Vague ramblings

The Lost Princess

Posted in Fiction, Musing, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 27 January, 2015

I wrote this a while back. I’m not quite sure why I feel it appropriate to post it today, save a line a few paragraphs in. But it feels right, so here it is.

 

The Lost Princess

by

Ian Cundell

She was burned into my mind when I was eleven years old.

Almost alone among the countless images that must have passed before me back then, hers would return often and unexpected in the following years. The waif-like girl standing outside a lighthouse, framed by a gloomy sky and infused with an overpowering sense of loss,

I could never quite grasp why this image kept flashing back to me, could see no pattern. It reached the stage where I doubted that it was real, assuming my memory was playing tricks. As I learned that not everybody will remember things in the same way as me, I began to think that the waif-like girl and the lighthouse may have been constructed out of bits of other memories.

Also, of course, other images before and since have stuck around: the opening credits of World At War still chill my blood. They can flash me back directly to a living room and Dad telling me and my brother to stop talking and hope that it never happens again as an episode starts titled, simply enough, ‘Genocide’.

In its own way, so way does the poppy-soaked final frame of Blackadder Goes Forth. Nigel Lawson had resigned, we realised the news would over-run, so left early from the pub because the video timer would be out. How will they get out of that? Come on how? How will they…

Oh.

There are moments that will always stop the heart when you see them again: During Band Aid the Cars song Drive is played over a montage of African poverty, bizarre and a little inappropriate until “who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream?”. The baby screams and the room full of garrulous students falls silent.

And drunken revellers, finally home and watching the late election results come in, marking the end of a generation and a look on Michael Portillo’s face that remains a study in the pain of defeat.

These are images that keep their power when you see them again.

But the waif-like girl by the lighthouse was never seen again. I didn’t know that. It never occurred to me that the flash of memory felt unreal because it was getting more distant and that this was because it had been locked away.

Then came the Internet Movie Database and a lazy, rainy afternoon poking around, following random links. A half a dozen or so posters asking about the waif-like girl, about the lighthouse, why she can’t be seen. But more. Where is the bearded hunchback, where are the soldiers, where is the story that left us dumbstruck and then haunted?

But it can’t be found: the author, it is said, will not permit its release or perhaps the rights holders and the broadcasters can’t or won’t sort out the details. Nobody is quite certain. If you make a special appointment at the British Film Institute they might let you watch it, but the lost gem will remain, essentially, lost. Concealed.

And then there is a link. A download, most definitely not official, passed around like a secret message. The quality is awful, a digital conversion of a conversion of another conversion from one tape to another. One scene is missing, probably cut by a foreign broadcaster.

But not that scene. Not the scene.

It was burned into my mind when I was eleven years old and had popped up unbidden many times since.

I know now that it stuck with me because it was the best piece of story-telling I had ever seen, that it had become, in its quiet persistence, the standard against which all other stories are measured. If it can’t stay with me for a lifetime, it is an also-ran.

When the shaky and washed-out video plays, it is like a restored Great Master; details lost to time are revealed. The waif-like girl walking from the lighthouse, tears flowing, clutching a portrait of herself, as The Snow Goose circles over head before flying away.

It carries with it the soul of the lost hero, the lost love, the lost artist.

 

(c) Ian Cundell, 2014. All rights reserved

A question of bullying

Posted in Musing by Ian Cundell on 2 May, 2013

One of the more unfortunate aspects of the charges of a bullying culture at the BBC is the manner in which the debate has ended up being about the BBC, rather than about bullying – and workplace bullying in particular.

There is no excusing the BBC’s miserable failure to lead by example, but let us be clear: anyone who has worked in a creative industry knows all about bullying. In an industry popping with monstrously huge egos it is all but unavoidable, since the egotistical are rarely wilting violets. In fact it isn’t just the creative industries. All of the so-called ‘people’ businesses are in the frame, as countless sexual harassment claims in the City suggest. These people businesses, by the way, are the service industries that make up nearly 80% of our economy. Think about the scale of that.

Just as the shocked reaction to the Jimmy Savile scandal led to much BBC navel-gazing, the facts as they have emerged point to a much wider cultural problem through much of the 1960s and, especially the 1970s. Does anybody seriously think that the culture at the ITV companies, at the huge advertising agencies, radio stations and film studios was materially different? And then there was the music business…

Anywhere that one person holds significant sway over the future of another (often men over women, but far from always) is a place where a bullying culture can fester and grow. When that sway can be wielded behind closed doors, without the victim ever knowing then it is cancerous.

From the unpaid intern at a very large advertising agency having her work stolen by a partner for their own portfolio, to the PR girl being expected to “take one for the team” to keep some sexually frustrated talent happy; from being used as a political football by warring department heads, to nurses being used by doctors and managers as human shields for their own failures, bullying is both rife and hiding in plain sight.

Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall are the outliers, the grotesque extremes. The mundane reality is everyday and all the time, wearing many cloaks.

And that is what needs fixing.

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