Toppling statues and comedians – the new Punk Rock?

toppling statues

In the second half of the 1970s, Punk Rock exploded into our teenage lives as Boomers. It lifted two unpatriotic fingers up at the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations. Pilloried pop stars way beyond their sell-by date as “dinosaurs”. And stuck the boot into a whole generation of comedians who had traded on racist or lame humour.

So, is the current toppling of statues and comedians just another Punk Rock explosion?

History repeats itself, first time as tragedy and second time as farce. So wrote Karl Marx. Watching the current purge of comedians from YouTube and Netflix reminds me of the death knell that Punk sounded for many cultural icons in the 70s. Punk Rock was an aggressive cultural laxative that flushed out a lot of rottenness by making it look pathetic. Its influence swept across music, the arts, comedy and fashion.

Punk Rock pillories old pop stars

On the music scene, we had one famous pop star who had drunkenly endorsed the racist politician Enoch Powell at a gig. Look it up on Google. I’m not getting sued. Others had played gigs in apartheid-ruled South Africa. While plenty more popsters had just become complacent and very rich with it.

Punk declared Year Zero in music. And I remember going down to Small Wonder Records in Walthamstow and begging the owner to give me a pittance for my early 70s prog rock, triple-sleeve LPs so I could buy some punk albums. You almost had to deny having ever listened to certain bands. And I remember the lead singer of Yes – replete with kaftan and flares – asking on the front cover of Melody Maker why he was hated so much.

Punk Rock gave birth to alternative comedy

The new punk purge today is claiming the scalps of some comedians, over doing “blackface” for example. It all seems terribly unreasonable to those comics who’re now seeing their shows coming off Netflix and YouTube. But some of these laughter mongers began their career by slaying the comic talent of the 1970s.

Out of the Punk ethos sprang the alternative comedy scene in the early 80s and soon TV shows like The Two Ronnies were looking very out of date. On reflection, I’ve got nothing against The Two Ronnies but their dominance of TV comedy made them a target to topple. What was offensive were shows like The Comedians on ITV, which aired in the early 70s.

I remember sitting at home as a kid watching The Comedians and feeling very uncomfortable as the anti-Irish gags got told. My Dad is Irish. I learned from the “talent” on this weekly show that I was genetically stupid and prone to doing dumb things.

At my first secondary school, I was called “Paddy” so much that I ended up on the school register with that name. Much to the horror of my father at a parent-teacher evening when my form tutor said: “Paddy’s school report was quite good this term”.

Toppling statues and comedians = Punk Rock for millennials?

When history repeats, it does so differently. Context and language changes. In the 70s, Punk Rock was a roar against the stagnation of the mid-70s. The post-war economic boom had ground to a halt. Britain was in visible decline. Pop had lost its vitality and become turgid and pretentious. And if millennials think us Boomers are backward – the older generation in 1976 was antediluvian!

Punk Rock was about causing maximum offence – to shock the bourgeoisie (as the French say). Whereas today’s movement is about not being offended by ‘problematic’ content. Although the end result is surprisingly similar.

Since 2008, many Boomers have wondered when the new Punk Rock would arise. Well, here it is. It may not be taking an agreeable form for older folk but then Punk Rock horrified the establishment in the 70s. Today’s movement is the spirit of 1968 and Punk Roll plus more besides rolled into one.

Ironically, even though we Boomers are often the target of millennial hatred – their actions smack of our revolts forty and fifty years ago. So, don’t judge them harshly.

Life in London before the Lockdown

London lockdown

It’s becoming harder to remember life in London before the lockdown in March this year. After three months in quarantine, things that used to seem very familiar now appear alien.

Travelling on the London Underground in crowded carriages being jostled by short-tempered commuters in the Rush Hour. Drinking in pubs where people you didn’t know thought nothing of making vigorous elbow contact. Going shopping Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon with a sea of people stretching from Tottenham Court Road station to the Selfridges department store.

Before the lockdown – London the unstoppable rise

London has been on the rise for three decades. The City of London has sucked in investment bankers from all over the world. Big Tech has played the same role as a magnet for young ambitious types from every country for most of this century. And then a small army of baristas from Lithuania to Lesotho has served coffee in Starbucks and Pret-a-Manger.

Suddenly it all ended. Brexit was the first shock to this growth story. We already expected to see less European workers even though employers were at a loss to know how to fill the labour gaps. Not many young British want to pick crops in the fields of East Anglia or clean the toilets in an NHS hospital. Let alone serve coffee in Starbucks.

London lockdown – the big reset?

But after Brexit came something arguably worse – the Coronavirus. Starbucks outlets have been closed. Staff furloughed if they’re lucky. Farmers have warned that crops are rotting in the fields with no eager hands from Bulgaria and Romania to harvest them. Pubs, clubs, shops, offices – all shut.

Some have argued it’s a much-needed reset. A corrective that was overdue. These people would have been Puritans or Malthusians in another era. But there is a germ of truth in what they say. The air is cleaner – I saw a butterfly in my London garden for the first time in years. There’s an outbreak of civility and neighbourliness. And some of the excess that was becoming a feature of London life has been punctured.

