From when I was a kid, in the 1970s, I have many clear memories, some sketchy ones, and some that I just can't remember. Most of those during that time are completely irrelevant to what I am chatting about today; we will just gleefully skip past them.
Anyway, as I navigate through the slightly less than catalogued memories, there is one that stands out clearly. It was in our home in Norfolk, a detail that is again irrelevant to this, sitting crossed legged on the floor around a small round table. Said table is still in operation today, although my ability to sit crossed legged under it is not.
The table has a crocheted cream cloth on it, again still in operation, and had on it what we used to call a "dry tea".
It wasn't until much later that I realised the term "dry tea" is a somewhat "unique" phrase. Nowadays, and probably then too, the more mainstream term would be a "small buffet". There are two things on that table that I vividly remember; cubes of strong cheddar cheese, and homemade pickled onions.
Those of you who follow me online will know that those two items still play an important role in my life today.
I feel I need to take a moment. Call it a moment of respect if you like, to briefly chat about those food items in question.
Growing up in the middle of Norfolk was lovely. The default entertainment comprised the arrival of the weekly bus, on Tuesday I think, and walking the fields collecting interesting looking stones. One of the additional adventures was the monthly shop. It entailed a length adventure to travel all the way to the city of Norwich, to visit the Sainsbury's supermarket. As a side-note, since this article is apparently littered with them; our connection with Sainsbury's goes all the way back to Muswell Hill in London, and the nearby Sainsbury's shop where they used to hand-prepare the butter using butter paddles. So, we were a "Sainsbury's family", and still are to this day.
Where was I? Oh yes, back to the cheese. After the massive adventure of the tiny country roads, the metal black & white World War 2 road signs that could be moved around to "fool the Germans", we would arrive at Sainsbury's.
We would have two trolleys, one that would be filled with bread, and another with other stuff. I have a vivid memory of Mum going to the cheese counter and asking for some cheese. She pointed, through the glass, to a giant block of strong cheddar cheese. The helpful assistant, not sure if cheese assistants have a special name, asked "how much? ". Mum looked at them and said, "No, that block. All of it." We were a cheese family.
The other food item in question was the pickled onion. My Great Grandmother, who was given the label of "Nanny Billings", had many skills. One of which was the magical creation of "picked onions". They would be made in giant jars, rammed full of spices, and the kept in a small dark cupboard under the stairs. I was never quite sure how long they were left to mature, but in my kid's eye view of the world, it was surely decades.
My first foray into the world of pickled onions was, I am told, when I was 2 years old. I got hold of a large pickled onion and took a giant bite out of it. It was so strong that it made me cry. After the crying had subsided, I asked for some more. The dye had been cast; I was a pickled onion lover from that milestone forward.
OK, I realise that I have wandered so far off the reservation of what I was actually going to talk about, that we might actually need a rather expensive Garmin waterproof handheld GPS unit to get back to it.
Note to self; perhaps I should write articles that are just giant preambles.
Back to the small table with cheese and pickled onions.
This was not a guest-social event; this was a Saturday evening event. The event in question was Dr Who on BBC1. Specifically, Tom Baker's Dr Who.
We would sit around the table, allowing us to get a little closer to the Cathode Ray Tube display unit, and watch Dr Who. It was utterly delightful, and if, by some random course of events, Tom Baker should ever read this, then I would like to say "Thank You".
It was, as I hope you can see, an event. It was an entertainment event.
Throughout my childhood, there were several similar entertainment events. Morecombe & Wise; James Bond films ... you get the picture.
As we project forwards, those events became less defined. The event itself was in many ways greater, but the setting of the event became less defined. I can clearly remember the episode of 21 March 1981, where Tom Baker faded into Peter Davison. I cannot, though, remember the external setting in which what took place. I have a memory of the thing, but not what I was eating or doing at the time. I have no memory of cheese and pickled onion sandwiches at that particular tele-visual event.
Over the coming years, there was a clear migration away from the setting of the entertainment event as being important, and a move towards the importance of the event itself.
I think this was linked to the accessibility of the event itself. As the effort of accessing the event decreased, the importance of the setting where you consumed the event also decreased.
I am sitting in an Italian restaurant, as I write this piece. As I glance around, I can see a slice of our current humanity. Sure, there is plenty of chatter and social engagement, but there is also a certain amount of "phone-scrolling".
Don't get me wrong, it is not intrusive or inappropriate. No, it covers those micro-moments between conversation, or those moments when the other-half wanders off to "spend a penny". The scrolling activity on the mobile entertainment device.
On the graph of accessibility of entertainment vs effort, the dotted line has projected so far way from effort, as to have smudged off the piece of paper and is currently making a mark on the table.
As I started this article, the memory was about the setting of the entertainment. Why? Because the effort required to witness, the said entertainment was significant; it deserved an appropriate corresponding setting event.
As I write this in 2020, the graph has projected so far away from that initial social context, as to have created something rather different.
It would seem that the actual "accessibility of entertainment" has overtaken the entertainment itself. It seems like a natural projection.
The easy of which you can access entertainment item itself has overtaken the entertainment itself, in terms of social value.
Indeed, I would say, as I sit in this restaurant, that the process of scrolling has itself become the source of entertainment.
The brutal, indirect creativity of humanity has created a wondrous new form of entertainment. Welcome to Scrolling Entertainment. With no cheese, no pickled onions, and no round table. Just you, your thumb and a piece of electronic glass.
I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire