We're all feeling depressed this morning after hearing Chris Hammond collapsed while he was on air last night. He's in the QA at the moment. Given the new emphasis on 'Natural Health Outcomes' and 'Not artificially prolonging end-of-life suffering' we fear for the worst.
Chris started his career way back in the early 1970s; way before most of us were even alive. He dabbled in pirate radio for a while before becoming a legitimate broadcaster. His was a varied media career before the "That Was Then' archive show broke through to prominence and even won an award before the Connies started sniffing at it.
It began as a community local history project (one of his many interests) and as a way of stimulating memories in older people; but its popularity spread, soon reaching a national audience. We found it astonishing at the time that some people should find an inoffensive series of reminiscent documentaries so threatening, but in retrospect we shouldn't have been surprised. It was a sign of the way things were going, but like so many other warnings it went unheeded.
From our perspective it seems scarcely possible to believe those old films from the 1950s to the 1990s were real. Yes, it was another time; but could it really have been so different, that far removed from the way we live now? The people of those times looked so much happier and better dressed than we do today; they seemed to take a greater pride in themselves and their appearance back then, despite our New Modestly. It was a time of plenty, and there was a palpable sense of optimism the future really would be something to look forward to.
Of course life in the past had its fears and problems, real enough to the people of the time, but they were inconsequential compared to what we live with now. In retrospect they lived in a golden age and they didn't realise it. But how could those modern ghosts captured immortal in the video image have known that from that peak, imperfect though it was, our quality of life would go sliding inexorably down to the level we endure now? Or their bright tomorrow become our worn-down, hand-me-down, reliant on charity, not quite enough, constantly peckish, shiveringly energy-poor, held together with glue and tape dystopia?
We had to fight hard to keep the show on air; the sight of past abundance being too much of an inconvenient truth for some influential people to allow to be viewed. Though they tried as hard as they could the Connies couldn't do any more than vociferously complain, not being as strong then as they are now. They are bullies at heart, and as bullies are they are fundamentally weak inside; they will back down whenever they are faced with someone who has the courage to stand their ground and push back against intimidation.
Chris was such a man. He kept making the shows but after a while the audience declined. People found it too painful to be reminded of what they had once had and now lost: The implied question of why we collectively allowed this national decline to happen too uncomfortable to ask or answer.
So he returned to his first love of radio; his night-time eclectic stream of mixed genres from the 60s to the 80s developing a large and loyal following. He lived up to his punk pirate principles, never backing down when controversy sought him out. He had a resurgence of infamy when he innocently played a request for the eighties song by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin - 'Busy Doing Nothing'. An over-zealous Connie complainer objected to the newly-established OMS claiming the song parodied the Consensus' employment policies - 'An Assignment for everyone and everyone to be Assigned.' The regulator agreed and ordered it not be played again. That was a red rag to a bull, so Chris kept playing it whenever it was requested despite their ruling. James to his credit rallied the IMS board to back him all the way. It was due to get protractedly legal when the Connies, realising that all they were doing was making fools of themselves and gifting the opposition to their unsteady rule a rallying song, cut their losses and quietly retreated.
It was an automatic alarm after thirty seconds of silence that warned Lena Skibinska, the night duty supervisor that something was wrong. She found Chris slumped incommunicative over the studio console. We're all hoping you can pull through mate. I don't think he has any local relatives so I'll drop in and visit him tonight.
This is bringing back some bad memories. Hospitals are never pleasant places to visit, but seeing someone who was once so full of life just lying there, kept alive by machines, is heartbreaking. It was just the same when Mum was losing her battle with cancer. As Chris had no nearby next-of-kin, only a sister living in New Zealand and a daughter in Canada, I appointed myself his advocate and assumed the powers on his behalf. That should keep the vultures from switching him off for a while.
It transpires he'd lodged a living will; and if there was no sign of improvement in his condition after a week, or any hope of a recovery then he was happy to let the doctors do as they thought best. He was adamant though that his organs weren't to be harvested. He was so opposed to the principle of Presumed Consent, saying that his organs were his to donate, not the State's to appropriate, that he carried an opt-out card.
I wonder how he would've reacted if the ever-circulating rumours about the introduction of implantable health record chips to replace the cards were to be substantiated, as he was even more vehemently opposed to any form of ID card or tag. Not that I think they'd be able to use many of his organs, given his multiple health problems caused by a life well lived. "Yeah, so it'll all catch up with me in the end - so fucking what!" was his response to any criticism of his excesses. He knew where his lifestyle choices were leading him, and rebel that he was he didn't give a shit.
As tobacco was gradually and surreptitiously outlawed he tried growing his own, but eventually he gave it up. It was too energy intensive to cultivate and when smart meters began to automatically report any constant over-quota use of electricity, drawing unwelcome attention to home growers, he decided that it was no longer worth the risk. Besides, it was cheaper and easier to buy it from the drug dealers who had easy access to the latest strains of genetically modified cold-tolerant plants that could be grown outside on waste ground. They were only too pleased to profit from the latest misguided idea of the Nanny State.
In the end even he gave it up. His body started rebelling against a lifetime of abuse, and it was more trouble than it was worth to continue. Smoking began to irritate his lungs. I think he was surprised to have lived as long as he has given his heavy drinking, as well as his heart and liver troubles. He always shrugged-off thoughts of his mortality, but in the end death always catches up with you.
Here I am talking about him in the past tense. It seems a rather pathetic, undignified way to slowly let go of your grip on life; beep by beep by beep, in an impersonal little cubicle under a dim, timeless light. Just in case he can hear anything I have a one-way conversation with him, and tell him I'll look after everything: But I get no sign of a response. The displays on the life support machinery keep on with their metronomic, mesmerising rhythm.
After sitting with him for twenty minutes I promise to return again tomorrow and leave. There can be no doubt that Chris has but a few tomorrows left, poor sod.