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Letter to America: Scythe à Go-Go On:2023-03-07 05:10:29

My Dear Americans,
    Memory is a funny old kettle of terrapins, and as you get older it gets funnier. You mayn't remember what happened last Tuesday, or even why you just went into the kitchen, but thirty, forty years ago... well...

Picture the scene, it's back in the day getting towards the end of the last millennium and I'm in the studio having just recorded my broadcast to real reel-to-reel tape; with actual physical sliders on the board and for some strange and obscure reason, a colour television in the corner switched on to the Weather Channel with the sound off.
Waiting for my piece to air, half listening to the music that was proceeding it I happened to notice, along with all the rather Monti-Pythonesque advertisements for tree transplants and the like which ran along the bottom of the screen, that there actually was a real advertisement, just like ones one used to get on normal television. Anyway this real advert started off with a scene of a man scything clumsily at some long grass, we’ll call this (the scythe man) “man A.” Man A was then passed by another man, “man B,” who was wielding or rather wheeling a mechanical scythe, a sort of Thing with wheels and knives. [Very quietly the music starts]¹ It was red, and it went churning along, chomping the grass like there was going to be no tomorrow. And then, all of a sudden man B left the garden for the woods, and started chomping down dense undergrowth and small trees.

It so happened that at that very moment, the station was playing Sir Arthur Bliss’s score to the science fiction classic "Things To Come", which is a very dramatic piece of music. And so with no sound from the screen, and this grand sinister music playing, man B with his mechanical scythe took on the aspect of a mechanical Grim Reaper who would go on, after the advertisement had finished, through his forest, cutting down progressively bigger and bigger trees, and then on and on and into people, hacking them down,: into cities, whole universes, all falling before his mechanical maniacal machine. All the time Robert Oppenheimerically crying 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds'.
[Abrupt end of music]
But let me get back to man A, the guy with the non-mechanical scythe, he’s the one who really got to me, because this man obviously did not know one end of a scythe from the other, which is why, the next week, he was going to be in all the Band-Aid commercials. Man A was barely using the thing. He was sort of tentatively waving it about in front of the grass, hoping that the fear of the thing would itself cause the terrified plants to fall over and break their stalks. Now, I have actually seen real men using real scythes. Really! And I can assure you that they are much better than the mechanical scythe. Much, much, much better than the guy who was "pseudo-scything." You see scything is one of those wonderful, rhythmic, gentle, elegant human activities which we are losing from the world.

Scything makes most professional ballet look like heavy-weight wrestling. Scything is elegance itself: it is suavity, and even as I speak, it's beauty is being lost and my memory wanders even further back to the Landsdowne Pub, just off of Primrose Hill, in Chalk Farm, in London. This pub was renowned for its exotic dancers. Now it wasn't a club or anything like that, it was just an ordinary pub where anybody over the age of eighteen, or whatever the drinking age was then, could go and be, if that's the right word, regaled. I remember how this place changed over time. It started off with amateur exotic dancers. They would dance on top of an old grand piano, a Broadwood of about 1884, with the most beautiful figured maple case. Now, I must make a confession, I have sinned. I have lusted, lusted after that piano, it was, if the truth were known, actually the only thing I ever did lust after in the whole bloody pub. But alas! It went and the entertainment progressed, if that's the right word, from those romantic beginnings to a far different, strangely-lit, disc-jockeyed establishment, and the dancers went from amateurs to professionals. And I can assure you from personal experience that exotic dancing is one of the few trades that is better performed by amateurs than professionals, the professionals are far too mechanical, but I am prepared to bet that even that will not be better when performed by a mechanical scythe.
Kindest regards,
Richard Howland-Bolton
and, of course,
Cheerio for now
from me!


1 Things to Come: Attack on the Moon Gun (now, there's a title you don't see every day!)

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