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Saturday, 17 May 2014

Happy Days?

"Sunday, Monday Happy Days.." the opening bars of a theme tune that reminds me of golden summer fields, exploring the Banbridge countryside, discovering the world and pure, non-judgemental, equal, friendship.
Rope swings, wading in streams, bike races, exploration and sweets, icecream, sarsaparilla and uncomplicated interactions with peers - the Rosebud surely we all  seek throughout our competing, mortgage induced, "other" scapegoating, adulthood.

Grown up Fonzie and Fonzie?

"Saturday, what a day..."

Henry Winkler is doing the chat shows at the moment and he seems to be a really cool, kind, affable pensioner. Someone with whom a pleasant, laughter filled sunny afternoon could be whiled away, over a coffee or two. Which is nice to see, because so many of our school day TV heroes have been recently exposed as dreadfully flawed human beings who used their positions of power as pedestals from which to abuse, rape, degrade, bully and spoil.

Back in the seventies after school, I had a large circle friends, acquaintances, heroes and villains who kept me active, interested and happy. Some of these had almost alien lives. Made alien by wants, not needs and scapegoating. Others, like Jack Russell Timmy and Labrador Tiber, were not even human.
Some of us sought coolness; something that set us as above the grit in shoe, grazed knee real world... but it eluded us as we fought and doubted and fell and danced and crawled and climbed our way to puberty and eventually into childish adulthood.

Cool... with my Fonzie doll...
Happy Days is a title that sums up most of my apr├Ęs school childhood and the series was a TV programme  I watched avidly in the mid seventies. It was one of those coming of age programmes for me, like Grange Hill and Citizen Smith that I enjoyed and then outgrew, but nevertheless I was sad when it came to an end.
I remember the buzz in Primary School about a new TV series. Even at that age I was cynical about a title that sounded like propaganda.

 "Happy Days." 

Was it going to be another golden US sit-com that told us how amazing and sparkling America was? Most other imports from the US did, though I remember watching Starsky and Hutch (with the real king of cool, Huggy), thinking the place looked much worse than my green, clean childhood playground. Though my personal favourite view of what I thought real America must look like was the gritty and freedom seeking rebellion of Rubber Duck, Kris Kristofferson, in "Convoy," a movie we went to the Iveagh to see at least twice. We also lapped up "the good old boys" in The General Lee. The Dukes of Hazard, a red necked world with no racism, because everyone in the series fitted into the sexist, white world those in power in the US and the UK still imagined themselves as inhabiting.

Another childhood favourite, the much loved at the time, but since, rightly, maligned world of "Love Thy Neighbour," a series with a power paradigm so well hidden viewers probably thought the sensible black guy won in each episode.

 A paradigm that saw fairness overcome bigotry, it was not.

What was also well hidden by its structure  was the fact that the racist and ignorant were socialists while the enlightened and educated were Tories. Yet it was Tories in power who held on to sexist, racist, homophobic laws, and indeed created new ones in 1979, and it was Tories with a different name who segregated my To Kill a Mockingbird like South Down world.

I'll have an 'alf.. and a workers vote for UKIP please...

As a child, innocent to the world of racism and, even though surrounded by it, innocent to the world of sectarianist bigotry and living in a place were black faces were only on TV,  I laughed at and awaited the part in every episode in which the old union guy tricked people into buying him a drink with the words,"Ahl have an 'alf..."

Later came the "grown up" Happy Days in which John Travolta sang a lot about the country and western singer, Olivia Newton John who jumped the shark and became her man's compliant Cindy doll fantasy. We were old enough to appreciate the cool, more "street" Fonz like character played by Travolta and love it more when Bob Geldof, pre-saviour days, but showing a pubescent need to preach, ripped the idealised, misogynised couple apart on Top of the Pops.

Back in those days there was no series catch up. I was a late adopter, and Mickey, a real life Grange Hill-like Tucker; the Fonz of Newry Street, filled me in on Ralph Malph, Richie, Al's and of course, Arthur, The Fonz, Fonzerelli. And we laughed recalling the nanu nanu alien that became Mork.

TV shaped us. It became part of our childhood exploration. I remember, aged probably around 10, a rite de passage for Mickey, Mark, Paul, David "Doice", and I was to stand on Wellworth's steps (did other towns have a supermarket called Wellworth's? Ours stood facing, staring down, the smaller Woolworths) and amongst the Saturday shopping crowd shout, "Power to the people!" as loud as we could, Wolfie like, with clenched, skyward thrusting fist. Something I would still be comfortable with! Freedom for Milngavie and Bearsden doesn't quite have the same potency as the strange anti-working class joke of revolution beginning with "Freedom for Tooting!"

