Do you recall seeing Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)? Metropolis is a pioneering science fiction film set in 2026 that depicted a dystopian city where the masters lived at the top of Towers of Babel and the poor serviced the machines below. Now it is looked on as an homage to Art Deco. But Fritz was more than a little ahead of his time don’t you think?
Who would have thought that machines would consume all of our lives? I am the first man to admit that, on occasion, I am like a demented octopus on the daybed in Bloomsbury Towers with a laptop on one side, an iPhone on the other and a classic movie on the telly. Thank God for books that demand one’s undivided attention.
I am a technological Jonah. Show me a laptop and I will break it. My laptop spent the best part of three weeks in intensive care late last year and it has bitten me on the ass once again this week. Within five minutes my passwords went from open sesame to lockdown. That little drama took two days to fix only for my email to lockdown. So I have spent the best part of the day scurrying like a lab rat back and forth to the Apple Store in Covent Garden.
In Apple World, we are all called by our first names. Shiny, happy people in T-shirts with tattoos grin like Jehovah’s Witnesses and talk us through ‘the process’ before coming to the conclusion that the only solution is an IT lobotomy: wiping the memory of one’s computer and starting all over again. If only!
There are many memories I would like to wipe both personally and collectively and start afresh. But now we are told that a long memory is something we have in common with computers. Apparently, every naughty click or vicious email one sends is preserved in the aspic of the iCloud. So even if one does wish to forget, the cyber mind will not let you.
I am terribly grateful that for most of my twenties and thirties there was no such thing as a Selfie let alone the ability to shoot mini movies on one’s mobile phone. Let’s face it, I would have given Linda Lovelace a run for her money had there been such technology and thank God there wasn’t.
My generation straddles the techno revolution. We knew life before it and – God help us – we are adapting to life with it. I’m grateful for some tech but I also appreciate that the harm to the human psyche has far outweighed the benefits. Life was simpler before mass communication. Don’t you long for a simpler life?
We have filming this weekend on Bloomsbury Square for a production called Nightingale. My side of the square and the axis leading past Victoria House and on to Sicilian Avenue are going back to pre-World War One. At present the tarmac is being covered with soil and half a dozen vintage cars are parked outside. The whole area has been cordoned-off from traffic. Personally, I wish they’d leave it like that.
Nightingale is, apparently, the working title for a new Wonder Woman film set pre-WWI. In my era Wonder Woman was Linda Carter and she was a late 20th century girl in a gold tiara, blue hot pants and a red and gold bra. How the film producers have got her back to the era of Paul Poiret hobble skirts and Peach Melba is anybody’s guess.
Still, I share the sentiment that the past seems so much more appealing than the future. Don’t you sometimes long to step inside a novel and spend the rest of your life there? A great favourite of mine is Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The heroine, Anne Elliot, is the younger daughter of vain, foolish Sir Walter who was persuaded to give-up her first love Captain Wentworth because he faced an uncertain future in the Royal Navy.
Turns out Captain Wentworth prospers and the advice of Anne’s godmother Lady Russell proved disastrous for Miss Elliot. Anne has lost her bloom, she is at the beck and call of her vexatious family and, despite intelligence and kindness, she sees no hope for romance and marriage. This being Jane Austen, Anne proves her mettle and wins her captain. But, in the words of Cupid Stunt, ‘I’m telling you the plot’.
What I like about Jane Austen’s world is that the pursuit of love and marriage is paramount. A character is dealt a hand and plays it as best he or she can. But careers very rarely furrow the brow of a Jane Austen heroine. Perhaps this is why I devour Nancy Mitford, E. M. Forster, E. F. Benson and royal biographies. Catherine de Medici, the Empress Frederick and Queen Mary may have had troubles by the score but the next pay cheque was never one of them.
Writing has always been something of a vocation but I have come to the conclusion that it would have been an awful lot more amusing an occupation if I didn’t have to commit it on a daily basis to earn a crust. I’ve always said that, without work, I would feel much diminished. This is not entirely true. A day not writing is a day wasted. But the daily grind of having to write to pay bills has proved most stress-making and has added many a wrinkle to the brow.
I’ve never had much interest in science fiction because the future has consistently proven more grim than in the imaginations of any author or film maker. The horrors of Metropolis are here but in a much more devious, sinister form than the drama of Weimer Berlin. So forgive me if I look back with languor rather than forward with cock-eyed optimism. The past is myself.