|This is not our house - obviously...|
Lunch time. The boys are sitting at their little table in the kitchen; I'm perched on a chair alongside.
"Daddy," the eldest pipes up, "for my v-d-e-o-s today I want: eight Blazes, eight films, eight Bubble Guppies and eight Penguins of Madagascar."
"For my [piercing whisper] videos, I want [etc, etc]...!"
"That's not how you spell videos," quoth I, playing pedantic. Thinking that his demands were pretty steep - that amounts to approximately twenty-two hours of screen time, after all - I continued sarcastically, "I think that you're existing in a parallel universe."
"What's that mean, Daddy?"
"Which has accentuated your delusional tendencies."
"What's it mean?"
They say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit so sarcasm against small children, using long words that they can't understand must be the lowest of the low - which is perhaps why only low-life like myself think it's remotely funny. No matter. I repeat my statement, adding the word 'exponentially' (which not even I know the meaning of) for good effect.
At the sound of the word 'delusional' a light breaks across my son's furrowed brow.
"Oh, you mean I'm going to lose it!"
Sarcasm. What's the point?
Where's Your Flatscreen?
There may be some of you wondering why I didn't just turn on the TV and tune into CBeebies for an hour. Why was my son requesting those particular shows? Let's face it, some of them don't have much in common: Bubble Guppies - infant gooiness, laced with double-helpings of ga-ga, juxtaposed with Penguins of Madagascar - pointless, comedic mayhem involving lots of explosions and cartoon violence in the traditions of Tom and Jerry. Well, this isn't to say that we have anything against more 'normal' shows, (don't you just love Octonauts?) it's simply that they aren't available to us. This is because - drum roll please - we do not have a television. Not one.
Nor do we have a TV licence. Once the BBC started demanding a licence fee for watching BBC iPlayer back in September, this family's use of BBC catch-up TV halted, forever (unless they change the rules back again). Now we watch only those things which are available without a TV licence - and unless you want to spend a fortune on DVDs that makes choice a bit limited. It's why we've never used the word 'TV' in this house - we say 'videos' because nothing that we watch is ever 'live TV'. We have an Amazon subscription and there's always YouTube. Netflix and Now TV are other examples of services who don't require a TV licence for catch-up TV. The BBC are out, though - which is a shame because I did so enjoy my daily dose of Baby Jake. (Did I just admit that publically? Whoops!)
Life Without The Box
Remarkable though it may sound to many people, I don't regret not having a TV. The saying goes 'What you've never had, you don't miss' and I have never had a television in my life. The closest I got was having a set in the lounge in a shared flat during my time at university, which only served to demonstrate how terrible midday TV is and show me that I will never be a fan of EastEnders.
When I was young I suppose I kind of missed having a TV. It was a very mild feeling - like the regret I might feel at never having hitchhiked New Zealand - the kind of woe that I can very easily live with. It made my occasional TV experiences all the more exciting. I still recall the wonder of watching the 10 o'clock news on the TV set in our B&Bs during our annual family holiday - delayed by my parents spending whole minutes trying to work out how to bring the apparatus to life. "Is it that button? No, I'll try this one. Oh that didn't work either. What next...?" It was like a glimpse into a secret world - even the way that each correspondent signed off their report was magical.
It is a magic which most people with a TV set will never experience.
People react in various ways when I explain that I do not have a TV, have never had a TV and don't expect to ever have a TV. Some think it's funny and laugh at me ('what does your furniture point towards?'), some shrug, some don't say anything and quite a few say something like, "I don't really need a TV either - it's mostly background noise and I hardly ever watch it but the wife likes Emmerdale". The last group is a remarkably large one, which I find comforting.
Growing up without a TV allowed me to do other things like building camps, lighting campfires, reading books and making up stories. It was healthier, more active and required and inspired a far better imagination than 'the box' ever will. The advent of internet catch-up for the new generation will probably change this. Even without a TV my children are still watching way more videos and films than I ever did. I could probably count the number of films I watched by the age of fifteen on my fingers and toes - I might even have a few spare. To combat this we try to limit the amount of screen time our children have - ideally three days a week for approximately one hour a day, set against an average of around 2 hours of TV time a day for 5 -15 year olds nationwide. Our time is flexible - we have to ensure that both children have a choice of what they want to watch and they will get extra video time when they're sick, for example - but it gives a firm base to be flexible from.
It also ensures that as the responsible adult who has to manipulate the laptop to make it work we get full power of approving what our children are watching. We are therefore (hopefully) unlikely to ever come into the lounge and find our little ones immersed in a gore-laden episode of The Last Kingdom.
On this occasion my son's request for multiple videos was denied, as are his [very occasional] pleas for us to buy a TV licence. The BBC can keep their bits of paper.