The same Saturday afternoons were spent eating chips and drinking strawberry milkshakes or  cola icecream floats in Fusco's or Scappaticci's- our choice being great icecream served by Mr or Mrs Fusco or listening to the jukebox in Scappiticci's. "Airport," "Beach Baby," or anything by Mud, Showaddywaddy, Darts or ELO took our money. And later we would sing the songs as loud as we could in Mark and Doice's garage or Mickey's loft (our gang hut.)

And we all adopted the Arthur Fonzerelli style with a seventies twist. A PVC black bomber jacket, (the snobs sniffed at those of us whose families could not afford leather), white tee-shirt and blue Wrangler jeans and mirror sunglasses we had all saved up for.

I remember in my head, climbing on to my Chopper bike, thinking I was The Fonz, Travolta and Huggy Bear all rolled into one. Coolness and the self delusion of 10 year old credibility earned by nothing more than the clothes, the shades and the clothes peg spokes rattle, but, like Citizen WH Smith, my bubble of pretentions of Che-ness/Wolfe Tone rebellion were burst by the reality of my peers and the community that nurtured and tortured me.
Huggy Bear, the real king of cool...

I remember Mickey, definately more Fonzie like than any of us, cycling alongside me down a country B road, lifting his mirrors as he freewheeled past two girls, coolly smiling in the way the cool guys in our telly would and ending up head first in a thorn hedge. I can't remember what the girls thought, but I remember thinking that Citizen Smith's comeuppance for frightening someone or causing a milk float to crash with his call to revolution, was much more realistic than Arthur snapping his fingers and causing women to faint at his feet.
Trying... just too hard...

And life has proven that to to be true.

The childhood illusion that adulthood would bring credibility and cool clothing was a lie acted out in a bomber jacket in Al's by the nice guy Winkler. Not the biggest, most insidious deception carried out by the media, but one we children had to have demolished by the grabbing hands of capitalist reality nevertheless.
These snippets of the culture that shaped me proved to be useful for just two things. They were entertaining and they broadcast a truth that was almost the very opposite of what actually was. They were cartoons dressed up in the pretence of reflecting reality. An idealised truth. A honeyed, summers canter through a sepia tinged glance at what America never was. The apartheid state that posts its annihilation of its indigenous people and enslavery of a continent down a white painted, picket fenced, bobby socked memory hole.
Fonzie jumped the shark and donned preppy clothing in the final episodes. We all grow up and run out of escape ideas. British socialism did not get its almost mortally wounding kicking by erudite, educated black neighbourly tory sages, but by greedy, idealist rich white morons.  Wolfie left his futile revolution and went to look for his true love and his anchor to reality, Shirl,whom he had strung along too long while he dreamed and lived in his imaginary world of cool.

Beauty, love, life is in the reality around us. Pretention is self deceiving. A lie. Though lies may not be malicious, they do eventually damage those living them and those living nearby. Everything they tell you that you need is a lie. Everything others value in you is truth- and that truth isn't a pair if mirrored sun glasses or an iphone or Lexus. And if it is, then they are the lie.

TV, a world controlled by finance and what is profitable, lies, yet influences, promises and deludes the weak and vulnerable as they plan their escape via their mirrored shades, interior make-overs, Grand Designs, etiquette and leather clad cars, pointing their poor baiting Jeremy Kyle finger that says-"I'm cooler and much more successful than you," and making them feel all liberal as they text a fiver to feed five million black African hapless starvation prone women.

TV rarely says, look at yourself, because it is you, your snobbery and your susceptibility to propaganda and self delusion that has, socially, caused your own misery and wrapped you in chains. It is your difficulty to look at others and say, "that is me," that keeps you seeking the next gadget, hairstyle, tattoo, tan or label that will make you complete. And in fact who you scapegoat or text life saving pennies to is who you fear. Or who you could end up being. It never tells you that who you look down at from your pedestal of super-human godliness is who is supporting your Lexus/Armani/iphone padded and perfumed deadly pretention. TV never says that.

And Mickey, Mark, Doice, Paul and I parted ways because of the bigotry and snobbery and delusion that separated us into catholic and protestant and success and failures of the religiously segregated grammar schooling that still mentally abuses Northern Ireland.

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