One of the things which makes life abroad a comparative piece of cake these days is easy access to news, entertainment and general communication in whatever language you like. No longer do you have to hunt round a dozen maisons de presse looking for yesterday’s Daily Telegraph only to find that everyone else has snapped them all up and you are reduced to spending 3,50€ on the Daily Mail then wondering what the point is in a publication completely devoid of news, intelligence or a decent crossword. You have to assume that it was designed specifically for wrapping fish and chips, given that the suspension of disbelief required in order to refer to it as a newspaper is a bit of an effort.
Not that you’re any longer limited to words on paper, as thanks to the interwhatsit you can have the luxury of shouting at the news on Radio 4 over breakfast regardless of where you might be eating it. Though you do obviously have to be careful to monitor your listening lest you find that the Archers have parachuted into your exotic idyll and started rabbiting on about badgers putting organophosphates in the WI’s home made cattle cake.
The whole universal access business even extends to telly in these modern times, assuming you can be bothered to spend two days clinging to the chimney and moving your satellite dish a nanometer at a time while your other half stands in the living room and yells ‘left a bit ….. no that’s too far, back a bit’, only to find that every time it snows you have to go back up and repeat the whole procedure in sub-zero temperatures. And is it really worth it just to watch Jeremy Cowell’s Britain’s Got Celebrity Dancing Freakshow On Ice?
Having more or less got out of the telly habit as a student (we had to make our own entertainment in them days you know, knees up Mother Brown, in and out of each others houses all day long etc etc), I now find that most of it just looks bizarre, particularly the adverts. Series of random images (mountains, urban road, dog, young woman looking chilly in see-through dress) followed by a picture of the sort of anonymous car your Dad might like and something which I presume is a slogan but looks more like a string of words chosen by sticking a pin in three successive pages of the OED. Er, what? Baffling.
But on occasional forays back to Blighty I like to have a gawp at a spot of TV just to see if I’m missing anything and might find it worth my while spending the weekend hanging off the chimney in a bid to get myself tuned in. I mean there’s about 300 channels out there, all running 24/7 – there’s got to be something worth looking at, surely?
‘No’, would appear to be the answer to that one. News 24 sounded appealing until I sat through a bit of it and realised that it would be better named News 15 Minutes (Retard Edition), since it cycles continuously through all the same stuff and gives you about as much intelligent analysis as you’d expect from The Clangers. Even the proper news looks like a cross between Blue Peter and those infuriatingly infantile training courses which corporate enterprise seems to think are such a good idea. One of the big advantages of selling lift tickets for a living is that no-one ever expects me to sit still while some failed primary school teacher throws stuffed toys at me before urging me to play games for half an hour because she’s given me one rather obvious fact to absorb and fears that my brain might implode with the effort involved.
But despite the unrelenting inanity, it seems access to TV is considered so essential by the British population that the powers that be feel the need to festoon every public space with giant plasma screens. Everywhere you go, people are gawking gormlessly at an endless string of meaningless moving images. (And generally chewing something with their mouths open, I’ve noticed – probably a sign of accelerating mental degradation.)
Possibly the strangest example so far of screen saturation was in some chain pub restaurant place in Dundee, where the seating was divided into booths, each one with its own individual TV. We saw one couple turn up, switch the goggle box on and then spend their entire meal watching the Eastenders omnibus in silence. I must assume they were only in the pub because they hadn’t managed to tear themselves away from their wall to wall HD plasma flatscreen for long enough to pay the credit card bill, and Curry’s had reposessed it.
But the most sinister aspect of all this is that everyone else considers it entirely normal. It’s not, all right? Spending your spare time staring at the furniture while ignoring all the people around you – including the ones you arrived with, who presumably are at least acquaintances if not actual friends – is downright dysfunctional. Trust me on this. I’m beginning to imagine that everyone else has been bodysnatched and I am mankind’s last desperate hope. Except that a) I have no cunning plan for defeating the alien fifth column, and b) that sort of thinking can get you locked up.