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28 Aug 2008

Basil Brush Goes Organic, boom! boom!

Part of being on holiday with my kids meant a small but fascinating exposure to children’s TV. At this point in time, given that we now officially have 100 months to save the planet, children’s TV really ought to be advocating low-carbon living, the Great Reskilling, healthy eating, empowerment, conflict resolution skills and so on. It’s not of course. It offered a fascinating insight into the double messages that young people are being given, feeding the contradictory, confused outlook so many of them have. The day was saved, well sort of anyway, by Basil Brush, recently relaunched and back from his wilderness years after being so popular when I was a kid (boom boom).

The first programme I saw which I can’t remember the name of featured a presenter asking a child if he liked vegetables. “Yuk” said the child. “Yes”, replied the presenter, “if we we were meant to eat vegetables, they wouldn’t be the same colour as the bogies in our nose!”, or something to that effect. Very helpful.

Another programme, called ‘Beat The Boss’, featured a round where three children had to throw darts at a large board with a picture of a cake in the middle and vegetables around the edge, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and so on. They had to throw darts and eat whatever they hit, in order to progress to the next round. Needless to say, they all ended up with the vegetables, not lightly steamed with a nob of butter and a pinch of pepper, rather boiled to death and served up cold.

Needless to say, there was lots of gagging and pale sweaty children, one kid was nearly sick, and failed to proceed to the next round (presumably ‘Torch the Strawbale House’, ‘Kick the Greenie’ or ‘Let Down the Cyclists’ Tyres’) because his body simply couldn’t cope with eating a vegetable. Three minutes of television that probably traumatised an entire generation of the few childen left who still eat vegetables, to such an extent that they will likewise turn pale and get the shakes when they sense a vegetable within three metres.

One thing I only saw a couple of bits of which was rather good was called Evacution …. where 12 children from inner city estates go to live deep in the English countryside, to live, learn and work like children did during the evacuations in the 1940s. It was very well done, and if anyone out there needed a shocking insight into the extent of the Great Reskilling required, here it was. The girls proved much more adaptable, but the boys really struggled. Again food was a challenge, for many of them the difference between a pig and a cow was puzzling, and most vegetables unrecognisable.

The flag for the organic revolution was flown most vigorously however, in an odd kind of way, by Basil Brush, the fox whose jokebook really ought to have been burnt at birth. The story was very odd. It went something like this… Basil was in his local cafe, where he had been subsisting on a diet of junk food, due to which his bad breath and belching had become so bad that his friends decided something had to be done.

One suggested a friend of hers had gone on a diet of Mongolian yak milk, which had helped them greatly with a similar affliction, and also that he should eat organic fresh food instead. Turns out, the two girls have started their own organic garden, which Basil goes round to see. They have made a wonderful urban back garden raised bed garden, growing all sorts of veg, and Basil is highly impressed.

This unfortunately gets back to the owner of the cafe, who finds all his customers abandoning his junk food for healthier food, so he talks to Basil’s dodgy brother who sells him some knock-off radioactive waste, which he sneaks round and pours all over their raised beds. In the morning they wake up to a garden of HUGE vegetables, which rather than putting them off, gives them the idea that organic gardening is astonishingly productive, and that they should go commercial.

They duly set up an organic wholefood business and become vastly rich, the cafe owner decides to start doing organic and healthy food, and all is going well until the side-effects of the radioactive waste begin to manifest, and all the cafe’s customer’s begin to grow beards and long curly hair (presumably James Lovelock would argue that these would not be the effects were his offer to have nuclear waste buried in his garden to be actually be taken up). Anyway, from that point on it all went a bit odd, ending up with them having made £7 million from their organics business, when the Mongolian milkman calls with his bill for 3 months’ supply of yak milk which comes to, yes, £7 million. End of fortune.

So, being a young person sat in front of that lot what view of the world might one generate? Presumably that organic food is for other people, a way to get rich, but heaven forbid you might have to eat any of those horrid vegetables yourself. My admittedly limited exposure left me with two mental pictures, one of a table surrounded by children gagging on food that 20 years ago would have been a daily staple, and the other of Basil Brush and his friends standing in the organic, raised bed garden which the two girls who created it were so proudly showing them. The garden was presented as something that other friends were also doing, as something ‘cool’, as something they were really excited about. It wasn’t much, but in the ocean of contradictory, vacuous drivel out there, it was, for me at least, a poignant moment.

Categories: Food, Great Reskilling

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10 Comments

Kamil Pachalko
28 Aug 1:59pm

I’ve not watched TV for a few years now and how better and wiser I feel
I hope that more people will be selective what they watch on TV or just throw their TV’s out after reading your blog:)

Martin
28 Aug 7:37pm

99% is crap but hurrah for the Simpsons!

Corinne
28 Aug 11:21pm

Absolutely brilliant, Rob. Now I see the redeeming feature of these shows: it gives you rich material for another hilarious post!

Timothy Dube
29 Aug 4:18am

I was thrilled when I read an advertisement about transitionculture.org promoting the sites focus on the positive aspects of the current Global situation instead of the DOOM & GLOOM that so many people preach-

and then the first article I read, by you, references 100 months to go, which is ALL DOOM & GLOOM –

This disappointed me.

ROG
29 Aug 4:22am

It’s not what’s on TV that sends the message, it’s the very act of watching. TV says 1) you humans have ‘spare’ time – billions of hours of it. 2) Don’t bother thinking of anything to do with it – just sit and watch this. 3) And don’t let anyone tell you it’s addictive. Just look around – everyone does it, so it can’t be.

I did’t learn this from reading Marshall McLuhan (‘the medium is the message’), but from watching that wonderful TV series of my childhood, ‘Why Don’t You…?’ Perhaps you remember it. The theme song went:’Why don’t you just switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead? Sitting at home, watching TV, turn it off, it’s no good to me!’ We loved it. We could have watched it for hours. Oh, sorry – we did watch it, every single morning of the school holidays.

Even then the irony was stark.

Clay Shirky’s take on this is essential reading for everyone who still has a TV. What we do with our collective ‘cognitive surplus’, currently used up by watching TV, determines the shape of future society.

Julie
30 Aug 9:11am

Nice to hear that organic gardening is getting a plug on TV… I used to watch Basil Brush when I was a kid. Even his name is a herb 🙂
Don’t think it’s on in Australia any more though – or maybe I just don’t know ’cause I spend so much time in my own organic vegetable garden.

luca pellarini
3 Sep 2:51pm

HI Rob ,so i can see by some of the post above that must be some “political” misunderstanding.. going on between Transition Movement and NEF among others…i hope not,it wouldn’t be the right moment..

Rob
3 Sep 2:56pm

Hi Luca,
No not at all, we have been involved with various things with NEF, they are great… not sure how you have read that into the article above?
Rob

luca pellarini
3 Sep 3:09pm

And also.. i’ve read your article and being the maker of a permaculture veg.garden projecting a farm on permaculture, here in Tuscany…i can say that my daughter of 2 and half year is enthusiastic to eat anything we plant togheter in the veg.garden ,but of course this is not the reality of the majiority of cildren, also here in italy.
big hug
luca

luca pellarini
3 Sep 3:22pm

Well i’ve read the articles of A.Simms on Guardian 1 Sept. where is asking for new ideas on the matter ,and there where not mention at all of yours reality. That astonished me quite and i’ve told’em too