The Voiced and the Unvoiced: Mum’s the Word

Here, for your delectation, is a link to one of the best sitcoms of modern times, ‘Mum’.  A sort of updated ‘After Henry’

it’s the story of a widow from the day of the funeral until the day she is able to move on.  Cathy, the ‘Mum’ of the title, is surrounded by people who are ostensibly there for support but who actually do little but irritate and interrupt.  From her son and his live-in girlfriend to her brother and his unbearable partner, to her unpleasant and bickering parents, the house is continually full of annoying people.  They are the voiced, giving utterance to every thought, no matter how rude or unhelpful, while Cathy is the unvoiced.  She just smiles, puts her head on one side and says ‘Okay?’ whilst folding linen, taking out the trash and cooking three types of dinner for these ubiquitous guests.

Cathy’s only confidant is her husband’s best friend Michael.  It is completely obvious from his first appearance that Michael is besotted with Cathy.  It seems equally obvious that they are destined to end up together; but the writer ekes this out to the n’th degree and (I hesitate to put SPOILER ALERT because it’s such a little thing) at the end of the final episode she intertwines the tips of her fingers with his, and that’s as far as it goes.  It’s a beautiful, infuriating, tormenting sitcom, a perfect antidote to series where people are forever jumping in and out of bed, and I urge you to watch it NOW.

It has only just occurred to me, I confess, that the title may be a pun; because as well as being a Mum, Cathy keeps mum.  The voicing or not-voicing of thoughts is a staple of sitcom, and on the opposite end of the spectrum we have Alf Garnett and Basil Fawlty.  Alas, unlike the divine Fawlty Towers, ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ can never be shown again due to its overt racism.  Alf Garnett not only voices his every thought, he shouts it from the rooftops, holding court from the depths of his armchair and giving the world the benefit of his homespun bigotry.  The disturbing thing about Alf Garnett was that for many he became a hero as he voiced their thought as well; and here’s the danger: such figures can be double-edged.  I expect for many Basil Fawlty was a hero too – but then again, doesn’t he speak a little bit for all of us?  Who among us has not wanted to jump up and down and scream at a rude customer or give the car a good thrashing when it won’t start?  Who among us is without thought-crime?  Who is fit to cast the first branch?

Kirk out

Thatcher Legacy No. 3 – Personality and Divisiveness

Actually, before I look at foreign affairs I’m going to talk about Thatcher’s personality.  By this I mean of course her public personality: friends and ‘inferior’ colleagues report that she could be very kind, however much she seems to have savaged many of her cabinet ‘equals’.  The world in Thatcher’s time was a divided place, much more so than now – and these divisions were reflected in the country under her rule.  Ironically, the only thing people seem to agree on now that she’s dead, is that she was a divisive figure.  The entire nation was split along a fault-line: if you were on one side you were unlikely to know anyone who was on the other side.

Against her were the usual suspects: teachers, social workers and the unemployed – especially those whose industries she had destroyed – but against her were also large parts of the traditional establishment: she alienated the Church of England with her lack of compassion and permanently alienated the BBC whom she considered to be full of pinkoes and poofs (not her words, but that was the gist.)

For her, the usual suspects were bankers, businessmen and -women, yuppies, stockbrokers and estate agents.  But crucially among her supporters were many Alf Garnett-style working-class Tories, who loved her bellicose anti-foreigner rhetoric.  Most of the Sun’s headlines were enough to turn the stomach of any self-respecting liberal like me.  Her government was also canny enough to keep the army and police on-side, which is essential if you want to run a repressive state and wage little wars.

These fault-lines ran so deep that I hardly ever encountered anyone on the other side: and presumably the reverse was true.  In the 1980’s all my friends were either unemployed or CND members or Trotskyists – and occasionally all three.  I did have one friend who was an old-style ‘one-nation’ Tory but he soon changed sides after seeing what Thatcher was capable of.

Of creating two nations.  The wounds are still being felt.

Kirk out