Saturday, 13 August 2011

Air waves

I have in my hand a biro with a round barrel as opposed to the more familiar hexagonal bic shape - designed for ease of grip. The irony being I find the round barrel both easier to grip and more pleasing on the eye. Oh how we laughed. Lots of products would have us believe that we really are useless at holding onto things and developers build their unique selling points around their improved ability to facilitate ease of grip. Even when wet! It's obvious really but the economy is driven by innovation. Innovation cross the nation instant salvation. Or something like that. Is this the same as needs must as the Devil drives? Or necessity is the mother of invention? Really it's we need something to keep all this money making more money so let's invent a process called innovation.
     I really must confess to a sense of major existential angst derived from my inherent love of a piece of gadgetry at a bargain price. There is a feeling of futilty that surrounds this. The sense of scrabbling for paper money fluttering down from a window near the top of, say, Canary Wharf. Or the child in Orwell's 1984 who steals the family's last piece of chocolate and runs off to eat it alone. All probably as a result of my catholic guilt but I'm interested in exploring this non the less. As a child I had on my bedroom window sill a replica John Player Special racing car that was actually a radio. At the time this struck us as a miracle of modern science. My parents had bid for it at a street market where the crowd are whipped into a frenzy of desire by genuinely luxurious electrical goods being sold (to ringers) at insanely cheap prices. I seem to recall a calculator selling for 50p! This is probably what the car-radio was worth but despite the shame I felt about my parents spending £10 on such an item it did bring with it a sense of mystery that has remained with me. This is the pleasure I derived from turning the tuning dial scanning the airwaves and picking up split second whafts of other worlds breaking through the crackle. I seemed to make intuitive assumptions about how far away the source of the signal was.There is perhaps a rational explanation for why, for instance, Police dialogue seemed closer. Now I ask myself if I ever really did hear the police? Don't you need a special receiver for that? I recently derived much parental pleasure as my sons conversed with a nearby mini-cab controler on their walkie talkies. I feel sure were they to have done this on face book I would not be so pleased. At the time i was sat on a bench observing their navigations around the local boating lake and our shore to vessel communications made it doubly thrilling.
    With the innovation of digital radio signals are much clearer and there are no choppy seas of static to cross. The interface is in place. Trawling through a list of radio station names (hazarding a guess as to the music they play - Gaydar, Chill, Smooth) is not the same as moving a red line across a baffling spread of complex numerals waiting for sonic cohesion to occur. On my digital radio the wait whilst the radio tunes into the selected name removes all sense of wireless sweeping. I prefered having to listen until I found out what I was listening to. Sometimes you would never find out. Scanning the radio waves in the small box of my bedroom was a way of connecting to the infinity of the space beyond the walls - the enclosed meets the eternal. I could easily imagine my bed as a small fishing trawler adrift on an endless ocean of unfathomable depths.
I can remember feeling oddly ambivalent towards the state issued stickers to help you remember the new wavelengths of the BBC radio stations. Red for the trustworthy plodding Radio 2 and blue for the yapping puppy of Radio 1. It was still up to you to place these stickers in the right place which makes it seem like a very tactile version of the initial set up on a digital set. I was never a radio fetishist in the sense of wanting to be a pirate radio dj and whilst I did get a thrill from occasionally happening on Radio Caroline, I was equally in thrall to the static between the stations. No static, however was desired when tuning into the top 40. this proved problematic when I held my new radio cassette player on the back seat of my parents Wolsey (or was it the Citreon?). there aren't many times in life when I can genuinely recall where I was when something epoch defing happened but I still have a very clear memory of us negotiating the round about just outside Broadbridge Heath as Rock Lobster came in at number 39. Here was a song that literally coalesced all the radio waves into one enchanting sonic spell. Later I bought the album and the opening track Planet Claire () tried to do this in a more direct fashion. I do believe, thinking about it now, that it was that sense of a signal beamed from another world that we (David Devant and His Spirit Wife) were trying to summon on the opening track to our first album.
Just over a year after hearing Rock lobster I came down to breakfast on my thirteenth birthday to hear the breaking radio news that family icon John Lennon had just been shot dead. It seems I remember radio news but not television.
Back then popular culture and indeed any culture seemed like the tip of the iceberg. We all knew that there were inky depths available to be explored should we be able to find a route through the earth's crust to a subterranean lake. Now all you need to do is type "what's on the tip of my tongue?" into Google to get various images of Mark Ronson's white trainers in profile. Or perhaps, if you're lucky the Fit-Flop a shoe that keeps you fit. It is the innovative brain child of a lady too busy to exercise because she is immersed in promoting a shoe she has created that keeps you fit when you're too busy to exercise.

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