Monday 3 January 2011

Z stops listening

That didn't work very well, did it?  Two posts on 1st January and none on the second.  I'm not sure what happened there, I thought I'd written one.

It seems that I'm going to quit the habit of thirty-five years.  The radio soap, The Archers, reached its sixtieth anniversary at the weekend, and so a dramatic plot development was promised.  The likely problem was a deeply annoying character named Helen, who was pregnant and obviously riding for a fall - the thing was though that her brother died in a farming accident some years ago and there is already a child in the family whose mother has died, so this made it unlikely they'd be able to bump her off.  So instead, she was rushed to hospital for an emergency Caesarean, immediately following which she's fine and the baby is fine.  Oh.  So instead, they seem to have killed off the most engaging character in the whole programme.  The one with a markedly happy marriage, who is daft but not irritating, who would genuinely be missed by listeners; unlike almost everyone else.  It is possible that falling off a roof might have crippled rather than killed him, but do you know, I don't care.  I'm not listening tonight to find out.

It's been apparent to me for some time that I'm fed up with plot devices.  I've almost given up reading fiction - new fiction, that is.  I'm still rereading classics with pleasure, but I've been disappointed too many times by too many new books.  I don't mind the fairly throwaway novels without pretensions, but the 'literary' sort are too often lazily plotted and either have random plot twists, obvious manipulations or else just end.  A book has to be really good to get away without an ending.  Not necessarily all the loose ends tied up - it can work, to have you wondering what happens afterwards and life isn't neat - but there usually has to have been some point to the whole thing or else it's a waste of time.  And you've got to care about the characters.  Not necessarily to like them, but to find them believable and to be engaged in what happens to them.

I'm really sad about this.  I've been an obsessive reader all my life, and now I'm almost entirely reading non-fiction, and much less of that.  And I'm not unusual in any other way, so I suspect I'm not alone.  And authors won't blame themselves, they'll say that readers are failing them.  But if a book is good enough, I'll be as gripped as ever.  Ebooks are doing people a favour - because out-of-copyright fiction is free to download, there's been a big surge of interest in the classics.   I'm reading my way through Dickens at the moment.  Usually, under the bedclothes in the middle of the night.  It's excellent, not having to have the light on or arms out of bed on a winter's night.

And, as far as The Archers is concerned, it's not a fit of pique.  It's that there are too few people now that I give a damn about.  Most of the older characters are boring and most of the young ones are annoying.  The ones I like have been almost written out and the new main ones don't engage me.  A cliffhanger with Helen might have kept me listening - pre-eclampsia isn't always immediately resolved by the baby's delivery, the baby is six weeks premature and she was warned a few weeks ago that it wasn't developing properly because of her overworking.  But they went down the cosily reassuring route there, to the disappointment of many people who are as irked by Helen as I am.  So, it's easy.  I am not going to be manipulated, I've just switched off.


Dave said...

I am planning a deus ex machina for the final post of my blog.

Z said...

If it's the final post, it won't matter what the readers think of it, I suppose. Is it intended that you survive the experience?

Dave said...

I anticipate knowing the date of my death, and making sure all my readers do too.

On what should be the final post (somewhere around my 100th birthday) a sudden and unexpected (and entirely unlikely) plot development will take place.

Z said...

I'm afraid I'll have switched off long before that, Dave. No one in my family reaches the age of 80.

Dave said...

Well, doing so can be your unexpected plot develpoment then.

Z said...

How very cheering of you to suggest it, Dave.

PixieMum said...

Although I agree with you that the build up and plot devices in the Archers have been too much, I could not give up listening!

It will be 30 years this coming summer since I sat in the garden with the radio at 1.45 each day, feeding son and learning about a new world. You may gather I'm a real townie, my family have been for over 200 years, not that I'm anti-country, it's not just where I would wish to live, but do wish to visit. Having said that, I do live near the most beautiful and open part of London, 2 royal and many more parks, Kew Gardens, River Thames, the view from Richmond Hill and all the associated walks.

However, I enjoy the Arcdhers, but don't like the way it is manipulated even more now by issues, by dramatic and unrealistic story lines and by actors setting the agenda. I know this is not new, the actor playing John Archer decreed that he wanted no one to take on the role after he left so John was killed off.

I like the routine moments, the discussions about schools, what is bought in the shops, change counting, the menu at the Bull, the quiz evening. Even more, something to reflect the seasons, I would like more realistic farming and horticultural stories.

I enjoyed listening to Radio 7 and the early episodes, especially as we felt so unwell, it was calming and I think that should have been the extent of the 60th celebrations.

