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         ‘I sat through the whole of Christmas watching television,’ said the man with the dog, in the pub, ‘and I didn't see a single decent programme. It was very frustrating.’
         ‘I sat through the whole of Christmas watching television,’ said the man who likes fiddling with his beer mat till it drives us all nuts, ‘and I didn't see a single indecent programme. It was incredibly frustrating.’
         ‘Oh, very funny,’ said the lady with the pink hairdo. ‘You must have seen an indecent programme. It is well-known that television is heaving with lubricious costume dramas and period romps in which bare bottoms and bosoms go up and down like ships in a storm.’
         ‘Name one,’ said the man with the beer mat.
         ‘I can't actually name one,’ said the pink lady, ‘because I don't watch them. But it is well-known that they proliferate.’
         ‘There are many things which are well-known which are not true at all,’ said the man with beer mat, twirling it between his fingers. ‘It is well-known that the railways will be back to normal soon and that we are all going to be killed by GM foods and that...’
         ‘Funny you should mention GM foods,’ said the resident Welshman. ‘The GM food scare story seems to have expired. Passed its sell-by date. Along with BSE and live calf export and fish stocks... Nobody talks about them any more. Is there actually a food scare story on the go at the moment?’
         ‘I can't think of one,’ said the pink lady.
         ‘You can't think of anything,’ said the man with the beer mat, now trying to spin it on one corner. ‘You couldn't think of an example of a single naughty TV programme, and you can't think of a current food scare story. You can't think of anything. You are the weakest link. Goodbye...’
         ‘The Lord save us!’ said the pink lady. ‘I thought that conversation in this pub was free from contamination by television! Oh, we may talk about television from time to time, but we don't talk LIKE television! And yet here you are now, talking like Anne Robinson! I don't believe it!’
         ‘In the immortal words of Victor Meldrew,’ said the resident Welshman sarcastically.
         ‘Allegedly,’ said someone else.
         ‘Horrible though the thought is,’ said the resident Welshman, ‘it might be possible to construct an entire conversation out of TV catch phrases. I've started, so I'll finish, and all that mullarkey. Never has a medium had such an affect on a nation's conversation.’
         ‘Absolute baloney,’ said the man with the dog. ‘Radio was just the same. My father couldn't complete a sentence without using radio catchphrases. Everything from ITMA to Round The Horne. And he used to slip into Goon Show voices, and think it was hilarious...’
         ‘All right,’ said the Welshman, ‘but prior to TV and radio there were no catchphrases...’
         ‘Not strictly true,’ said the man with the beer mat. ‘A gentleman in Victorian times would pepper his conversation with Latin tags, or little scraps from classical literature. And before that conversation would be liberally garnished with Biblical trimmings. People knew the Bible in those days as well as they know the casts of TV sitcoms these days.’
         ‘I sat through the whole of the Christmas TV quiz shows,’ said the man with the dog, ‘and I heard lots of questions about TV sitcoms but I don't remember hearing one about the Bible. What does that tell us, eh?’
         ‘I sat through an edition of “The Weakest Link”, ‘ said the pink lady, ‘and I heard Anne Robinson get an answer wrong.’
         That stopped the conversation just long enough for everyone to say:
         ‘Which one?’
         ‘Well, the question she asked was: 'In Greek legend, who killed the Cyclops ?' "
         ‘It was Odysseus or Jason or one of those wandering heroes, wasn't it?’ someone said.
         ‘That's what I thought. But Anne Robinson said it was Apollo.’
         ‘Never!’ we all chorused, with varying degrees of conviction.
         ‘So Anne Robinson has feet of clay,’ said the man with the dog, almost regretfully.
         ‘No change there, then,’ said the pink lady. 
         It was shortly after that that we replaced the swear box on the bar with a TV cliché collecting box. The idea is that you have to put 50p in every time you use a TV catch phrase. It's almost full already.

The Independent Friday Jan 5 2001

 

 

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© Caroline Kington