’s dandruff was bad that week

One thing I do remember is that I read George Bernard Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah”. Even now, I’m convinced, in an off-hand, amused way, that I’m going to live until I’m 150 simply because I desire to do so, and by some Lamarckian magic my desire will change my genes to enable such a feat.

Phil, meanwhile – trapped as he was on a hill a long way from the people at school he’d only recently got to know, and having split with Alison – had been unable to ramble at anybody for days before we arrived. Thus, we were subjected to a panoply of his fantastic notions and theories. By the time we left, he’d lost his voice. Some might say it was unfortunate for Chris and me that events happened in that order.

As the week progressed, the weather slowly warmed, as can be seen by the change in outer wear. Here are a couple more images from our walks around the lanes. Our coats have become more lightweight, so the weather had certainly become more clement.

Our heroes explore the lanes

In this picture I’m wearing my black military blouson. I had a thing for blousons. This is, I believe a Civil Defence blouson, and had CD buttons (which should, of course, have been removed). Later, I would sport RAF blousons.

Meanwhile, in between rambling interminably, Phil found time to practice his Frog Dance.

One of the exquisite moves performed during the Frog Dance

We went to Brixham, that much is certain, because I describe what I thought about it in a letter to Phil in 1976. I was impressed with Brixham; the harbour and harbourside, the architecture, the houses climbing up the sides of the hills, and the arcades and amusements. The whole trip to Torbay left a distinctly watery residue in me. Not only was there Brixham, but I could see from the dining room at Phil’s house the sea at Torbay and large ships at anchor there. Later, after I’d returned to Wiltshire, I had a dream about Brixham and a sunken ship. The dream went something like this, although this retelling contains the kind of rhetorical flourishes that forty years of writing and rewriting has wrought:

I walked around Brixham harbour. At least, it looked like Brixham harbour. No – it didn’t even look exactly like Brixham harbour. It felt like Brixham harbour, though. I was there with Phil and Chris.

The tide was very high and lapped at the very top of the grey harbour walls. And on this particularly warm, blue and sunny day in Devon, the harbour waters were clear. Not just the clarity of unusually clean Channel water – unpolluted by oil and diesel slicks, crisp packets, polystyrene cups, unsullied by the shit pumped daily out into the Channel from the coastal towns, clear not only of cans and prams, shopping trolleys and tyres, and all the usual detritus of a vast world population eager to rid itself of its disposable but convenient trappings – but a Mediterranean clarity. You could see from the surface of the water all the way to the bottom of the harbour. And even there the mud was clean; nothing marred the rippled and water-fluted surface. But most amazingly, sunk deep to its blue funnel, an oil tanker lay submerged in the harbour. The harbour was empty of all other vessels except this monster. Not a trawler or tourist boat could be seen on the still, smooth water. There was only this oil tanker, completely visible through the glass-clear water.

I stood and looked at the sunken giant for some time. And time and again my eye was drawn to the only part of the tanker protruding from the water: the funnel. The funnel was blue, with a gold star on it. The blue was deep, and electric; so deep it was almost black, yet so bright it seemed to burn. The gold was quintessentially gold – though only a colour, it seemed precious in its own right, a precious colour, a twenty-two-carat colour. I was mesmerised by the combination of colours, and the incongruity of that single giant funnel rising from the clear water of the empty harbour. Phil and Chris had walked on, leaving me alone, contemplating the form and colour of the funnel. After a while I became aware that I couldn’t smell the fish, diesel and oil I had learned to associate with the harbour, and even the seagulls were quiet.

On Thursday the 3rd April, Chris and I hitched back to Warminster, leaving the croaky Frog Dancer once again to his own devices. Our journey only took three and half hours. Phil’s mum had made us “lovely sandwiches”, but as Chris noted in a later letter, we never ate them until we arrived at my house.

Soon after this, in May I believe, Phil visited Warminster. But that is another story.

Review — “The White Cliffs” — Alice Duer Miller

The White Cliffs by Alice Duer Miller

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


A very short and easy-to-read verse novella. A reviewer at Goodreads complained that the poem was doggerel. I didn’t think the entire poem was doggerel — there are various forms in the complete poem, some more “simple” than others. But the novella is in a sense a propaganda piece, so it makes sense, I think, that the beginning of the poem should have the kind of rhymes and rhythms that would draw the average reader in, the type of reader whose normal reading fare is perhaps not poetry.

The poem has the same feel to it as Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death – a conversation between Britain and America about why England/Britain/the United Kingdom should be helped by the United States in its fight against Fascism — the protagonist’s father fills much the same role as the adversarial advocate in that film’s heavenly court. (In fact, as I write this, I wonder how much of an influence The White Cliffs had on the film).