What excess do I mean? Take for example the meeting I had with a History channel TV executive a year back. It was held at lunchtime at a rooftop swimming pool packed with millennial white-collar workers in Speedos during their lunch break. The building had previously been BBC TV Centre where I worked in the 1990s. A dowdy 1950s office block full of dark edit suites, dusty TV studios and asbestos-ridden offices. Now it was an exclusive club with a snotty attitude on the door.

The warehouses round Kings Cross station where I had gone clubbing in the 1990s had transformed into swanky East Village style cafes and restaurants. They were now heaving with hipsters wolfing down their breakfast burritos or coffee with every type of milk imaginable. The only eaterie that had been in that vicinity circus 1996 was a Hot Dog van outside a sweatbox of a club called Bagleys.

Pre-lockdown London didn’t see the virus coming!

Consider the skyscrapers that have shooting up along the Thames in recent years. Heralded as the must-have urban accessory if London was to keep up with Shanghai and Singapore. Now they’re sitting mostly empty cutting a rather forlorn and pathetic sight. If the 11th century Tower of London could speak, it would heave a sigh of relief at not being entirely blocked from everybody’s view.

As a Londoner, I’ve been conflicted by what has happened to the city over the last three decades. On the one hand, it’s good to see London still on the world stage as a great metropolis. And I don’t have any nostalgia for the poverty and run-down housing of yesteryear. But I do object to ordinary working-class Londoners being purged from the city by developers acting hand in glove with local councils. That has been unedifying.

So, will there be a reset or a reboot? Well, if there is – it could at least hit pause on the endless building of hotels, lofty office blocks and coffee shops that have shoved bookstores off the Charing Cross Road for example. Are we going to need all that space for non-existent visitors, office-based staff and cappuccino-swillers?

Londoners are emerging from this three-month lockdown blinking into the light – and seeing things differently. I know some sceptics think everything will return to normal. I don’t. Some Londoners – mainly the young – are returning to the streets in a very ugly mood. Others don’t want to go back to the miserable commute and the soulless offices. Thousands realise they can make a living from their garden shed.

For me – it’s been a sharp jolt. My job involved huge amounts of travel. Sounds great. But I won’t miss queues at the airport; hotel check-ins; fierce jet lag and feeling physically run down. Sure, I’ll want to get back out there at some point. But for now, this Boomer is looking at his London life afresh and wondering how I can live the last third of it with greater purpose and fulfilment.

Millennials revive Boomer style home deliveries

It seems that environmentally conscious Millennials are reviving home delivery of milk in glass bottles – because, well, they’re not plastic and you get to choose the type of milk you want. And this is part of a major structural shift in retail from browsing in shopping malls or the high street to having goods pop up at the front door instead.

Hmmmm….this does sound familiar!

The return to home delivery of basic foodstuffs has been accelerated by Coronavirus lockdowns. Milk, bread, meat, vegan dishes, fruit, wine, beer and every household item you can imagine is being brought round by an Amazon or Ocado driver. An army of home delivery personnel is set to expand massively. It’s all heralded as part of the digital revolution.

But we’ve been here before of course. Last time analogue. This time digital. Sure there’s more choice and you go online to browse a huge variety of products. But this is back to the future for Boomers. Home delivery was part of our childhoods. The milk “float” gliding down the road. The burly baker at the front door on 24 December every year asking for his Christmas tip. The newspaper chucked at your porch every morning by a surly youth.

We are back to the delivery man/woman being an essential part of urban life. As with life forty years ago, there will be companies that operate wholly through home delivery or it’ll be a distribution mechanism for high street retailers – big and middle-sized. The big chain supermarkets down to the hipster-run artisanal butcher will be sending you boxes of goodies without you having to walk down a soulless aisle or queue at a checkout.

Back in the much maligned 70s, it wasn’t just your milk that was dropped on the doorstep. The baker came to our door with a regular drop off that went straight into a large, tin, bakery box. Note – no plastic! I remember we used to get a kind of Stollen every week with a stick of marzipan through the middle of the bread. Sheer heaven!

And then the knife grinder would appear on our street every so often. Housewives (it was mainly women at home back then) would leap out of the front doors clutching blunt cutlery to be sharpened up. He sat there in a parking bay with an ancient piece of machinery – a big foot-operated grinding wheel where he got to work.

Then the rag and bone man of course, ringing a bell and asking you to bring out your crap. Not your dead I hasten to add – that was another century! But what a great example of recycling. And in pre-modern times, there was a small army of people from mud larks to rag and bone men who took rubbish and gave it a new lease of life. I see a campaign for Greta Thunberg…

Plus financial services and cosmetics were sold at the door. What was termed “industrial” life assurance – small, affordable life policies – were flogged by salespeople who turned up at your home. And for cosmetics, it was the legendary “Avon lady” who rang the doorbell.

It will have been a new experience for young people to have a procession of strangers coming up the front drive and appearing at your porch. But for Boomers, there will have been a curious, wistful sense of deja-vu. And I don’t see this trend going into reverse.

