Issue 16: Bloody Television

21 Oct

Yes, this for this issue we have decided to rummage around in the goggle box.  Our post is a bit thin on the ground this issue. It seems that Celia found herself too glued to Don’t Tell the Bride to get her piece finished, while Emily spent her writing window being distracted by The Young Ones on YouTube.  Perhaps they will find the off switch and get a piece up here at a later date.  But for now, please turn on, tune in and put the kettle on for two original pieces by regular contributor, Jim and new donator, Sean.

086Next issue’s theme: Bloody Tourists.  It’ll be out around Christmas.


Bloody Television Contents





082Davie’s grandpa was forever decoding secret messages: they were hidden in his crossword clues, obscured by the weather forecast and embedded in the classified results. The rise and fall of the place names from Portsmouth to Partick could only be decrypted using a form he’d mark off with crosses and figures. Davie thought the balloon had gone up when the old man punched the air at an unexpected announcement from Falkirk, but when the news came through from Ross County he tossed his screwed up coupon into the fire. This show of disgust was enough to loosen the TV’s vertical hold and send Scottish Division Two into a tailspin, until a single thump from Grandpa knocked the world back onto its axis. He was a man impatient for the final destruction of the Daleks, and all other enemies of the planet, and it was to this end that he and Davie would reconvene in front of the telly after their tea of spam and chips. Grandpa was a widower with only the most basic cooking skills, but his close resemblance to that early Doctor Who, a stern professor with knowing eyes and white hair, had convinced Davie they were tuning in to a dramatised version of his grandfather’s own exploits. Monday to Friday, while other pensioners played bowls and bingo, Grandpa was saving the earth from giant maggots or marauding mannequins, then parking his Tardis at the bottom of the hill next to a milk machine that took threepenny bits. During the programme, Davie would peek from beneath Grandpa’s chair, one arm shielding his eyes and the other round Pixie. Both boy and dog knew that if the real life Doctor couldn’t protect them nobody could, but they still liked having each other for company and Davie found the smell of Pixie’s head especially soothing.

To defeat the forces of evil, Grandpa kept a stock of strange objects in his basement, the hidden potentials of which were understood only by him. Davie knew that if they couldn’t all make it to the Tardis, the cellar would serve as a fall-out shelter and impenetrable anti-Dalek fortress. A workshop and storeroom, it was lined with bunches of rusty keys, piles of folded aluminium foil, egg cartons, empty tissue boxes and drawers full of wine corks and beer can pull-tabs; but the items that captivated Davie most were the old valves – bubbles of the most delicate, dust-coated glass, which he would carefully wipe clean to reveal the tiny solar systems within. You could peer through air holes in the back of Grandpa’s telly at the tubes still on active service, steadily glowing hotter and brighter as the hissing blizzard on the front developed itself into recognisably human forms, yodelling and smoking cigars, dressed up as golliwogs or singing in rocking chairs. Using the vertical lines on his own furrowed brow as antennae, Grandpa was able to intercept the signals, so that he knew what was going to happen in advance: ‘There’s a Dalek coming round the corner,’ he’d say, ‘but the goodies’ll hide in that ventillation shaft.’ The charged particles that flew around in the back of the telly and inside Grandpa’s brain were what made thinking and communication possible – but they also contained enormous destructive power. This was why Grandpa carefully stored the valves after their broadcasting lives were over – because they could be turned into nuclear grenades, not exploding but imploding, as Grandpa carefully explained, if you ever had to lob one at a Cyberman.

No sooner had the Dr Who theme echoed into the distance than Grandpa would turn his attention to the wireless and make his grandson listen to the shipping forecast – another stately procession of gobbledygook about mysterious forces and their direction of movement. Grandpa would gaze at the sky, sometimes picking up the heavy binoculars on his windowsill. As well as the maps, atlases and globes that festooned his house, he also had a star chart, which he obviously needed for his space journeys, but which was explained away as a relic of his time in the navy. Black flecks of shrapnel remained under the skin on his temple, as though the pain of the torpedo explosion that claimed his shipmates was permanently burnt into his face.

In winter time, as Davie’s eighth birthday approached, Grandpa told him the names of the constellations with a note of longing in his voice. His battle-hardened outlook had lately taken on a far-away aspect, as though he felt increasingly shipwrecked on Earth and just wanted back to his own world. There had been a lot of adult talk at home about Grandpa and Davie was getting worried that the old guy might be about to board his Tardis and dematerialise for ever, but surely he wouldn’t leave them all in the lurch? One week Davie was told not to make his usual Saturday visit because Grandpa wasn’t well and Pixie was coming to stay for a while. Then late at night his dad came into Davie’s room and found the boy still nervously awake. He sat down and started to explain that Grandpa had passed away. Confused and over-excited, Davie giggled and tried to jump up and down on the bed, but his dad lay him back, shushed him and told him to go to sleep. Davie could hear his dad saying ‘he doesn’t understand’ in the other room. Then the boy started to cry because all of a sudden he really did understand that his grandfather was not an immortal superhero but just an old man who had reached the end of his days.

For a while Davie refused to watch Dr Who, but that was a short-lived phase. Soon the Doctor regenerated as a younger man with dark hair and that made things easier. Davie was allowed to keep something of Grandpa’s and he chose the star chart, which, as a grown-up, he framed and hung above his desk. The coin-slot milk machine didn’t last much longer than Grandpa but the old police box stood at the foot of that hill for many years, until Davie had grandchildren of his own who knew all about Dr Who and would point with excitement at the Tardis on the occasions they drove past that way. When the dark blue shelter was finally removed, Davie explained to the kids that the Doctor had completed his mission in Maryhill and gone to another galaxy, which was fine, because they would still be able to receive his signals, being beamed across the universe through Time And Relative Dimensions in Space.



