I used to get my hair cut by a woman who believed in ghosts.
Like many chats with lunatics, it began on the margins of rationality and then started sprinting towards the horizon of common-sense like a demented cheetah. After a gentle beginning with palm readers she moved on to soothsayers, leprechauns and levitation.
You need to stamp on this kind of bullshit early on. I know that now. But at the time I didn’t, so I left it until she went so far as to claim – insanely – that a ghost had placed a jar of Marmite inside her hot water bottle.
She actually said that to me. I didn’t nod off and have a dream about a Python sketch, or take LSD with Vic Reeves. I was wide awake, as sober as a judge, and swear on the Beano that I heard her say spirits were jamming condiments in her hot water bottle.
Seemingly the dead have little better to do than play confusing practical jokes on the terminally befuddled.
She found the whole experience of being haunted, well, haunting, and it unsettled her to the extent that, as far as I could see, most of her brain had fallen out. But it wasn’t easy for me either, because I had to remain quiet, and that’s goes against the grain when people bullshit me. I’ve been known to follow such idiots down the street, pointing right at their gormless little faces and repeating “you’re a buffoon” over and over, while they shove copies of The Watchtower through doors and walk away from me at speed.
(OK, yeah, I know that makes me the crazy person. And I’m aware that it’s a waste of my time: nudging somebody in the general direction of reality is pointless when all they want to do is leap back into the pool of ignorance and swim for the safety of their own island of imbecility).
But in this case it wasn’t easy for me to tell her that she was – at best – several hours brisk walk away from sanity. She had scissors, you see, and they were less than an inch from my head. So I let the whole “haunting” thing pass, and made up my mind to find a new barber.
I also don’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or that there’s a type of bird made from porcelain, or that there’s a garden chair orbiting Mars. Any of those things might be true, I guess, but it’s impossible to prove something doesn’t exist; only that something does. In the absence of any form of proof, a sane person would be on safe ground to assume things that sound nuts are actually nuts.
So I’ve never believed in ghosts…
… until today.
Because today I experienced something that defies rational explanation. I found myself witnessing a series of whispy apparitions whose white forms drifted aimlessly amongst the living. Eerie, slow-moving and oddly familiar, they passed by leaving a trail of traumatised witnesses, and it was all shown on live television. There they stalked, hollow-eyed and clammy, lurching from place to place lit only by a single guttering flame…
Joanna Lumley and Bruce Forsyth were transporting the Olympic Torch.
Jesus, Mary and the Little Brown Donkey.
Think about that for a moment. Think about what it says about this country. It’s only a couple of days before the opening ceremony, and we’re parading the best of British to a rapt television audience of literally billions. It’s a chance to boast all that our proud nation can offer.
There are nearly 60 million Britons, a conglomeration of a hundred races and cultures, the seat of Shakespeare and Keats and Lennon. We’re an educated, healthy, sophisticated, mature and stable democracy. We’re the 7th… 8th… 9th (and falling) biggest economy on earth. We should be able to do great things.
Lumley and Forsyth. God’s holy trousers. Why not Chegwin? Why not Mallet? That’s the Four Horsemen the Shite-ocalypse right there.
We boast our prowess to the world by trundling out a 109 year old song-and-dance man who can barely put together a full sentence. There he is, like a pickled gonad, slid into a gaudy white tracksuit and made to gurn at the camera until his carer comes to spoon warm pap into him. I’m surprised he didn’t claim the nurses had stolen his teeth.
And look everyone! Here come the stars of a sitcom that was briefly funny a generation ago, cancelled a long time after it ceased to be, yet keeps being puked back onto our screens in ever-more depressing regurgitations, like an aging heron vomming up a half-digested turbot in front of its startled and disappointed young.
Are we really admitting that for 20 years, not a single British person has done anything of cultural worth? Is that it? Forsyth and Lumley are the proud signifiers of our nation’s creative outpourings?
Of course not, it’s just that everything about this country runs screaming away from risk. And that’s why we’d rather flog off our national assets than take the chance on thinking up some proper business plans. These ancient, creakingly safe quasi-celebs are the cautious route, and a marker of the utter, crumbling collapse of our national spine.
The Olympic opening ceremony is still 48 hours away, and it’s already looking like a deeply depressing fortnight.
Draw parallels with America. Their equivalent would be pushing the corpse of Bob Hope up Pennsylvania Avenue; and making the few surviving, decrepit stars of Taxi hobble down the street on Zimmer frames. But I don’t imagine they’d do it. Being a proper nation with a modicum of pride, the Yanks would actually try to look to the future.
Or at least look to the present.
Or at least to the moderately recent past.
But we’re looking back entire lifetimes. My lady-friend was literally not born when Edina first stumbled into her kitchen, and probably thinks Bruce Forsyth is some kind of art-installation or maybe a medical experiment gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Forsyth was old when we last hosted the games in 1948. To my certain knowledge he hasn’t uttered a single intelligible noise since his jaw muscles ossified in the bitter winter of 1874. He’s what the Picture of Dorian Grey would look like if Dorian Grey was actually a scrotum.
And the last time Absolutely Fabulous was actually absolutely fabulous was when Jennifer Saunders fell over for the first time, in the opening episode, which was 21 pissing years ago. Every episode since then has been somewhere on a continuum between Absolutely Average and Absolutely Contemptible. It was cancelled in 1996, which in case you can’t do the maths is… hold on… no, I can’t do the maths either, but I’m sure it’s a very long time ago.
But like the ghost who hid the Marmite, it simply won’t die, remains utterly unbelievable, and is only slightly more fun than being stabbed in the head with scissors.