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Reflections of a working writer and reader



The News on TV

Anna is standing behind me in the queue, holding the tv in both arms as if it were a large foal. The shop guy glances at her but addresses me with his eyebrows. Something wrong, sir?

We don’t want it, I tell him. It’s crap. A dud. Wish we’d never bought it.

Anna puts it on the floor in front of her. She’s breathing so heavily I have to pat her.

We’ve sold lots of them, he says, hardly creasing his smile. No complaints at all. Not one as I remember. He looks around at his colleagues but they don’t reciprocate. You have a problem with it?

It works, but it’s not what we wanted. It’s full of bad news. We wish we’d never bought it. We don’t want it. I took the back off, I tell him. It’s full of bad news. Price increases, strikes, murder, genocide, austerity, bankers’ bonuses. Michael Gove. Terrorism. We want the old one back.

Do you have the receipt?

Anna dives into her purse and surfaces with a crumpled scrap of paper, the name of the shop is still legible. We want the old one back, she says encouragingly. I give her another pat. That’s my girl.

But she’s found her wind now: It was a Bush, you took it in part-ex; not flat like this one, one of the older ones with the huge bulge at the back and the volume knob was broken, half of it gone. It also had some bad news, but nowhere near as much as this one. And you wouldn’t have thought that, this one being so slim.

Ah, they’re slim, the shop guy says, slipping easily into selling mode. They pack more into that narrow space than they ever could’ve imagined packing into the old ones. Progress for you.

That’s what we’re saying, I tell him. It’s full of bad news.

He’s silent for a moment, moves from one foot to the other. I’ll just have a quick word with my manager, he says.

But you can tell him, I say firmly . . .

Her, he’s eager to correct me. We have a lady manager now.

Then you can tell her we definitely don’t want it. Soon as we got it working, almost the next minute, the Pope died. Cardinals with long faces all day, all night. They’re lighting fires and voting for another old guy. After that they tell us we’re eating horse meat and the supermarkets don’t even know they’re selling it. Some old King is getting buried in a car-park. Politicians, the police, they’re all corrupt as hell. They’re threatening more floods now. We’ve had enough.

With the old one, Anna says, we got bad news from time to time. But there were more bright spots, Graham Norton, Black Books, Whatsit and Stacey; we liked that.

He was still there, shifting his weight, not getting to have that word with his lady manager, but not actually with us any longer.

Just tell her, I said. We’re not taking it back. It’s not fit for purpose. The latest thing, it’s got old politicians and rock-stars dangling, people God forgot about. We can’t take any more. We’ll sit tight here until you find the old one.

5 Responses to “The News on TV”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    Nice little piece here. Can’t see it needing to be any longer than it is. Has the feel of a comedy sketch mind—how many of those involve confrontations between outraged customers and counter assistants?—but lacks a punch line. And that’s the problem when you’ve a sketch like ‘Four Candles’—how exactly do you wind the thing up? It has to end somewhere. Perhaps the manager could come out and flog them a digital radio; that way they wouldn’t actually have to see the bad news. Just a thought. It works as it is.

  2. john baker says:

    Thanks, Jim. What you’re picking up on is my abandonment of plot and the openings, endings et al that tend to go with it. Edna O’Brien was in my head as I read your comment: “Well, fuck the plot!” Though it was intended to be a comedy sketch, whatever else it may be.

  3. Some years after the Four Candles sketch went out, Ronnie Barker realised the punch-line to the sketch should have been Ronnie Corbett getting exasperated and going and fetching his female assistant to deal with the customer, only for the customer to ask for a pair of knockers.

    But back to the story. I like this piece. Wry commentary on the news and how we, as individuals, flail impotently before things we have no control over.

    (Typo alert, though, if we’re worried about apostrophes: bankers’ bonuses.)

  4. john baker says:

    Thanks, Mark. I fixed it.

  5. Debra Yong says:

    This made me smile, and reminded me of what TV was like when I was a child. OMG! I’d give it back too!