THE present lockdown has lasted so long that I’ve found myself watching far too much on the freeview channel Talking Pictures.
This specialises in British films, usually in black-and-white, from the 1940s, 50s 60s, most of which feature some combination of George Cole, Stanley Holloway, Alistair Simm, Jack Warner, Diana Dors or the cast of Dad’s Army when they were boys.
Nearly all films on the channel are preceded with a disclaimer to the effect that certain scenes may display language and attitudes which are not acceptable to modern audiences, particularly the ones involving Terry Thomas or the girls of St Trinian’s.
Incidentally, my partner Lynne and I often attended, in the far-off, per-lockdown days, Thursday matinees at the Cottage Road Cinema in Leeds, which serves free cups of tea and is thus irresistible to pensioners. One film – I forget which – came with a warning that it included sex, inappropriate language, nudity and violence, at which us pensioners erupted into spontaneous cheering while waving our polystyrene tea mugs like a bunch of delinquents.
But things have moved on and films should now also include a warning that certain scenes may appear to contravene hygiene, quarantine and social-distancing rules, which, although they have only been around for a tiny portion of my life, I’ve adopted so thoroughly that now it’s difficult watch any films at all.
When I see a couple jumping into bed together, I wonder whether they come from the same household. When I watch soldiers huddled together under fire in old war films, I no longer worry about the bullets, I’m more concerned that they might be exposing themselves to the Coronavirus, particularly as there don’t appear to be adequate hand-sanitising facilities.
Old dance musicals, with huge casts and much mingling, have become unbearable for me to watch because I have to pretend I’m Cecil B DeMille in order to mentally rearrange the dances into safe-distancing routines.
Apart from being traumatised by old films, I’ve spent much of the lockdown thinking about whether I should try and finish James Boswell’s Life of Dr Samuel Johnson, which is 1,700 pages long and which I started reading about 50 years ago.
The problem is that I only read it in the loo, opening it at random and reading a few paragraphs at a time. I did think that, during the lockdown, I could try reading it start-to-finish in a disciplined way, but decided quite quickly that the random method works best.
Nothing much happens in any of the 1,700 pages; Johnson is recorded writing and talking to just about every 18th century person living in London you’ve ever heard of – Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Edmund Burke and Jean -Jacques Rousseau are all there try to outtalk each other until, rather like many viewers Loose Women, you long for a bit more silence.
Written by Oliver Cross
Lovely Oliver, thank you kindly, until next time…