I’m thinking back to a Monday evening in the 1970s.
My mother’s iron is swishing to and fro on a rickety ironing board. It’s been a decent drying day and all the sheets and pillowcases are being neatly pressed.
One or two items are still drying on a clothes horse in front of the fire, I watch steam rising from them. My dad sits in his chair, he has a bowl of water at his feet and he’s dipping an inner tube into it, trying to locate yet another puncture.
He tells us that if he can’t mend the puncture, he won’t be able to ride to his work at Wakefield tomorrow morning. My mother looks up, spits on her iron and says: “Any excuse!”
On the telly Hughie Green, a Canadian presenter known for his saying: “And I mean that most sincerely folks” which is television presenter shorthand for we’re not sincere at all, but if we keep smiling you’ll just about believe that we are, is about to introduce a new act on Opportunity Knocks.
The new act is a duet, two former coal miners from Durham called Millican and Nesbitt.
They sing a half decent middle of the road version of a song called Vaya Con Dios and my mother joins in, singing in time to the swishing of the iron: “vaya con dios, my darling, vaya con dios my love.”
My mother is a lovely singer when she’s having a go, I often think she ought to be on Opportunity Knocks herself. At the end of the show there is a thing called the clapometer and Millican and Nesbitt do very well with applause from the studio audience.
Hughie Green reminds his viewers: “it’s your votes that count, so send in your postcard with the name of the act you’d like to see back next week.”
My mother announces that she might vote for Millican and Nesbitt. My dad looks up from his bicycle repair kit and says: “Don’t be so daft lass, if you vote for them you’ll only encourage ‘em.” My mam says: “Isn’t that the point of it?”
My dad growls now: “Look here lass, you might vote for two coal miners from Durham who can sing a bit, but there’s only one winner and it won’t be them, whoever you vote for Hughie Green wins.”
I was thinking about this at the weekend, I sat with our Eddie to watch X Factor. These days talent shows have taken the art of manipulating young wannabes to a whole new height, to a place beyond even Hughie Green’s wildest fantasy.
We have been following the progress of Jack, a lad from Cas’ or “from near Leeds in the north” if you believe the TV hype and a young lass called Lola who works as a fish filleter in South Shields, or Geordieland, again according to the TV.
When Jack first appeared he was a confident young singer armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and his own relaxed personality. Lola was a shy, pleasant young lady with a pretty voice.
On Saturday Jack appeared dressed as Dick Turpin in heels, he seemed less than confident, suspicious of what they were doing to him and looked like he didn’t want to sing the song he’d been given.
For a finale he was bitten on the neck by a dancing vampire and fake blood was smeared on his shirt collar. Jack looked like a man who, to quote one of my gran’s sayings, didn’t know whether he wanted a shift or a haircut, positively bemused and embarrassed by the whole contrived nonsense.
Lola had been told to “get raunchy” or as raunchy as a wet fish shop lass from South Shields can be and she too looked embarrassed and confused.
They were both knocked out. There was a telling moment when the cameras panned on to Simon Cowell when he was asked for his verdict on who should go out. He said: “I have to save the best singer.”
He waited for the audience to shout. They shouted for Lola. Cowell said he would save Lola, but the telephoning public had already made their decision.
Cowell had it both ways. Studio audience and viewers both on side. I thought about what my dad said and after 40-odd years found myself agreeing with him.
Whoever you vote for, Cowell wins. I suppose it’s a bit like voting for that political party, whose name I won’t mention because they get enough publicity as it is.
You think you’re voting for something new, perhaps even something that will stick it up the establishment and all you get is the same old grinning smarm.
And I mean that most sincerely folks.