As in the film Mrs Miniver[1], which was also intended to persuade, the novella is set in a certain class of British society — there are children with nannies, husbands who think that first children should always be named a certain way, people who think that primogeniture is very good thing, people who live in the countryside in big houses. It conveys a stereotypical view of England (we’ll call it that) that reflects the mores of, say, the upper middle-class, and believes that those people, those mores, define England. For that reason the poem feels very located in a particular time and place, and doesn’t speak to a wider or modern audience. Yet, it wasn’t really written for a “wider” audience, certainly on this side of the pond. It was written to inspire an American audience to agitate to save a stereotypical Britain.

And, after all, stereotypes can be powerful. This poem was apparently successful in speaking to the American public about the perils Britain faced. The battered old copy I read was a 15th edition, so “doggerel” in part it might have been, but that doggerel struck a chord with readers in a way that more “elevated” or “sophisticated” poetry might not. And as I mentioned earlier, the poem is not doggerel throughout; there are some nice structures and lines later in the poem that indicate that simplicity of form might have been an intent. (Caveat: I do not know enough about Alice Duer Miller’s other poetry to be sure that this is so.).

It has historical interest, certainly, and also has pertinence to cultural studies. It has some interesting lines and some nice turns of phrase. So: A short read, that some might find irritating for a variety of reasons, but others might find inspiring for a variety of reasons.


[1] I like “Mrs Miniver”… That bomb shelter scene!


Review — “One Green Field” — Edward Thomas

One Green Field (English Journeys)One Green Field by Edward Thomas

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve liked many of Thomas’s poems (when forced to learn “Adlestrope” when I was fourteen, I took against him, but learned the error of my ways later in life), and have often wondered what his famous nature writing was like. So, I dipped my toe in the luxuriant waters with this short collection of essays published by Penguin in their English Journeys series.

Now, I found in this book what I feared most. I’ve always been wary of nature writing, and the recent increasing interest in it has brought to my attention snippets in magazines and papers, writing that I’ve tended to find a little over-wrought, a tad repetitive, and just a touch rich. And it was the same with the essays in this book. I think I like my writing… with slightly less cream and sugar, let us say, a little less piping across the marzipan.

I can’t count the number of times a moorhen appeared, or a pond. Whether it was the same pond or the same moorhen, I’m not completely sure, but there was often a pond, and often a moorhen. I also began to lose my way in lists of flowers, and trees and routes, colours, sounds, leaves everywhere, the textures of bricks and stones and tiles, and it was definitely too much; it all tumbled down in a cascade of adjectives and nouns.

For me, the best essay was “The Village” — I think because it had the feel of a narrative, that there was a little life writing, some biography in it. Of course, there were passages of loveliness in many of the essays, but, as I say, after a while it all became a bit too much. Still, many people greatly admire Thomas’ essays, and find the richness a pleasure. But I think I’ve learned that I prefer the spare fictions of a Maugham, Greene or Rendell. And one idea returned to me again and again as I read through the essays: that I preferred the compression and discipline of the poems; that, for me, Thomas had said everything he needed to say about his love of nature and his connection to the countryside in Tall Nettles.

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Genial: The Love Song of Simon and Julie

In July I published the latest in the Dereham Nodes, Genial: The Love Song of Simon and Julie. Genial is the next novel in my Dereham series of novels. I don’t like to think of it as a series, really. The novels are stylistically and generically different. The novels are simply interconnected. They are set in the same town, and that is where the interconnections occur.

Genial is Node 4.5. Why Node 4.5, you might wonder. There is a reason, naturellement. This node is more a novella than a novel, as it is only about fifty thousand words. The story is also, in terms of genre, quite different to the other novels. It’s a love story, as the subtitle indicates. It doesn’t really involve spies, UFOs, the paranormal, crazy people, or any of that stuff. It does involve friendship, which, I realise, is quite a theme of the later novels in this series. It also takes place in the background to everything that is happening in Raven of Dispersion (Node 4), while Simon later becomes a major character in The Ethical Hitman (Node 5). So, to me, it felt like a novel that was in the same network, but slightly off the main routes.