FYI – the proverbial milkman was such a feature of life forty, fifty years ago that the 70s comedian Benny Hill even had a chart topping hit about a milkman called Ernie and his amorous adventures!

What a difference a virus makes…

Just three or four weeks ago I was travelling a lot for my work and as ever, taking in a few museums in my spare time. I took a group of people to the Louvre in Paris and while in Istanbul, strolled around one of my favourite historical sites in the world – the sixth century Hagia Sofia.

Both have now been impacted by the Coronavirus. The Louvre is shut so the Mona Lisa is off limits. And the last I saw on YouTube, the Hagia Sofia was being sprayed everywhere inside with disinfectant.

The first museum visit I remember very clearly was to the British Museum in 1972 when the treasures of Tutankhamun came to Britain. And I’m talking about his death mask and key artefacts. There is an exhibition touring Europe at the moment but without those iconic items. Needless to say the queue was incredibly long.

The brochure for the 1972 exhibition

We were entertained while we waited by a TV production crew from the programme Vision On – which was ostensibly a programme for deaf children but hugely popular with every child. And they were filming a regular feature within the programme called the “Mad Professor” which would take too long to explain to here’s a video clip:

The Mad Professor in action on Vision On
Me at the Louvre in 2020
Me at the Hagia Sofia in 2020

Welcome to OK Baby Boomer!

Baby Boomers

Young and old – the year 2020 saw us all go through the hell of the Coronavirus.

It’s experience that has impacted every one of us. On social media, I’ve seen people I know grieve for a grandparent – one aged 90 years old – who succumbed to the virus. But also children and teenagers have been felled cruelly before their lives had really got going. Not since the Victoria era have we seen the tragic site of little coffins being carried at funerals.

At the height of the Coronavirus, families came together to support each other and the divisions of Boomer, Gen-X, Millennial and Post-Millennial seemed so irrelevant for a while. Young health workers strove to save the lives of elderly patients while parents took their children back into their homes to keep them safe. We all needed to pull together.

However, all was not sweetness and light. There were some on Twitter who promoted the hashtag #BoomerDoomer and other similar unpleasantries – hoping that the virus would wipe out our generation. How did they justify this? Oh, well, apparently anybody over the age of 55 was to blame for global warming, poverty and right-wing populism. Therefore we had it coming to us.

The inert and non-judgmental nature of a virus was lost on these people. Instead they reverted to some medieval idea that disease and pandemics are some kind of righteous punishment on the wicked – namely Boomers in this instance.

Many of those pushing this inter-generational hatred are “Doomers” – a nihilistic sub-set who overlap with InCels and other social misfits. They have a highly pessimistic view of society and its future and an exaggerated sense of what they know – and what anybody born before 1964 doesn’t know.

Like typical 4Chan sad sacks they troll folks on social media celebrating the Coronavirus, for example, as some kind of apocalyptic end of times for Boomers. Presumably when we’re all wiped out, they will emerge from their fetid bedrooms, lay down their tepid takeaway pizzas and inherit the earth. Glad I won’t be here!

Now I know most young people have no truck with that kind of Doomer hate speech. And they realise that this is an attempt to divide us all along generational lines. After all, if we spend time beggaring each other and chucking insults, we’ll forget the real enemies of democracy and social justice.

And I couldn’t help noticing that many of those pushing the #BoomerDoomer hashtag had five followers and appeared to be based in Macedonia or Russia. Hmmmm?

Not that there hasn’t been some friction between Boomers and Millennials online. One side calling Millennials snowflakes and the other side retorting with the snarky rejoinder – OK Boomer. That was the flavour of debate in 2019. Pretty unedifying really.

So – I think it’s time to fully lift the lid on what Boomers are really all about – before the Grim Reaper scythes us. Let’s answer the myths and misconceptions that frankly do my head in.

Fortunately for all of you – I’m a terrible hoarder. I have a massive “archive” of political, cultural, musical, school, college and clubbing stuff that will show you how we revolted, demonstrated and with punk in the 1970s, stuck two fingers up at all that was wrong with society.

This blog will give you a real sense of the sounds, sights and maybe even smells of the post-war era. It’s a tale of youth cults, political upheaval, demonstrations, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And I’d like you to contribute with your own stories from that era.

We transformed the world. The 1960s signalled the start of a struggle for racial and sexual equality and the recognition of LGBT rights. The 1970s was when the fight got going in earnest. The 1980s was both a reaction against the radicalism of the previous two decades but also a time when social progress continued regardless. And the 1990s was one victory after another for a more equal society.

I’m not going to bore you with lectures – but entertain you with images and stories that will bring the above to life. The post-war decades were bursting with optimism and a belief that change was possible. Maybe if we want to recover our sanity – we should all reach back into those times and find the strength and ideas to move forward.

Now – for your edification – some of you may want to know the difference between a Boomer, Doomer, Bloomer and Zoomer. So – to enlighten you on these terms and the toxic generation war politics they encourage – here is a very good YouTube video that sets it all out.