Friday, 10 August 2012

A Thirst For Knowledge

From Waterloo, lets have a chug down the line to Clapham Junction.  I've been watching the 1968 film 'Up the Junction' which is available on You Tube.  I don't think that I have ever seen this film before but I was interested to see it, what with the railway reference and it being the inspiration behind a song by one of my favourite lyricists - Squeeze's Chris Difford.  I also presume that the content of the film had some influence over the Pulp anthem 'Common People', Jarvis Cocker being another fine example of a lyricist who can spin a good story during the course of a short pop song.  In fact, listen to their sublime album 'Different Class' and you can hear shades of 'Up the Junction' spun throughout it.

The film has a lot to recommend it:  starring roles from 1980s TV favourites Dennis Waterman and Maureen Lipman; images of 1960s Southern Region suburban stock; and a view of the now sterile Battersea Power Station puthering smoke from its iconic chimneys.  The story focuses on Polly, a posh girl from over the river who wants to live like common people, to borrow one of Jarvis' phrases.  For some reason, that we are not really given any insight into, she's unhappy being a member of the monied classes.  She thinks that that they are not "real."  So, she gets a job packing lollies in Battersea, makes some new friends, rents a hovel of a flat and gets mixed up with local boy Pete.  Polly is given a dose of reality alright - she helps one of her new friends through a back street abortion, witnesses a fatal motorbike collision, gets a taste of domestic violence as street entertainment and experiences the daily grind of life in a factory with some rather rowdy work colleagues.

While watching on You Tube, I had a scroll down to some of the comments.  I don't always like reading internet comments because it can temporarily destroy my faith in human nature.  The comments under this film were no exception. The first comment was a mini polemic about how the film showed how wonderful London used to be before modern life took hold. Really?  It seems that if some people had their way then we would return to a life that may have some nice imagery for us to look back on, but in reality was nasty, brutish and short for most of us.   Oh yes, I thought,  do lets go back to marrying the first person that you like the look of, then finding out that they're abusive and you can't afford to divorce them so you're stuck with them.  Lets go back to marriage being almost compulsory, such were the pressures of society.  And please please let's go back to a lack of sex education/female empowerment leading to pregnancy leading to an illegal abortion and nearly dying in agony. Sounds marvellous.  Of course, that old chestnut immigration came up on the You Tube comments - as it always seems to.  Apparently immigrants have changed everything that was good in London.  So, it transpires, we need to send everyone back from whence they came. As anyone with a passing interest in history would realise, if we followed that idea to the letter then we would be left with, ooh, a bloke on a Welsh mountain somewhere.  I'd have to move back to Hanover I think.  Now, I like their nice reliable cars, but I can't speak much German.  It could be tricky.

Any road up.  These comments, in a way, support the overall message of the film.  And that is simply the old saying that the grass always seems greener on the other side. But in reality, life is never without its problems. These internet trolls are harking back to an imagined world which they never knew and in doing so are missing the point of the film completely.  Polly is the embodiment of the greener grass seeker by physically crossing the Thames and trying to work for her living, using only her factory wages instead of Daddy's money.  But in the end, it's not much fun. The most telling scene is when she shows her new friends her flat, which she has furnished from a second hand shop.  They can barely contain their disgust and amusement as they tell her that their mother threw stuff like that out.  Their mother replaced it with modern furniture on the never-never and they tell Polly where she might find some.  They all want what Polly can so easily have, and they can't understand whey she doesn't want it.  Meanwhile, Pete's attempts to lead a richer life land him in prison.  He tells Polly the reason why everyone with no money do the football pools.  Money appears to be the answer to all their troubles, yet she thinks that it is the cause of all hers.

This is proof that our aspirations have always been thus.  It is a lesson in human nature, the reason why poor people spend their last pound on a lottery ticket, while rich people furnish their houses in the "shabby chic farm labourers cottage" style.  Personally, I watched 'Up the Junction' and came away quite satisfied with my 21st Century lifestyle...though if I could just pay off the mortgage I'd be able to watch more old films...


  1. Great stuff. I've not seen this film before but did buy it on DVD for my other half a few years ago; frustratingly, she's not got round to watching it yet so it's still sitting there on the shelf taunting me from within the confines of its shrinkwrap!

    It is amazingly frustrating discovering how breathtakingly ignorant some people are when you delve into the world of the internet comment (not this one hopefully). And as you say, there's a lot of intoerance and delusion out there. The grass is definitely not always going to be greener on the other side. In reality we're so lucky to be living at this exact point in history. I really wouldn't have fared well in the past!

    1. Oh it can be soul destroying reading those comments. I work for an anti-poverty organisation and I have to write the newsletter. This involves researching current stories and finding out what people are saying about them...sometimes I just sit with my head in my hands wondering where on earth we are going. Everything is always somebody else's fault. I think that a lot of us just don't realise how lucky we are.

      PS you can always watch this film on You Tube, the quality's not bad. Look out for Arthur from On The Buses too!

  2. Much as I hate to generalise, people are morons, aren't they?

    Oh of course, You Tube! You'd mentioned it in the original post too! (I may be one of those morons.)

  3. The original Nell Dunn is if anything bleaker than the film. I would recommend it to you though!