So, what is Genial about? It’s about the summer of 1976 — the dazzling summer, the long hot summer, the summer when the sun shone always, and would shine always and forever — and young old friends Simon and Julie drift through the glorious lazy holiday that stretches before them, wondering what they should do about the loves they somehow left behind, before the sun came out. As they share time together under the blue skies, in the sultry heat, with their friends — the friend who loves his car, the friend who loves fixing cars, the friend whose boyfriend loves his drink, the friend who loves all the boys, the friend who loves somebody else’s girlfriend — they wonder who it is they should love. Out on the hills, out in the fields, and riding in cars with the wind in their hair, Simon and Julie become languorously entangled. Can this entanglement last longer than sunshine? Or is it only a creation of this magical summer? Their story is episodic, picaresque, sentimental, romantic. And most genial.

Various characters from other novels appear, and Simon and Julie themselves re-appear in later novels in the series. The novel also holds another secret or ludic notion, a notion at which the blurb on the back of the book hints.

I had a break from writing after finishing Genial. It’s been a pretty intense 15 years of writing and editing (especially when you consider that my day-to-day job is technical  writing!), including five novels and three non-fiction books. However, this year will see me get back into the groove as I work with sometime co-author Kevin on Node 0, and start writing Node 6. And I will be chasing a publisher/agent again.

Review — “Judgement Day” — Penelope Lively

Judgement DayJudgement Day by Penelope Lively

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first Penelope Lively novel. Her name on spines has followed me around bookshops for the best part of my reading life. But in my drive to read more women authors, I found a couple of Lively’s second-hand, and thought I’d give them a go. She is a prolific author, and the first two purchases were pretty much pot-luck. Turns out that Moon Tiger, the first of the two I bought, was a Booker prize winner. However, I began my Lively journey with the slightly slimmer Judgement Day.

Judgement Day is story set around a church. That might make it sound like some kind of story about religion or belief, but it’s not really about that, although those topics are touched on. We meet the people involved in the church, but not all of them are religious. They are the members of a fund-raising committee — the old church is in need of repair. It is through this committee that various inhabitants of the town meet. There are also other characters who are not part of the committee and not interested in the church who nonetheless interact with the central characters and add colour and motivation to the plot.

The central characters are, for me at least, Ruth, the atheist with an interest in church architecture; the ineffectual and doubting vicar, George; the church Warden and veteran of World War 2, Sydney; and Martin, the troubled child of warring parents who lives next door to Sydney.

The story is told from various viewpoints, first one character and then another. Lively chops the viewpoints around quite quickly, with perhaps half a page devoted to one voice, then a page or two to another. Changes in viewpoint are clearly signposted, so the story is easy to follow, and each voice is distinct enough, because of their internal dialog or concerns, to keep the characters straight.

The novel follows the characters as they interact – through the fund-raising committee, or because they are neighbours, or because their children play together. Even though what happens might be considered mundane, still I wanted to know what was happening, what the result of these relationships would be. Because it is a novel, of limited duration, you know there will be a pay-off, a crisis. But how? And what? Why the title? What is, when is, judgement day? To reveal that would be to write a spoiler.

Suffice to say that a novel I thought would be about one relationship was very much about another. And ultimately, it is very sad book. You begin to see a glimmer of hope, changes occurring, a blossoming, perhaps. But that is cut short. And you can see and feel sad lives stretching out beyond the end of the book.

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2017 — My Year in Photographs

I was going to create this blog post back in January. But I became so involved in editing one of my books, trying to get it ready for July, that I never did get around to writing this. Until now. I can hardly believe it’s September already.

Back in January, I thought it might be interesting to look at the photographs I’d taken during 2017, and select my favourite from each month. I did that at the time, and I’ve since reviewed them again while writing this post. Turns out, only two have been replaced in my affections.

January

In January, I had to pick my son up from Grateley station, in Hampshire. I arrived early, so thought I’d take some shots of the station platform and lights. I also caught a very bright Venus.

Grateley Station

Grateley Station — Sony RX10

February

In February, Lizzie and I went on one of our bi-monthly trips away. This time, we went back to one of our favourite places, the East Devon coast. Seaton, in particular, is liked by us. This photo was taken in the early evening, and catches two young people gossiping on the pebbly beach. There’s a cool winter feel to this shot I really like.

Seaton Beach

Seaton Beach — Sony RX10

March

March. The evenings were drawing out, the weather was beginning to warm, the farmers were harrowing and ploughing. Although not very wet, the tail-end of winter and the beginning of spring were damp, with many cloudy days. This particular cloudy day, however, looked fine with the stand of trees and the sheep. This photo was taken with an odd old lens, a Kaligar 52mm medium-format lens, which was mounted on a Sony A55 using a Fujita 66 to Pentax adaptor and a Sony/Pentax adaptor… The effect of the various crop factors was to make the Kaligar somewhere around 50-60mm on the A55. I had bought the lens on a whim for a mere £24. I sold it for a few bob more a few months later.

