April 19, 2013

Put Down Old People at Birth, and other writings discovered in the Scarfolk archive


Anyone who, like me, grew up in the North West of England will tell you that a childhood spent in Northern suburbia was a spooky one: eerie, identical streets, weird books in Smiths, and BBC kids’ TV that should have come with a health warning. The town of Scarfolk will be a familiar scene to many and thanks to its mayor, Dr Richard Littler, who has undertaken the task of retrieving the posters, books and local council announcements from the recently opened archives. Now everyone can discover Scarfolk, a place where the entire decade of the 1970s ‘loops ad infinitum’.

What we find is a town like many we know today. A town that had problems with outsiders, so it developed the Black Spot Public Discretion Cards—a simple idea which promoted ‘civic discretion’. Citizens were discouraged from saying things they shouldn’t to people they shouldn’t speak to, and if they did they were issued with a Black Spot Card and were instructed to take their own life or that of a family member within 30 days, or face a fine.

It’s a place that had trouble keeping control of its youngsters. We see attempts to aid distressed parents in the advertisements for Vicks Vaporub Blindness Ointment, through which we learn that ‘Vicks Vaporub was originally invented to temporarily blind children for up to one hour while parents did things they didn’t want their offspring to witness’. Or in public information messages such as one from 1974 announcing the electrification of the water supply. Scientifically proven to halve the number of teeth in a child, the scheme was an effective way to minimise disruption in the classroom.

We encounter a town suffering from visitations from ghosts and the disappearance of the school’s music teacher, whose body was found encased inside one of the thirteen ancient standing stones just outside Scarfolk, and the emergence of unhuman impostors, sparking posters that responsibly asked, ‘Is your mummy who she says she is?’.

Many have been alarmed by the findings of Mayor Littler, and have spoken out in concern that such a society is a dystopian vision, which even Orwell himself would not have dared to dream up. They say that a citizenry gripped by both totalitarian practices such as the recording of subconscious thoughts and a belief in the supernatural and dedication to occult practices, is a hellish place we should bury back into the annals of history, and forget ever existed.  Others have been disappointed to be unable to find old copies of Penguin’s title Children & Hallucinogens: The Future Of Discipline, a version of which features in the archives.

Mayor Littler’s project reminds us that it is the recordings, books and written matter that will remember us when we are gone. And that if Scarfolk’s written archives feature elements that may seem startling, disturbing and downright terrifying to us now, we can be sure that future generations will experience similar reactions when they unearth the books, user manuals and writings that we too leave behind.


Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.