One minute you know where you are and the next all the structure to your life is blown away.
Our television service comes through a set top box bearing the name ‘Labgear’. It was installed some years ago by a surly man engaged by daughter three when she was still living with us. He also went on the roof and put an aerial there. Labgear has always been rather grudging and has occasionally needed to be coaxed by ruses like turning everything off and starting again, or leaving the room and then coming back in suddenly. Even at its best the picture arrived at a different time from the sound. This meant that disbelief was never entirely suspended but it did provide a reassuringly Brechtian feeling of alienation, which is an advantage to those of us who were brought up all those years ago to regard Brechtian feelings of alienation as necessarily anterior to a valuable aesthetic experience.
Sometimes we get messages on the screen. I used to ignore these as I have read some of the literature and I know how the early stages of schizophrenia often play out. But more recently a number of the messages have had to do with Labgear’s internal ruminations rather than world domination by Venusians and I have taken a pragmatic approach, acting on the messages that seemed to be sensible and ignoring those that were clearly insane.
Recently a succession of messages suggested that we needed to retune the machine, as ‘the whole London area’ was ‘converting to digital’. They coincided with posters that I had seen in the streets. Those behind this venture had engaged a cute robot, as an earnest of their serious intentions. I thought that we were already digital, but resolved to do as I was told.
Actually, the cute robot doesn’t quite work, does it? It’s like the logo for the London Olympics. You can follow the thought process without being convinced by the result.
I retuned the machine in accordance with the instructions. Before I did so it had worked quite well, apart as I say from the sound and the picture arriving at different times. Afterwards, however, there was a televisual landscape of utter devastation. The BBC survived: nothing else.
It was as one imagined the aftermath of a nuclear bomb.
What did you think of Julian Fellowes’ Titanic, people would ask.
Sometimes anguished bursts of electronica would emerge; often nothing at all.
The official website with the cute robot was full of encouragement but short on specifics. Labgear the company appeared to have done a runner.
Since my two years as a novice in the Tibetan lamasery I have strongly believed in the wheel of fortune. What goes around comes around, and that includes ITVs 1, 2 and 3, the shopping channels and those quaintly described as ‘adult’. I resolved to enter the vortex and bide my time in strength and patience.
The better half felt differently. Periodically she would attack the machine. When that failed, as it always did, she would abuse it, sometimes in English, sometimes Russian. Her indomitable refusal to accept is echoed by those great lines of the poet Dylan Thomas, writing decades ago about a similar proposal to restructure the BBC’s radio waveband. The technology has changed but not the raw human feeling:
Rage, rage against the dying of the Light Programme.
Of course one must keep a sense of proportion. I am getting to know Aubergine Small better and the other evening he showed me the remains of his tongue. (He was in London disguised as an enormous washerwoman, an homage, he explained – in pencil on the back of an envelope – to the Toad). It is an appalling sight – his tongue, not his frock – and the atrocity was only recently inflicted on him by the slaver in the South China Sea. He is coming to terms with it all with strength and patience, fuelled by his devotion to my son.
Having your tongue hacked out cannot be compared with losing ITV reception. Both, nonetheless, are a trial.
Cruelly, our ordeal had a happy outcome as Aubergine Small’s never can.
It was the last day of the changeover period ‘where you are’. Let’s try retuning one last time, I said to the better half. We did so and, despairingly, she went off to the kitchen to put the final touches to some courgette patties which turned out, incidentally, to be quite exceptionally tasty.
Disbelievingly at first, I flicked through the channels. I went into the kitchen. Darling, I was able to say, ITVs 1, 2 and 3, the shopping channels and those quaintly described as ‘adult’ are back!
It was a humbling experience. Like King David, brought the water on the battlefield (2 Samuel 23 v15 – 16), we felt that it would be wrong to gorge ourselves, so we watched Breaking Bad on DVD instead.