Large Copse with Sheep, Sony A55, Kaligar 52mm

Large Copse with Sheep — Sony A55, Kaligar 52mm

April

Halfway through spring. The nights are noticeably longer. The sunshine is feeling warm at last. This photo was taken on the way home from work one evening. I was aware that there was a traffic jam in Marlborough, so took a shortcut through Savernake Forest. I noted that the track was dusty, and that the sun was setting behind the trees. So I drove up and down the track before taking the photograph, to create a little hazy atmosphere…

Sun Through Savernake Dust

Sun Through Savernake Dust — Sony RX10

May

Spring is about to tumble into summer! Sunshine, long evenings and warmth. One thing I find fascinating is the routes of old roads. Salisbury Plain is crisscrossed by old roads, prehistoric, modern, early modern… probably medieval as well. One of these roads, the old Salisbury-Devises turnpike road, still exists, although its route across the Plain is maintained by the Ministry of Defence now, and is a gravel track right across The Black Heath. This heath is a high point of the central Plain and the road follows a ridge across it. The photo shows the old road as it enters onto The Black Heath. The building is an observation point for the military.

The Entrance to the Black Heath,

The Entrance to the Black Heath — Sony A99, Sigma 24-70 EX DG

June

In June, we took another of our bi-monthly trips, this time to Hele on the north Devon coast. This area — around Westward Ho!, Ilfracombe, Combe Martin,  Lynmouth, and Exmoor, is another favourite.  As we drove around some backroads near Combe Martin, we arrived at the top of a high down. The light was intriguing, so we stopped to take photos. I could see this interesting sea of green, a field  among trees, distant from where I was standing, so used the far reaches of the zoom to snip this shot from the wider landscape.

Near Combe Martin

Near Combe Martin — Sony A99, Tamron 150-600mm

July

In July I took a trip down to North Hampshire — in fact, what would have been South Wiltshire at one time — to visit a friend in Martin. We went for a walk on Martin Down. This was full of wild flowers at the time, including one I don’t recall seeing on Salisbury Plain, the rather lovely round-headed rampion.

Round-headed rampion

Round-headed Rampion — Sony A99, Minolta 50mm macro

August

By August, the weather had been dry for a while. The tracks across Salisbury Plain are a mixture of chalk (unimproved) and gravel (improved for use by the MoD).  The eastern Plain in particular has a lot of gravel tracks. When these tracks are dry, vehicles kick up a lot of dust as they travel along them. This can be very photogenic. In the photo below, two off-roaders were travelling along the track. I photographed the second of them through the hazy dust, capturing also the dust trail they had both left behind them.

Suzi Kicking up a Dust Storm

Suzi Kicking up a Dust Storm — Sony A99, Tamron 150-600

September

Back to the centre of Salisbury Plain again for September’s favourite. This is on The Black Heath, at the junction of two old turnpike roads. To the south, the road heads towards Salisbury; to the north a road heads towards Devizes, across The Black Heath; and a road heads north-west towards Market Lavington. The fingerpost in the photograph had only recently had its fingers reinstalled. For at least four years, only the post had stood here.

This day had been very stormy, with thundery showers and thunderstorms all around — in fact, I had chased a storm across Wiltshire, and you can see one of the photos from this chase at the head of this post.

Track Towards the Cloud

Track Towards the Cloud — Sony A99, Sigma 24-70 f2.8

October

As you’ll have noticed by now, a lot of my photos are taken on Salisbury Plain. You might also have noted references to chalk and gravel tracks. Some of these tracks do get quite tricky to traverse by mid-winter, and an off-roader becomes useful — even necessary.

For my needs, any off-roader has to fulfil three functions. It has to be small enough for Lizzie to drive — she is very wee; it has to be cheap, because we use our off-roaders as photography platforms, so we happily climb all over the bonnet and roof for better angles; and, it has to be decent off-road  — not Land Rover or Unimog proficient, just decent. A Honda HRV ticks all the boxes. This has slightly over-sized tyres for extra ground clearance, although I know which ruts not to drive in, despite the tyres — I usually know a way around.

When I was taking photos one afternoon, I turned around and noticed the cool evening light on the battered old Honda, and thought it looked pleasing. I knew that the Sigma would take a nice photo of it.

Old HRV - My Transport Over the Plain

Old HRV – My Transport Over the Plain — Sigma DP2 Merrill

November

Autumn. Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. I prefer bare trees to trees in leaf. This group of trees, one of the Charlton Clumps, is one of my favourite subjects. You will find many interpretations of this clump on my Flickr pages. This photograph was taken in the late afternoon — the light was nice, and the clouds all fluffy and lovely.

