Sunday, January 29, 2012

Layer 509 . . . Happier, Rat Racers, Top of the Pops, Music, Star Wars and Jane Austen


Today's Observer contains within it a free book which is very cleverly called 'Happier'. Following on from yesterday's blog ruminations on 'happiness' this is timely indeed.

The book's author, Tal Ben-Shahar PhD, has very astutely cottoned on to the fact that 'happiness' is in fact an indefinable and highly relative concept - relative both within ourselves and between one other. It's therefore a waste of time discussing 'happiness' - since we'll never agree on what it is - but we can and should address issues of what might make each of us happier!

As a taster here's a brief quotation -
"Am I happy?" is a closed question that suggests a binary approach to the pursuit of the good life: we are either happy or we are not. Happiness, according to this approach, is an end of a process, a finite and definable point that, when reached, signifies the termination of our pursuit. This point, however, does not exist, and clinging to the belief that it does will lead to dissatisfaction and frustration.
We can always be happier; no person experiences perfect bliss at all times and has nothing more to which he can aspire. Therefore, rather than asking myself whether I am happy or not, a more helpful question is, "How can I become happier?" This question acknowledges the nature of happiness and the fact that its pursuit is an ongoing process best represented by an infinite continuum, not by a finite point. I am happier than I was five years ago, and I hope to be happier five years from now than I am today.
Very wise words, in my opinion. Here's a few more:
The rat racer, subordinating the present to the future, suffers now for the purpose of some anticipated gain.
As a young child, Timon is unconcerned with the future, experiencing the wonder and excitement of his day-to-day activities. When he turns six and goes to school his career as a rat racer begins.
He is constantly reminded by his parents and his teachers that the purpose of going to school is to get good grades so that he can secure his future. He is NOT told that he should be happy in school or that learning can be - and ought to be - fun.
Afraid of performing poorly on tests, fearful of missing a word of the teacher's gospel, Timon feels anxious and stressed. He looks forward to the end of each period and each day and is only sustained by the thought of the upcoming holiday, when he will no longer have to think about work and grades. 
Timon accepts the values of the adults - that grades are the measure of success - and despite the fact that he dislikes school, he continues to work hard . . . His classmates - who have also been indoctrinated - envy him. By the time he enters high school, Timon has fully internalised the formula for success: sacrifice present enjoyment in order to be happy in the future. No pain, no gain. Although he does not enjoy his schoolwork he devotes himself fully to it. He's driven by the need to amass [grades], titles and honours, and when the pressure becomes overwhelming he tells himself that he will begin to have fun once he gets into college.
Of course college turns out to be pretty much the same as school, as far as self-sacrifice, stress and unhappiness is concerned, and so too does the world of work.
Timon was a top student in college; he is now a partner in a prestigious firm; he and his wonderful family live in a large house in an upscale neighbourhood; he drives a luxury car; he has more money than he can spend. Timon is unhappy.
While Timon is an unhappy rat racer, it's important to note that there are many businesspeople who love to spend eighty hours each week immersed in their work. being a hard worker, or a high achiever, is not synonymous with being a rat racer. There are supremely happy people who work long hours and dedicate themselves to their schoolwork or to their profession. What differentiates rat racers is their inability to enjoy what they are doing - and their persistent belief that once they reach a certain destination they will be happy. 
As I say - well worth a read. The book then goes on to deal with the 'Hedonism Archetype' and the 'Nihilism Archetype', before arriving at the 'Happiness Architype'. I'll probably quote from these in the next blog.


Top of the Pops

Why on earth is BBC4 re-broadcasting old editions of Top of the Pops? I only ask because I've never seen anything quite so depressing. It's not funny, it's not clever, and it's definitely not entertaining. This weekend's edition is a repeat from January 1977. I watched for a few minutes out of sheer curiosity, but soon had to switch it off.

The whole rubbishy punk phenomenon that started to take off in 76/77 clearly happened from a need to revolt against the crap that was infesting the entire nation in the name of music in the early and mid-70s. It was shockingly bad, post-60's, the whole music 'business'. Money for nothing, indeed.

Punk, at least, was an attempt to reclaim music for people who wanted to play and to sing from genuine feelings and emotions of authentic joy, passion, anger, and so on. Of course punk was also stupid in its own way, being born of teenage angst, aggression and ego, but for the most part early punk was at least authentic. The Clash were certainly a good band.

