Last weekend, I made a Pre-Christmas top-up visit to Aged P's, with food and presents. My parents were in reasonable nick considering their age and relative states of physical health - Dad not too bad, Mum not too good, but hanging on in there. There is often an air of philosophical resignation around them, that is I suppose one way of responding to a deteriorating quality of life, about which you can do very little. So far they are both still blessed with mental alertness and engagement with their lives. I don't particularly relish in the future seeing their minds degenerating. It pains me enough to see, my Mother in particular, struggling with her physical symptoms, and increasing dependence on my Father and Sister, for support in so many ways. But then that's impermanence and mortality for you - they miss no one out. There isn't much I can do of a practical nature on a day to day basis,as I live so far away. This year I have visited them more frequently, every couple of months, and have helped out with some re-decorating in their bedroom in the Summer. I do what I can, but it hardly feels enough.
Visiting ones family home can be a mixed experience. That ever so common sense of regressing to a pseudo-pubescent status - like adulthood never happened - is only one aspect. The main thing I noticed this time, was how I completely subdue my own tastes and preferences to those of my parents, particularly with regard to TV programmes. Plus there's the curious parental behaviour, with no doubt its own rational, like the fact that my Mother turns the sound off whenever the Adverts come on, the purpose of which I've never quite understood. Talk about having to overcome my likes and dislikes, when my weekend TV diet largely consisted of Strictly Come Dancing, with all its numerous spin off programmes, X Factor, Coronation St, Gardeners World and Casualty. Its all challenging stuff I can tell you. As I'd never usually seek out any of these programmes on I-Player, it was all something of a discomforting revelation. My Oh My, how they take it, and themselves, so seriously, with huge dollops of sickly melodrama, hyped up emotions, tears and tetchiness from the performers. Whilst 'Bruno the Bellicose' and 'Arlene the Aardvark', utter self-important pronouncements, with a staggering lack of eloquence or perceptiveness. They're loud, and they're proud, from out of their mouths spews a never ending stream of witless comments. No one appears to have thought to send themselves, or the programme up, a little self-deprecation would not hurt the ratings. I've rarely seen so much High Camp slavered over something of so little consequence. John Sargent got out before he was ritually slaughtered by the sequins or the stilettos.
X Factor would appear to have got to its semi-finals without finding anyone with an ounce of distinctive talent to remark on. Surely some achievement. This week it was down to - a warbly voiced blond whose hair and larynx looked, and sounded, like they'd been chewed on by a dog- another female singer who was already being dubbed the British answer to Beyonce (not a claim I'd want to avidly clutch to my bosom with pride I'm afraid) - a sixteen year old Irish boy, who looked too young to be let out unchaperoned without a maiden aunt ( I couldn't decide whether he was freshly out of Cute School, or was so annoying he required a good slap - I think I settled on the latter) -finally there was the ubiquitous bland boy band, pretty much like every one you've ever had the misfortune to see and hear, except these were dressed in a tastefully designed combination of browns and grays - some with and some without hats. The lead singer of the latter, in one of those cringe inducing pre-performance interviews, cried to camera about how he didn't know what he'd do with his life if he didn't win X Factor - do something else I expect. It was all so manipulative of the soft squidgy hearts of young teenage girls 'n' gays to save him from eternal damnation by phoning in your vote - his life depends on it for gods sake!.
When the dishevelled blond maiden became distressed during her final farewell song, after being thrown off at the programmes end, there seemingly wasn't a dry eye left in the entire country - tears or sorrow and tears of joy. The remaining contestants turned hysterically distraught at the news that the petrified blondie had to go, and sobbed loudly - why? - as if the woman had been playing Joan of Arc and no one had told them it would all end in a raging bonfire. Well, kiddies, its a knockout competition and what happens in them is that someone gets knocked out. I will successfully predict two more of you will have exactly the same experience before the year is out. Whoever wins will top the music charts within days (not a huge achievement these days, as more people bet on greyhounds than buy Christmas Number One's ) - an unremarkable career then awaits them in the spectacularly full glare of publicity. What an extraordinarily strange and shallow world we live in.