Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Under the iPads and PS4s the ghoul of debt is lurking (Guardian)

Wages are low, debt is rising, and our economy is as vulnerable as it was five years ago, writes John Harris. Yet the Christmas binge is back.

2. Take if from me: wages are not going to rise much over the coming years (Independent)

The Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts are way too optimistic, says David Blanchflower. 

3. Obama cannot lead from behind on trade (Financial Times)

Continuing to tiptoe around the issue is unlikely to serve the president for much longer, says Edward Luce.

4. In Scotland, the unionists need to win hearts, not minds (Guardian)

An economic argument won't decide the independence referendum, says Chris Huhne. What matters is whether Scots feel British.

5. I was planning on a dash for the aspirin – and then you rang in (Daily Telegraph)

Rich rainmakers and hedgies need to copy the generosity shown by the Telegraph’s readers, says Boris Johnson. 

6. MPs' pay: Westminster unreality cheque (Guardian)

The gap between what MPs say about their own pay in private and what they feel constrained to say in public is immense, notes a Guardian editorial. 

7. Reasons not to fear superchildren (Financial Times)

Pisa represents only one measure of performance in schools, writes Sam Freedman.

8. Osborne’s festive bells simply don’t ring true (Times)

What recovery? Britain is weighed down by old people and lack of productivity, writes Emma Duncan. 

9. An obsessive’s documenting of Israeli war crimes in Lebanon can show us how the west lost respect for international law (Independent)

One Norwegian officer left Lebanon with a typed report on torture taped to his chest, writes Robert Fisk. 

10. A gender gap that simply doesn’t add up (Daily Telegraph)

The shocking divide between boys and girls in maths and science is damaging Britain, says Elizabeth Truss. 

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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder