Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Box

How was your Christmas and New Year? This question pops into conversation with increasing regularity. I've asked others and it's been asked of me. The responses are fairly standard. It was good; I spent it with family; the kids enjoyed it etc. We all know what to reply without boring people. A brief sentence that supplies a bit of detail, but not too much. Each year, I find it hard to vocalise these phrases. What would I say if I felt it was inoffensive to do so? One word would be exclaimed with a wide grin and a girly squeal: “Boxy!”
What's on the box is more important to me than food or family,(sorry Mum, Dad & Monty), so that when I get my hands on a Christmas TV Guide, I can barely contain myself. I lean over and study it at a desk as a student does a textbook. From a pencil case, I pick a highlighter and hover its fluorescent tip over each day's listed schedule. I mark the shows I want to watch, circle the repeats and calculate if Plus One will work in my agenda. While this is being done, I ooh, aah, and as my excitement builds, enthusiastically clap. Thank God, the next door flat is largely empty!
For two hours, I sit hunched over this bumper issue; the light outside fading and my tea tepid, but with each fresh page, I still emit a squeal. Gasp! Downton Abbey Christmas Special!! Circle it! Oh My God, they're showing the animation Up! My hands involuntarily make small rapid claps. “Stop it!!” I reprimand them. How will I contain myself until the holidays? As my pen swoops over the final page, I'm slumping forward and continuously yawning. I've had too much telly rush – I've overdosed on festive previews of drama, cartoons, and comedy. I end the ritual by crawling on my knees up to the turned-off TV and hugging it. Maggie Simpson borrowed that move from me – I did it first!
A psychologist might ask, 'When did this start?' And I'd say “With my family.” In black and white and colour. In analogue and digital. With four channels and now freeview. With VHS and DVD. The television is the heart of the home. We ate around it, conversed over it, and argued about it; we still do. The models have changed, but its place in the home has not; there it majestically sits in the corner, almost on par with the size of the furniture. Older models had more character – encased in wood with twiddly knobs and showing grainy pictures. The short walk to and fro, to and fro, to change the channel. TV dinners, steaming plates of food on trays on laps, until I, as a child, insisted we ate at a table. With remotes, this new eating habit got easier. The different programmes the different households of the extended family tuned into: snooker, afternoon musicals, soaps and sitcoms. The different routines: the TV switched on at certain times and not before. Gathered around its flickering screen, we'd laugh, cheer, shout, cry, get scared and hide behind sofas.
From these family habits, I formed my own relationship. A close-knit bond to a box powered by satellites, cables and electricity. I ration its use like a sweet to reward me. At Christmas these rewards just get bigger. My adult patience pays off so I can watch long awaited films like a child: completely lost in the plot and the pictures moving in front of me. During the festive holidays, there's only one question that's asked with any religiosity: What's on?