May be keep the birth of Henry in, but the roof story was so unrealistic and out of character.
Ah yes, changes of character. That inconsistency is spoiling TA too.

Z said...

My father used to listen to it back in the 60s, and I started listening to it properly when my first baby was little. Plot devices for the sake of ratings aren't new, of course, think of the death of Grace to compete with the start of ITV.

They seem to write out all the characters I like, and give silly voices to the new ones, particularly Pip and Ruari (however it's spelt, I'm sure I've missed out a few letters). Elizabeth was always pretty unpleasant, except with Nigel, and now she'll hate David and I don't want to listen to a family feud. Dreary enough with Will and Ed. No, I don't care what happens any more. They're nothing but a pack of cards, after all, as Alice put it. I'll care about real people instead.

Christopher said...

When Dave's last post has been sounded, I wonder who will ghost for him?

Anonymous said...

I like how different people are ...reading what PixieMum said about not being a country person when just this afternoon we were driving through the countryside and admiring the lovely country houses, drooling over country life, muddy lanes and wellies and dogs and horses and 4x4's - and how we'd like to move into the countryside proper, one day.

About books, I am on the same page as you Z.. *cough*..sorry. :)

Having been an avid reader all my life, since I was about 5, I rarely finish a book these days. The writing is diabolical and the characters paper thin and superficial. Boring. Non-fiction is grabbing me more and more.

As for the Archers - I've heard it 3 or 4 times when we've been driving home from London and it's weird listening to a soap on the radio. The sound effects crack me up - last time I imagined all the actors lined up in a row behind microphones and pulling faces at each other - so I'm afraid I'd never get into it. Makes me giggle every time.


Unknown said...

I listened to the first episode of the Archers (mainly because a few months previously at the same time- 6.45 pm.- there had been a thriller on the Home Service called Dick Barton, Special Agent, which I loved. It always ended with a cliff hanger so that we had to 'tune in' the following evening to see if, and how he had escaped). The Archers seemed very tame in comparison, but as we we country dwellers (Norfolk Fens) it seemed rather more relevant to us. If I'm near a wireless at sevenish I occasionally listen now, but the characters seem to have little depth to them, and I'm never certain about who's related to whom these days, so I don't really follow it now. Ann does so more than I, so sometimes she can tell me who's who.

Unknown said...

P.s. Sorry - typo- 'we were country dwellers.....'
Ref books - if you like whodunnits you might like Ian Rankin's detective novels set in Edinburgh.
Bit ripe in patches but real characters and readable.
Regards, Mike.

Z said...

Neil from the Archers lives in the next village, has done for over twenty years. Once, he gave a talk to the WI and, as a raffle prize, gave a script (possibly a single page, actually) from that night's episode. He'd had to get special permission. I like the special effects, very amusing.

Typos don't count in comments, they are invisible until after you've published and then they glare. Yes, I have read and enjoyed the Rebus books. And I do like whodunnits. I'm fond of Donna Leon, and the late Michael Dibdin, though he got deeply depressed in the end. Still, I'm pleased they're dramatising the Aurelio Zen stories, esp. with Rufus Sewell.

Z said...

I suppose that Dave will be in a position to ghost himself, Chris?

Eddie 2-Sox said...

A younger-than-her-age single mum of my acquaintance listens to the Archers. In her dental surgery. I have never tuned in.

Maybe I should. My Dad, when working as chauffeur for the local Chicken Baron, would retire to his quarters to get his fix.

Then again, I'm only 42 years old. I don't subscribe to any of the crap television soaps, so why subscribe to a crap radio soap?

On the whole, I think "worthless". For sure there is nostakgia tied up with "the wireless". But it's a soap, nonetheless.

Z is probably on the money. I haven't listened, ever. But if there are new, annoying characters, it seems to fit in with the soap genre in England.

Or are they simply adapting to the times?

Z said...

I can't speak for the television soaps, I don't follow any of them, but I suspect it's the following of the various characters' stories that has the appeal. A bit like blogging, in some ways. One starts to care about characters one has never met, whether real or fictional.

Much of the reason I've always listened to The Archers is the timing - I'm in the kitchen cooking at 7 o'clock. I turned off the radio this evening and prepared dinner in silence.

Dandelion said...

To be fair, Helen has had a very hard time of it. But, I do quite agree, the episode did *not* meet up to the hype. Something so drastic that life in Ambridge will never be the same again? Hardly! Still, now it's just David and Roof, eh?

Z said...

She caused a fair few of her own hard times. And was dreary, unpleasant, charmless and bad-tempered as she did it.

David and Roof - excellent, darling.