kiev4am: (six)
I was skimming through some of my Dad's New Yorker magazines recently. I still find the non-fiction stuff in the NY really interesting; one issue alone had pieces about giant Polaroid cameras, Edward Hopper's house, a writer's double life of lit-fic and pulp noir, and a deceased modern artist called Blinky Palermo who I wish I'd heard of before. I also still giggle like a fool at some of the cartoons (zebra to lion: I give up, what's black and white and red all over?). But then I happen to read a short story, and it's like going back in time to the eighties when I first started dipping into these magazines as a teenager and thinking, 'Oh God, is this what proper grown-up writing is supposed to be like? Really?'

You could make a bingo card. Middle-aged male narrator, horny but jaded - check. Dysfunctional marriage to ambitious but thwarted woman - check. (If the narrator's female, the marriage is the same but there's a mother-in-law and a lofty, feckless academic lover who'll never commit). Affairs described like dry, inevitable collisions between bits of furniture; one-note secondary characters; passing bigotry added without criticism because the target readership parses it as 'grit', 'authenticity' or 'colour'; bloodless, cut-off, non-ending endings with neither resolution nor resonance, as if the storyteller just hung up on you midway. It may not apply to every NY story but wow, is it a common template. Grim.
kiev4am: (fell)
What this mostly means to me is that the clock is now ticking on all the stuff I've been breezily saying I'll get started on 'in the new year.' You know, easy stuff like retrain, look for another job, rewrite my book and take up running. Oh bugger.
kiev4am: (Default)
I was thinking about photonovels today.

In the late 70s and early 80s, before VHS was widely accessible, the closest thing you could get to a home copy of a movie was a paperback book of film stills, not quite frame by frame, but close, with comic-book speech balloons. I had one for the old animated 'Lord of the Rings' film by Ralph Bakshi, and I used to re-read it almost as obsessively as the original books and trace the artwork too (shut up, I was nine).

Imagine, no video or DVD; a book of film stills instead. I can remember this clearly but it seems as remote, sad and quaint as something from an old, old lady's reminiscences. Mulling it over, it struck me how quick the pace of cultural extinction is now - how many things from my childhood and early adulthood are so very, very obsolete that they feel like they belong to some distant history lesson, beyond living memory. So I thought I'd list as many of them as I could think of offhand; you know, for the archaeologists.

Red and black typewriter ribbons
Yes, children, when we typed things we had a choice of red or black ink. That's it. And there wasn't a Delete button.

Paying by cheque at the supermarket
It was the only non-cash option. Those little plastic debit cards just didn't exist. You had one card, but it was your 'cheque guarantee' card, and all it did was prove your chequebook was yours. Or that you'd managed to steal both.

The most popular playground game is conkers
This might be doubly obscure: not just 30 years old, but British. You thread a horse chestnut on a string, and then you hit someone else's with it until one smashes. If yours doesn't, you win. This time of year, you'd see every chestnut tree wrecked by school kids chucking branches into it to bring the conkers down, and the ground underneath would be scattered with green spiky chestnut shells. Now, they're untouched.

Pay phones are the only 'mobile' option
You need to call someone from town, you walk and walk until you find a pay phone that works. Then you queue up to use it, and it eats your money. And if you're in town - if you're anywhere but home or work, in fact - you're off the grid. Uncontactable.

Carrying a box of matches in your bag
When I smoked in the 80s, we all used matches. Scottish Bluebell, if I recall correctly. Having a lighter made you a grown-up, and we didn't want that.

People write letters
Not emails, letters. Bits of paper, envelopes, stamps. Put simply, you didn't communicate anything in writing that couldn't handle a two-or-three day delay. Okay, eventually there were fax machines, but only Rich People had those.

Cassette tapes
'Home taping is killing music.' And if you wanted to skip to a certain song, you had to fast-forward through all the ones between. Shake, rattle, squeak. If the cassette was old or your tape-deck was in a bad mood, the tape could catch in the wheels, back up, and spool all over the guts of the machine to emerge as tiny concertinas, unplayable.

Floppy disks
'Removable media' had to be the size of a beer mat to hold 1MB of data. But that was pretty good when your PC hard disk was 50MB maximum.

God, I'll stop now. I feel about 85 years old.


kiev4am: (Default)

May 2012

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