WE’RE a television-loving family. I admit, I’m in paradise when the Christmas and Hogmanay Radio Times arrives, and I can curl up with a big cup of tea and a bright red marker pen to stamp my ownership all over it.
After all, what is Christmas if it isn’t spent lolling in front of the telly after a heavy bout of conspicuous consumption?
However, a couple of recent occurrences have made me wonder whether the consumption being peddled by the box in the corner isn’t perhaps a little too conspicuous.
First, my seven-year-old scampered up to me and demanded: “Do you know who Barry Scott is, Mum?” When I confessed ignorance, Junior was scornful. “He’s a world-famous pilot! He flies a purple and orange plane and he knows about loads of things!” However, it soon turned out that this David Attenborough of the skies was actually just the guy on the Cillit Bang advert.
Unfortunately, television’s malign influence on my son’s impressionable mind isn’t limited to cleaning products. Last Saturday, he was squawking because he couldn’t watch Beverly Hills Chihuahua. He was outvoted; everybody else preferred something on another channel, but still he made a huge fuss. So we had a robust chat about selfishness, how to behave towards other people, and why it’s not a good idea to keep on arguing when you’ve already been told “No” about 50 times.
Then, when I let go of his ear, we chatted about the joy of sharing, the importance of peace and harmony – especially so close to Christmas, when Santa could easily change his mind – and why we’d all be a lot happier if we could only be nice to each other for a change. “Well, let’s just get some Dettol!” he offered, enthusiastically. “Um… why?” I asked, totally flummoxed. “Don’t you know about Dettol?” “Er… I thought I did.” “Then you must know that Dettol makes your home a happier and healthier place!”
Oh dear. So far, so depressing. But then the unthinkable happened: we lost all our TV channels – on Christmas Eve. It’s a long story, but essentially my husband had bought one of those set-top boxes with a recordable hard-drive as an early present for the family. Trouble is, by the time he and a mate had moved the television to a new position, taken out all the old cables, changed some cables, chucked some cables and generally raided B&Q for every audio-visual connector in stock, we found we were no longer hooked up to network television.
By early evening it was simply too late to do anything else and his mate slunk off home, leaving him holding the Scart in front of his furious family.
However, with it being Christmas and all, we decided not to kill him and made the best we could of an unprecedented situation.
At first I wasn’t sure we’d survive, but we have. It wasn’t exactly a return to ye olde Christmases past – we didn’t sit around reading David Copperfield to each other, playing the piano or making quilts – but it wasn’t nearly so bad as I’d feared.
For a start, we could still play DVDs, so Junior could watch some of his Christmas presents; but when a DVD is finished, it’s finished. It needs to be taken out of the machine, which means that, however fleetingly, there is peace.
I hadn’t properly realised that when the television gets switched on first thing on Christmas morning, it pretty much stays on, jabbering away in the background, even when everybody’s fallen asleep.
This year there were moments of genuine calm, when the only sounds were of snoring, the rustle of discarded wrapping paper and the faraway bip-bip of Junior’s DS. We listened to music, the radio and – whisper it – even talked a bit.
I’m not saying we extended goodwill to all men, or that we’re better people for it, but despite missing Eddie Stobart’s Christmas Cracker we still managed to have a really good time. And, best of all, there were no incessant adverts reminding Junior of what Santa hadn’t managed to bring.
It didn’t last, of course, and normal service has now been resumed, but for a short while I honestly think that we managed to be happier and healthier. Even without the benefit of Dettol.