Watching Television With My Parents

BBC Test card from my childhood.

Television featured large in my childhood and teenage years.  I couldn’t begin to calculate the number of hours I’ve watched with my face a couple of feet from the screen, and lo, my eyes are still round and functional.

I even adored the black and white TV that was carefully tuned using the twin methods of precision dial-turning and of adjusting the foil sail attached to the aerial.  So desperate was I to watch TV, that I have been known to watch snooker on a black and white set.  I would get up early on weekends and wait for the test-card to disappear and the cartoons to start.  Other activities were planned around the next episode of Star Fleet, since there was no way to watch it later.  One of my earliest TV memories is watching enraptured as Boris Becker (a child!) won Wimbledon for the first time.

Visiting family in the USA meant an added bonus of the sheer wealth of television on offer.  One grandmother had only the basic TV, no cable, and even she had upwards of 40 channels.  The other grandmother had a cable package and it was wall-to-wall Jetsons and Flintstones, transitioning to Baseball in the afternoon and episodes of Roseanne in the early evening.  I think she had over a hundred channels and my brother and I would simply flick through using the remote, eyes goggling at the wonder of it all.

I was in heaven for as long as I could fight off my parents’ demands to switch off and go outside.  Somehow, I still managed to fit in plenty of time to partake of reading, and outdoor activities – perhaps because my every waking moment wasn’t taken up with lessons or enforced socialising, or family visits (my extended family were over 3000 miles away in Chicago).  I had so much time I struggled to fill it.

With a wistful sigh, I say those were the days. Now, you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want, and too many stations produce 24 hour rolling schedules of constant low-level dribble.  News Tickers make my eyes hurt and are so distracting that focus on the events of the day is impossible.  There is amazing TV out there to watch, for sure, but the activity itself isn’t special and wading through the tripe to find the gem is too much effort.   I hardly ever watch anything at the time it’s broadcast.   Generally, I watch online or  DVDs, or I HD-record and watch later so I can speed through adverts.

At Easter, K-man and I visited my parents.  My parents have become Homeland devotees.  They have no VCR, HD Recorder, unlimited broadband, or patience.  I was informed that when Homeland was on, they would be watching it, and we could do what we wanted but they would be watching Homeland.  This is parental code for AND THERE WILL BE SILENCE.

I was reminded of the fear engendered whenever, as a child, I needed something after bedtime and my parents were watching a programme.   Unless it was a genuine emergency, Televisual Interruptus had better not occur until either an ad break, or the end of the programme.  When my parents were watching something, they were watching it.

Well, I learned that behaviour from them.  I focus absolutely on the programme – think embedded – I need silence from others, and I rarely miss details.  I do not want other people to swan in halfway through and casually enquire as to what is going on.  Who is that and what are they doing?  Fuck off.  K-man’s trick is to fall asleep for ten minutes, wake up suddenly, have no idea what’s happening, and seek an emergency plot précis from yours truly.  Piss off, I tell him, I’m missing this now because of you.  You might think the advent of DVDs and HD-recorder would mean I would simply pause, but that would mean the spell would be broken and enjoyment curtailed.   K-man pauses a two-hour film an average of four times so he can leave the room for whatever reason, and it drives me utterly crazy.

In an odd way, I was looking forward to watching TV with my parents.  I briefed K-man on the rules, advising that even in the event of a rancid fart from someone in the room, noise-making was verboten.

Viewing commenced.  Homeland was OK, as far as I could tell in the first seven minutes.  Seven minutes is the time my father could spend in his chair without needing to perambulate slowly to the kitchen hitting every creaky floorboard on the way, and loudly clatter some pots and pans.  He returned with a bowl of peanuts and then proffered them around with verbal enquiries while plot-points screeched past.

After fifteen minutes, there was an ad break.  My dad sat in his chair and watched four minutes of Eat! This! Buy! This! Watch! This!  

Homeland came back on, and after five minutes, dad got up to go to the bathroom, only to return just in time for another ad-break.  My mother was asleep on the floor.

What. The. Hell?

Someone has abducted my parents and infected them with Hypocrititis before returning them home.  Ingrained teaching runs deep, so in the next ad-break I dared enquire whether they were actually watching the programme, because there was something else I might enjoy on another channel.

Yes, apparently, that is what passes for TV watching these days.  I asked if they recalled what would have happened to my brother or I if we had sneezed during an episode of EastEnders.  This was met with snorts of disbelief and statements along the lines that we kids were always interrupting their television viewing and yet remain alive.  I was accused of being unable to multi-task.   K-man chimed in: you should see her at home – I get yelled at if I even cough during Sons of Anarchy.

ARGH.  It’s not me, it’s you!

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2 Responses to “Watching Television With My Parents”


  1. 1 jennatjugglinglife May 9, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Even though their is great TV on nowadays, we don’t enjoy it as much as we used to when it was such an EVENT.

  2. 2 mrs. g. May 9, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    As a woman who became obsessed with Homeland (and who doesn’t have cable, giving you some idea of where the obsession leads her–breaking the law), I’m afraid I would have strangled your dad. Of this, I am not proud, but I love that show.

    I do miss the “event” of tv Jenn mentions. The Carol Burnett show was like that for my family back in the day.


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