Stories from the Hill 8: Friends
C.S. Lewis in “The Great Divorce” (1946) employs his inimitable allegorical style to describe his main character’s bus journey from a joyless grey town in Purgatory to Heaven. I won’t spoil things by telling you the ending, but it is well worth reading.
My vision of Hell is somewhat different. More turn of the century than the forties. The location would be a windowless, low-ceilling, dank basement containing absolutely nothing other than a large TV and Dolby 5.1 surround sound that cannot be switched off. The Sky channel is locked and cannot be changed and it is broadcasting the entire 10 seasons of “Friends” 24/7 without any breaks, episode by episode, for ever and ever. Don’t get me wrong, I love American humour. I was brought up on Sgt. Bilko, Bob Hope and Bob Newhart. If you’ve never heard “Introducing tobacco to civilisation” look it up on YouTube. I also liked the sit-com “Cheers.” and still wonder at times why we don’t have pubs these days “where everyone knows your name?” The thing, however, that really grates on me about “Friends,” – apart from the lack of humour – is the canned laughter every 7 or 8 seconds. I have never watched a complete episode all the way through, but whenever my children had it on, I would occasionally pop in for something and I would be there transfixed; just waiting for and counting down to the audience metronome-like response. Mark you, I remember a pupil in class once confessing that the programme was a place of refuge from his family turmoil. He must have had it been bad!
“Friends,” ran in America from 1994 – 2004 and is probably one of the last series made where the principal characters are not continually on their smart phones or distracted by other mobile screens and devices. It is very difficult these days to escape social media. I want to use the word “ubiquitous” but I am not sure how to. Like many, I am somewhat ambivalent about Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. I use all three daily (2 hours screen time!!!) – mainly to promote my video production company but also to get back in touch with old friends – at least on line. But it is not the same as “Cheers” or “Friends.” You’ve got to meet with old friends in the flesh to be fully reunited.
I know that Nanci is making good use of social media to reconnect alumni with each other and the school. Do you remember “Friends Reunited?” Whatever happened to that social media company? I quite liked the concept of looking up old mates via your named school or university. It would have worked really well for KHS.
We are increasingly becoming more aware of the down, and even dark side of social media. I am about to explore this phenomenon over the coming months as I embark on Shoshana Zuboff’s “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2019).” The book recently featured on Andrew Marr’s “Start the Week” (BBC Radio 4). It was compared to Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” (1776). I fear that as I work my way through the 500 plus pages, I am going to be “friggin, freaked out.” I thought algorithms were something we did in Maths at school all those years ago.
Back to friendships. The video embedded in this 8th blog features Jonathan Nunes – Carvalho (Plymouth and Norwich 1976-82). He was at the school during my brief time on the hill. I am certainly reaching some dizzy heights with this video project. First it was the whispering gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral with Mike Tadman, and now the 39th floor of the Leadenhall Building (or the “Cheese Grater” as it is affectionately known) where Jonathan works. The views were amazing even with the grey December skies.
The interview is a guided tour down memory lane and I am indebted to Jonathan for bringing along some of his old school photographs, 35mm slides and an the 1981 edition of the school magazine, which he illustrated. I love Jonathan’s dry and under-stated humour and his mimicry – as well as the candour and sensitivity with which he communicates. There is nothing better from a film makers perspective, than for someone to unleash some unexpected raw emotion and tears. It usually occurs, as it did here in the City, when discussing a bereavement of an old friend or family member. It is gold dust for a film maker.
Jonathan recalls an early school friendship with a boy in Plymouth, who died from HIV/AIDs not a long time after leaving Kingham. It was incredibly moving and caused me to reflect on my own attitudes towards gay pupils that I have taught down the years. It wasn’t an easy tightrope to walk for a Christian RE teacher like me. Under clause 28 of the 1986 Education Act, we teachers were banned from promoting homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. Fast forward to well before I handed my chalk back; I found myself in danger of losing my job every time I challenged or discussed the conventional wisdom as it pertains to homosexuality in my classroom.
In my last chapel address at Truro School, I asked the question, “Were we all wrong then (in the 1980s) and right now in our attitudes, or are we wrong now and were right then?” Put another way, are we living in times were our morals are advanced (progressive) or are the morals of our society degenerate? I often wonder what Jesus would have said if he was physically with us today. My guess is that his view would not be that markedly that different from the one he demonstrated when he confronted by the Jewish religious leaders and the woman who had just been caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). I often ask myself whether I have always got the balance right between hating the sin and loving the sinner, to use the old cliche. However, of one thing I am pretty sure, Jesus would not have concurred with a view recently expressed, that there is reserved in hell a special place for those who promoted a no-plan Brexit.
Enjoy Jonathan’s video and be sure to re-connect with you old friends from the Hill.
“Amazing what a skilful film maker can do to the rambling recollections of a Kingham Hill old boy. From what I gather I think the film may have had a few viewings already. 😳 So now I am going in to hiding, till June at least!”
Jonathan Nunes – Carvalho
Next video: STORIES FROM THE HILL 9: THE CENTENARIAN