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The voyage of life

When I signed up as an occasional contributor to this esteemed organ one of the things that persuaded me to do so was the editorial team’s determination that it should not just be a conduit for reflections upon the 21st Century from those of us who were ‘getting on a bit’, but would also encourage us to chart our progress through the later stages of life.

I certainly found nothing morbid or depressing about the latter.

The fact is that too often we oldies tend to be regarded as little more than an amorphous third-person ‘group with a problem’ by the medical profession, politicians and indeed insurers rather than (as we actually are) a vast array of individuals with diverse life experiences and interests who are just about as capable of forming and expressing opinions as anyone else.

It seemed to me that from their studies and experiments our medics and scientists know a great deal about the physical and mental processes of growing old and somewhat less about what it’s like to go through them from a personal perspective.

I figured that it might therefore be both interesting and useful to the world if some of us – rather like David Bowie’s ‘Major Tom’ or perhaps Yuri Gagarin or Jim Lovell as we hurtled across the night sky through outer space, getting ever further away from the modern world – reported back with our observations upon what it felt like, what we were seeing and perhaps also our reactions to monitoring what was happening upon Earth from (as it were) our ever-increasing version of ‘the wrong end of the telescope’.

I’ve commented previously upon the litany of aches and pains that I’ve found myself increasingly prey to and the fact that there’s a balance to be achieved between getting them treated, or ‘sorted’, and accepting that in some cases they are just the inevitable little burdens that accompany senior life and one just has to get on with it.

As my ancestors on my mother’s side has a historic pattern of Alzheimer’s and/or dementia [I’ve never quite worked out whether these are two distinct conditions or whether the former is actually one form of the latter], my siblings and I habitually swap family ‘gallows humour’ banter about going ga-ga and any ‘senior moments’ that we experience.

On a personal level, I also keep a look out for media reports on research into dementia symptoms just in case any of them apply to me.

There was one yesterday as it happens, on a survey conducted by researchers at University College London recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease which concluded that one apparent symptom of developing the condition was a ‘sense of humour’ change.

Relatives of Alzheimer’s patients noted that gradually they became less interested in satirical or absurdist comedy and more prone not only to humour rooted in slapstick and farce, but also to finding ‘inappropriate things’ funny, such as bad parking, disasters on the news or mishaps in social situations – see here for a representative report in THE GUARDIAN

This report resonated with, and worried, me to a degree.

HaveI don’t know about you but, gradually over the last three or four years, I’ve been finding one of my long-time staples of weekly television viewing, HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU (most often transmitted at 9.00pm on BBC1 on Friday evenings) – the satirical current affairs show featuring team captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton – less and less satisfying and yes, less funny.

The series is now twenty-five years old. Twenty-five years! When it first began it was right up my street – sparky, satirical and sometimes gratuitously offensive. It pricked pomposity, took merciless aim at hypocrisy and lampooned everything that should be lampooned, especially the Establishment. Hislop and Merton were very different characters but both brilliant at what they did. When Angus Deayton (the original host chairman) had his spectacular fall from grace typically he was not spared their venom and humour and his deliberate non-replacement (covered by the switch to inviting a series of guest chair-persons) was a stroke of genius that, with hindsight, probably gave the programme a welcome kick up the backside and re-calibration just at the moment when, for longevity purposes, it needed it.

HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU has given me some of my most enjoyable television viewing of the last twenty years and therefore it pains me to confess that it seems to have lost its ‘edge’.

Like a lot of programmes that began as ‘cult’ hits on a minor channel (step forward MONTY PYTHON as another example) precisely because they were new, innovative and more than anything different – indeed contrary – to what went before, HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU has made the perilous journey to the mainstream and general acceptance by the masses. Its capacity to be rude, outrageous and offensive has become ‘normal’, routine and ultimately as humdrum and cosy as the old comfortable armchair that sits in the corner of my TV room. I’m sure that everyone involved (from the producers down to the guests, cameramen and runners) is probably making as much, if not more, money as they ever were but the simple fact is that HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU is a shadow of what it used to be at its best.

FramedHaving said that, these days I much prefer YOU’VE BEEN FRAMED.

This vehicle for home movie cock-ups and accidents sent in by the public was originally an off-shoot or nephew of Dennis Norden’s long-running IT’LL BE ALL RIGHT ON THE NIGHT and went through a number of incarnations and lead presenters until it came together in 2004 with the absurdist comedian Harry Hill, who never appears in camera but introduces each item as a voice-over.

Sometimes in comedy the magic arrives when two things come together, often people – think Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise … er … er … it might be stretching it to mention Cannon and Ball or Mike and Bernie Winters – but in the case of YOU’VE BEEN FRAMED it was undoubted the programme concept and the madcap, irreverent humour of Harry Hill.

I have to admit that almost every week without fail – because even with 300 channels to choose from there are moments most days when there is nothing worth watching on the box – I deliberately set off to find episodes of YOU’VE BEEN FRAMED. There are plenty of them and almost invariably, at any time of the day and night, you can find them playing somewhere. It doesn’t matter at all if some of them are being repeated for the umpteenth time.

I’m very sorry, but the programme’s endless diet of pet, baby, DIY, wedding, sporting, performing and ‘random chance’ disasters just tickles my funny bone. My reaction – most often ever-greater volume howls of hysterical laughter with each successive clip, tears running down my cheeks, increasing difficulty to regain my breath and composure – as snow skiers hit a bump and cart-wheel out of control off the side of a mountain, BMX bikers lose their balance and carve their way through a phalanx of spectators, innocent babies barely able to stand get knocked sideways by pet dogs chasing frisbees and grannies jump onto garden trampolines and inadvertently disappear off, somersaulting either through a nearby hedge or bang slap straight into a paddling pool full of kids, has to be seen to be believed.

It’s certainly uncontrollable, whether I’m sitting in my house solo, or in the middle of some massive family gathering.

All the above registered, as hinted earlier, today I’m getting worried.

Could – as this latest study of dementia patients by UCL suggests – my recent disillusionment with HAVE I GOT NEWS FOR YOU and all-consuming devotion to YOU’VE BEEN FRAMED signal that I’ve reached yet another stage on my progress to ga-ga-dom and life in a secure funny-farm?


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About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts