Blogging a dead horse

Is a barrel of naked monkeys more fun than a barrel of hairy ones?

A WET SUNDAY AFTERNOON

Lawrence Gray ponders the similarities between modern Malaysia and 1950's Britain when Sundays were closed, the Telly was bad, and a social revolution was just around the corner.



A wet Sunday in London


I have just spent a few days in Muar, a town in the west of Johor. In spite of the perpetual 33 degrees of humid heat, and the fact that it was not raining despite the Malaysian weather forecast, it reminded me of provincial England circa 1960 on a wet Sunday afternoon, with everything closed. Although the town attempted to entertain desperate young families with a few fairy lights and a Ramadan market flogging cheap T-shirts, phone accessories, and fly blown boxes of Ramadan biscuits, it was nevertheless resolutely drab and dreary.

There are many such moments in the sunny sauna of Malaysia that throw my mind back to grimy coal fired English days when whistling on a Sunday could get you reported to the police. The Malay equivalent was a recent government inquiry into the legality of a book of interviews of Muslim women who do not cover their hair. And if one dares to delve into Malay TV, despite the preponderance of beards and tudungs, one recognises that often one is among the Malay equivalent of bad Sunday afternoon 1950’s British telly.

Before the UK became groovy, Sunday afternoon’s schedule of old pre-war movies gave way, circa teatime, to the deadly earnest. Over one’s beans on toast and Typhoo Tea we were solemnly presented with a very cheap series of shows featuring religious authorities, from Methodist Ban The Bombers to Hang ‘em High Church of England Bishops, discussing moral issues nobody knew existed. Blasphemy could get you hauled up before the courts, until they realised that half the Churches and Chapels of England thought the other half beyond the pale. And somewhere in all this, ex-communist, ex-British spy, ex-humourist, newly Christianised, Malcolm Muggeridge would preside, followed by some oily character with a soft voice and a harmonium, who would present a congregation of old ladies in hats groaning their way through
All Things Bright and Beautiful. Then it would be a dose of the all white, Black and White Minstrels strumming Way Down Upon Di Swanny River, and off to bed. In these righteous times, political correctness did not exist.

As some tone deaf Muezzin calls, I am reminded of a cacophony of Sunday morning bells and my youthful shuddering when entering a chilly room at the back of the local church for “Sunday School.” There gawky unnaturally selected prelates with bony adams-apples, oozed aftershave and brylcreem as their nicotine stained thumbs thumbed through the mangy pages of “The New Testament For Children”, pointing out miracles of healing, satisfaction with widow’s mites, and tantrum inducing Sabbath trading, so that we might be sufficiently Christian to get into heaven. I never trusted young men with la-di-daa voices who liked to sit young boys on their knees, and so when opportunity prevailed, I would slip away to spend my collection money on a sherbet dip at the newsagent. There I would wait out the rest of the religious teachings, pondering the headlines of the
News of World and The People. Some government minister was always being caught naked in a Brighton Sex Party, some baroness would be caught bestride a gamekeeper wearing nothing but her pearls, and a council estate’s Christmas Savings Club was always surreptitiously ending up paying for a middle-aged Scoutmasters three-way romp with a couple of Wimpy Bar waitresses. Shame shame shame, the headlines would salaciously whine. Wistfully I would turn to Dan Dare and contemplate the joys of leaving the planet to encounter green men, and now and then girls who were good sports.

4


I imagine that somewhere in Malaysia a po-faced imam is trying to ingratiate himself with a bunch of baggy clothed boys with stories of Mullah Nasruddin before delving into the mysteries of Koranic Arabic. A mere few hundred words and you know half the vocabulary, he says. And at least one of those boys sneaks out the back door to pass their time hidden in some dark corner sweatily swiping their cracked second hand iPhone screens. There he gleans the gist of stories about dodgy datuks, Russian brides and Sultans, exploding Mongolian models, sodomite politicians, rooms full of designer handbags full of cash, trials of ex-pms, embezzled billions and parties on luxury yachts. And he wonders why the most excitement he has is as passenger on his brother’s motorbike, seeing how long he dare drag his leg letting the back of his flip flops slap on the ground before they get ripped off by a pot hole in the road.

The righteous of Britain used to get their jollies hurling bricks at felons locked in the stocks, a good public hanging, or better still a witch burning. With the devil hiding behind every good deed, let alone the bad ones, one’s adrenalin could rush by just looking at a pair of underpants in the wrong way. All I had to do to bring shame upon my family was to ride my bicycle on Sunday, and “run wild like some little heathen!” The greatest shame was always the shame that one supposedly brought upon others. I could never see why riding my bike was ok one day, and not on another.

Slowly those dreary suburbs began to harbour hope. Hire purchase made it easy for people to have a car. A Sunday Drive to the Seaside, gave one access to amusement arcades and fairgrounds that flouted all Sunday Trading laws, not to mention moral ambiguities regarding gambling. Cinemas slowly began opening for a Sunday Matinee. When young people began to have a bit of money to spend and the weekend was the only free time to spend it, the deadly Sabbath opened up. The rich realised they got richer by giving their servants something to work for!

When the post-Second World War generation were old enough to vote, things really got into gear. London, if nowhere else, became swinging. A new literate bunch of working people, began to realise that everything the authorities told them was propaganda. Despite the warnings of Malcolm Muggeridge, or even because of them, the rot set in. Soon we had The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Not that the likes of Mary Whitehouse, a blue rinsed, owlishly bespectacled, self-appointed guardian of Britain’s morals, did not persist in their campaigns for Christian virtues, respect for authority, and very dull Sundays, but she was seen as a part of a ridiculous grey world where corruption hid behind supposed respectability.

Even so, the Dreary Sunday Syndrome would have lingered if the economy had not picked up. Nobody much cares about people without money to spend. And there is nothing better to keep poor people in their place than by putting the fear of God, or at least his representatives, into them by giving them sermons on the evils of the devil’s music and short skirts. It’s a lot easier than creating well paying jobs and spreading the wealth. And after all, once you start letting the lower orders with their cheap haircuts, Marks and Spencer’s jumpers, and unpolished shoes join in the party, they increase the volume of the music and make it all seem so tawdry. I doubt there’s any chance of that happening in Malaysia. The tourist board could promote Malaysia to British tourists as a trip back into the fifties. With Brexit etc. there seems some sort of nostalgia for those good old days.

KL in the mist