The lens was an old M42 mount 135mm lens, made or distributed by Cimako.  It only cost £5 and was actually very nice. I don’t know why I sold it on. (Well, I do really — an abundance of M42 135mm lenses in my bag).

Autumnal Charlton Clump

Autumnal Charlton Clump — Sony A99, Cimako 135mm M42

December

Into the final month of the year. Salisbury Plain attracts several species of rare or scarce birds. The wide open spaces, the relative peace and isolation (if you discount the odd passing tank or explosion), the tracts of treeless grassland, are enticing to certain birds. During the summer months, Montagu’s harriers and stone-curlews nest here. In the winter, hen harriers follow their prey south and quarter the grasses, hunting for meadow pipits and skylarks.

This female hen harrier favoured me with a relatively close approach in lovely late afternoon sunlight.

Winter Plain Harrier

Winter Plain Harrier — Sony A99, Tamron 150-600

And that is the story of my photographic year, 2017. What will this year bring?

(And here are my favourites from 2016)

 

Review — “Discrimination And Popular Culture” — Denys Thompson (ed.)

Discrimination And Popular CultureDiscrimination And Popular Culture by Denys Thompson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Discrimination And Popular Culture is an early entry into the study of popular culture, so is not beset by theory or post-modernism, and thus is an easy-enough read. It is a collection of relatively non-academic essays, published in 1964. Given the publication date, the essays reflect the popular culture of the early 1960s or even the late 1950s. Even The Beatles are so new they are only mentioned in a footnote. The essays have, therefore, little connection with cultural topics that would fascinate and inform subsequent studies of popular culture.

Youth culture is mentioned in a few of the the essays, yet isn’t given the prominence it would have in later books about culture. The essays seemed to grope for a structure or framework that would enable criticism of that culture. Youth culture pops up, unsurprisingly, mostly in reference to popular music and magazines. The swinging sixties, rock music, 60s film and fashion are notably absent. No David Bailey or Mary Quant here. For modern readers, the absence of photography and fashion as topics would be the most obvious omissions.

As the title suggests, the essays seek to address how consumers should discriminate between what is good and bad in popular culture, or between what is true or false. So, we have essays on advertising, film, radio and television, the press, magazines, recorded music, and design. The last essay in the book, on design, is a surprising inclusion, and feels like an odd-man-out; the essay doesn’t have the same emphasis on discrimination.

Discrimination is the underlying theme of the book. It is the method that enables popular culture to be analysed (and perhaps dismissed as frivolous folly). Discrimination is a matter of education, and this education should should start early. Discrimination between the “bad” and the “good” in newspapers, television, cinema, and so on, can be taught at school, it is suggested. And there’s a sense in which this indeed would be helpful, and the teaching of critical thinking at school is a topic for educationalists even today.

Critical thinking or good judgement as tools for discrimination can be useful for approaching newspapers, news magazines, or news and comment on television or radio. However, for more subjective areas, such as popular music, articles in say, teenage and music magazines, responses to movies, and so on, the use of discrimination sails perilously close to being simply a method to elevate high and denigrate low culture. For example, the essay on film discusses at length what is wrong with the movies The Guns of Navarone and Summer Holiday, while extolling the virtues of L’Atalante and L’Age d’Or — and while I’m sure the last two films are fine films, they are most certainly not “popular culture”. The medium might be popular, but the medium must be distinguished from artefacts of that medium. There are artefacts of the medium that are popular — Summer Holiday — and artefacts that are assuredly not, and are, indeed “high culture”.

Despite its age, the book can sometimes feel contemporary. This is partly because it talks about discrimination and education. Often, nothing seems to have changed. Newspapers mislead, or should be considered entertainment rather than news; television is banal; to make money, movies appeal to a wide audience rather than being the best art they can be; magazines for teenage girls concentrate on fashion and sexualise their readers too early; and so on. Plus ca change plus la meme chose. Replace some of the media discussed instead with the Web, phones and streaming, and the plaints sound familiar even now.

So – the two star review is not because the book is tedious or unreadable. It is, indeed, fine, it is okay. And because of the time at which it was written, you might find yourself gently smiling at such quaint turns of phrase as:

… this very same music, played at maximum volume in a youth club, would encourage a lively jiving session and a general atmosphere of exuberant vitality.

The essays are, however, unlikely to cause you to reappraise your views on popular culture, and for many readers with an interest in popular culture, will appear theoretically outmoded. Still, it is books like this that provide the underpinnings of cultural studies in Britain, and so has historical interest.

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