090The grip of the grain and opioids had rendered his form prone, glass skimming the floor

as he drunkenly slumbered on his lazy boy chair to the soundtrack of old fashioned white static. Unplugged aerial. No licence fee, no spoon-fed deathless images. In his hypnagogic state, the old black and white ultra-vivid dreamscapes unfolded, the days of the electric babysitter as his mother tried to cook to the standard of Fanny Craddock, whilst under the myriad layers of benzo-diazepines. The slurred speech as she tried to take his attention away from Champion the Wonder Horse as he too had his medicated milk. Bed-wetting and anxiety? Valium 10, young man, Valium 10. Ghosted words as his chemically altered synapses fired slowly, delaying the memories as he almost caught up with himself. It was about then, 1965, that he’d stopped conventional education, reading, or having any interest in the world beyond the confines of the cathode ray tube aimed directly as his ten-year-old viewing field.

 His father arrived home with dogged regularity and the boy screamed as his father moved in front of the screen inches away from the 20″ locus of control. DC Jameson was an over-worked vice squad officer who at 43 had seen far too much already. Cathy, what about the boy? I can only keep the truancy officers at bay for perhaps another month or so, he’s no imbecile, is he? Jameson had the directive, commanding tones of one used to berating skinny pimps and dead-cod eyed vice girls as he trawled the streets around Soho. Jameson had caught the tail end of Dunkirk and had the night terrors to prove it, his lad, Simon, troubled him even more. A cherub in a faded Dan Dare t-shirt and organ-stop orbs, constantly fixed on the dreaded TV set. Jameson had too much at work to contend with and usually left mother and son to their demi-monde of dull images as he sat in the fastness of his minute study with his ham radio equipment. Different frequencies, the disembodied voices of wavelength revenants fading in and out; soothing Hungarian baritones, Finnish grammar, the staccato of the Netherlands, a symphony of human tones. Voices, no distracting images. Letting those voices reach out and remove him from the umbilical chord of the 15625 Hertz line rate his wife and child were hypnotized by. Bloody sucking the soul out of them Jameson tuned out the nagging fears for the future of his only son and lit his consoling plug of plum cake. As he pulled at his briar, he caught a vision of a future; an obese nation, apathy and an encroaching state. The first twinges of the ischemic stroke that would in twenty five minutes take him from Chepstow Road, Bayswater to the mortuary at St Mary’s, Paddington were upon him, and he pitched forward from his armchair, hitting the threadbare carpet with the finality of a bass thud. Cathy stirred a moment from her viewing of the TV from the kitchen serving hatch as young Simon distractedly ate cheese and pickle sandwiches, spilling the contents onto the rug in front of him.

 The memories of that evening are largely invented by design as the man emerges hungover from the boyhood reverie and shuts down the cussed static hiss. The overwhelming noise is that of traffic, windows opening onto Chepstow Road, 29 buses heading into the city arteries and shouts from the barely-legal, under-the-counter off licence below. He rouses himself and fancies an ethanoic top-up. Out on the streets, there is nary a soul as aluminium delivery capsules in various colours relay commuters home before the 9PM curfew. He’d been the next one to go tonight, hadn’t kept on with the protests, as his friends who’s fled London had the resistence, people like Old Jody, the Irish street seer, who had warned him that his constant TV viewing was a ‘weakener’ and that his tap water was tainted with benzos. Mad old bugger, but quite accurate in the long run. He’d seen Jody receive a truncheon blow a fortnight ago, for missing the newly-imposed curfew by five minutes. His military bearing made it all the more shocking as he refused to be told how to conduct himself and endured blow by blow until the para-military post-9pm boys tazered him to semi-consciousness.

 After witnessing   that, he’d started drinking heavily, stopped drinking tap water and recorded the TV using an old Dictaphone. When he played back the recording the messages that were a frequency below the suggestible level relayed authoritarian and consumer-coercive messages. Over three long days and nights he put together a compilation of these and listened back, unplugging his aerial and looking at his reflection in the mirror for the first time in decades. He must’ve tipped the scales at 20 stones or more, an amorphous mass of human meat. His face whey-complexioned and the eyes all pupil and hardly any iris, the look of a zoned-out factory-farmed pig. And then the ID tag, clipped casually onto a huge blouson jacket Simon Jameson BBC. Director General. It was only then that he too capitulated to the self same ischemic stroke that had robbed his father of life.

 Old Jody O’Dwyer smoothed his white mane over a scalp livid with dried blood and sighed as he hid in the doorway beneath Jameson’s flat. It was 9.30pm; he’d missed the curfew and compulsory daily vote on prisoner conveyance. The military regime had been by stealth, a draconian bye law here, a bloodless coup there. The government was all but run by PR experts and New Media gurus. Justice had become a literal game show, first as a satire, then as truth. There was a small band of resistance, O’Dwyer and a few others in London, where the orbital roads had become rings of steel around an effective city state. The media achieved the rest. O’Dwyer’s eyes caught the roving CCTV 360 degree hidden device and he smashed the infernal globe with a claw hammer. He’d wait for Pete and the others and thanked an invisible and unknowable god that he’d grown up without television. He whistled Arthur Macbride and the Sergeant and smiled grimly at the fragile present, his penny-bright eyes shining with quiet defiance



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