On last night's TOTP there was the twat known as Noel Edmonds, the great Noel himself, with his ridiculous hair and his stupid beard, presiding over the whole plastic shambles. (Tony Blackburn was also a top man on TOTP.) Pathetic fakes and posers: Celebrity DJs.

There was also David Soul at 'Number 1'. Was there ever a greater misnomer than Mr Soul? Apparently the programme also featured Gary Glitter, Leo Sayer, Brotherhood of Man, Showaddywaddy, and others too horrible to mention. McCartney's Mull of Kintyre also dates from 1977.

Gruesome, horrible rubbish. This was awful back then, and it certainly is now. How did all that crap happen - post Woodstock, post Rock n Roll, post Psychedelia, Post Sergeant Pepper, post Rhythm n Blues, post Tamla and Soul? Who actually bought such cheesy rubbish?

And then there was Legs and Co. Did anyone really get off on them - with their silly routines, their ill-fitting, badly-designed costumes, and their girl-next-door grinning faces?


Apparently David Soul's been married five times -  a true romantic.

One reviewer of 'The Very Best of David Soul: Don't Give Up On Us' on Amazon (£4.49) says,

"When I bought this album recently, everybody in the office laughed at me, but they didn't really know what they were laughing for."

Oh yes they did.

Horrible lyrics here:

Makes you wonder what the Very Worst of David Soul might be like.

Click the arrow heads and sample some of the tracks here, including 'Bird On A Wire':

Eat your heart out Leonard Cohen.

42 songs for £4.49 - at 10p a pop they're a bit pricey, but what the heck - they are hilarious.

It seems Mr Soul was born on August 28th - the same day as my son. Worrying.


Star Wars and Jane Austen

'So You've Never Seen Star Wars?' is a programme that's been broadcast on both radio and TV by the BBC, and one I sometimes try to catch. The basic premise is that we all have gaps in our experience, and we've all failed to do things that the rest of the world seems to consider essential to the good life - such as watching Star Wars. Celebrities go on the programme and do things that they otherwise wouldn't, and never have done before.

If I did a session on the programme I reckon I might have to confess to never having read a Jane Austen novel, and also to never seeing a film or television adaptation. How come? - when everyone else talks about the wonderful Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy and all the rest of it?

For a start off, the books are impenetrable - especially for someone who has a problem with long, dreary complex stories concerning romantic young women and their efforts to ensnare suitable husbands. At least I think that's what they're about. As I say, I've never read any of them. Life's too short.

If you doubt what I'm saying then I'd challenge anyone to get past the first 2 or 3 pages of Sense and Sensibility - Austen's first published novel - without losing the will to live. You can read the entire thing here, if you really have the urge - Even getting through the first paragraph requires a lot of dedication and determination.

Mind you, even the synopsis of the book on Wikipedia is very hard work to wade through. It's not clear to me, at least, why anyone would actually care about the life and times of the upper middle classes and the landed gentry either now or back in history, unless you happen to be a historian and somehow find this stuff fascinating.

Never let it be said, however, that Oxzen isn't open to new experiences. And so I duly went along to see a new stage play based on Sense and Sensibility. It's currently having a run at the Rosemary Branch theatre, N1.

Ahem. It's brilliant.

The 6 actors are all superb in their (multiple) roles. The script is brilliant. The music and sound effects are sublime. The whole production works incredibly well, especially in the confined space above the Rosemary Branch. It takes a lot to bring tears to the eyes of an old cynic, but the performances are so well crafted and so passionately acted there were actually two and a half instances of welling-up in Oxzen eyes. Emma Fenney's speech as Elinor – the sensible and intelligent, charming yet reserved one of the two sisters - when she tells her sister in increasingly passionate and pain-filled words how she's had to keep within herself her true feelings about the loss of the man she desires - is just beautifully and brilliantly done. Breathtaking and heartrending.

Of course the story consists of basically immature romantic twaddle, told by a young woman who had yet to experience what most of us would call reality, but it's a story incredibly well crafted and well told - at least in this wonderful touring version of the book. Definitely catch it if you can.



  1. Agreed about the old TOTP episodes. The music is terrible, so glad I didn't have to live through that age. Prehaps we should launch an attempt to get a sex pistols song to No1 in time for the queen's diamond jubilee.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Dylan. You may be aware from the blogs that I'm a longtime fan of your namesake. What's with the ammonite?


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