Several Miles Out From Real Life

WHEN I was young it was the fashion for English judges to live in a world of their own. The courts of law were almost exclusively presided over by old gentlemen who had never heard of rock-and-roll or Elvis Presley, had never heard such expressions as being ``with it'' or the ``in thing.'' Barristers were constantly explaining the who and what and wherefore to these bewigged, red-robed dispensers of justice, none of whom, it would appear, had read a newspaper for decades, or indeed talked to anyone who had. Dwelling in some legal cloud-cuckoo land, they often confounded the general public by professing ignorance of such things as discoth`eques or even, in extreme cases, asking who Mickey Mouse was.

No doubt modern judges are just as remote from the contemporary scene as their predecessors, still looking over the tops of their steel-rimmed specs and saying to the counsel for prosecution ``And pray, Mr. Protheroe, what is a transistor?'' This is quite likely because a sort of blissful simple-mindedness seems to be part and parcel of the job; in fact, it is very hard, sometimes, not to suspect that the old boys are putting it on.

The people who are not putting it on, however, and have joined the judges in being several miles removed from life as it is lived by their fellow men, are that strange band of intellectuals who never watch the television if they can ``help it.'' They prefer, they say, to read good books out loud to each other. Fair enough. Good books are delightful things and it is futile to try and produce an argument against reading them.

However, society is very hard on these book lovers, since nowadays there are few conversations with anybody anywhere which do not have their source in a television program. If you watch telly a lot, as 95 percent of us do, you hardly have time to have an original thought in your head: You simply repeat bits of what you have heard on the box and other people answer you with the bits they have heard.

It makes for very lively and intelligent conversation, particularly on serious topics such as politics, economics, religion, and science, everybody sounding exactly like Mrs. Thatcher and President Bush and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Of course book lovers can hold their own in discussions about the police and the unions and violence and women for the priesthood because, after all, they often read the news headlines on their way to the arts pages.

It is when conversations turn to lighter matters that they are bamboozled into complete silence. So many TV programs, chat shows, comedies, and quizzes have crept into our homes that their protagonists, with their familiar catch phrases and jokes, have become part of our lives, and we quote them all the time.

We worry about the characters in the serials, we argue about the thrillers, and the soap operas are deeply embedded in our schedules. To be with people who have only just heard of ``Dallas'' is like conversing with Martians. It is true that we have all, on occasions, spent uncomfortable hours with specialists, not one word of whose lingo we have understood, but one feels it is pardonable for the layman to falter, conversationwise, with nuclear physicists or stamp collectors or experts on fossils.

Television has become so much a part of the world's mores is it not arrogant to live in complete ignorance of its components? Unfamiliarity with TV certainly makes for rotten dinner guests.

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