THE BOX IN THE CORNER, or WHY DON’T YOU? GO AND DO SOMETHING LESS BORING INSTEAD LIKE RAISE A BABY BOY ON YOUR OWN (PART TIME)

With the nesting process now in full flow, a significant decision with far reaching implications is taken – and none too lightly.

There is to be no TV.  No cathode ray flicker shall cast the ghost of its lambency upon the walls of this basement flat, at least not until Leo is of an age, or of a stage, when he might truly benefit, if benefit is the word, from the box in the corner (or the flat screen on the wall).  Or at least not until his father is driven to a sufficient level of distraction to warrant plonking him on his arse before the screen, willing the firstborn to a state of hypnosis and himself back to sanity.  Whichever comes first.

There is nothing lofty in this refusal of our ubiquitous companion; the telly is to be shunned on practical grounds alone.  Who, after all, could possibly be impressed by, or even believe, the self-righteous claim tossed down from the battlements of the ivory tower that “I don’t watch TV?”  Such an outlandish profession could only be matched by the life-deniers who would have us believe they don’t like The Beatles.  And they nearly always do.  Besides, an entire medium is not to be breezily dismissed, particularly not one that’s brought us The Sullivans and The Sopranos and the entire spectrum in-between.  And that’s just the drama.

Perhaps I’m impressionable.  Perhaps I was too easily influenced by the lawyer I met in a bar in Copenhagen while taking time out during Ellie’s pregnancy.  Coming up for air, as it were, before Leo surfaced to stay.  She “didn’t watch telly”, and something in me stirred at that.  What a refreshing change, my ad-addled mind surmised.  She seemed far too busy living in the land of the living to be taken in by me, the viewer in the land of the living, and my evidently underwhelming telly-heavy patter, never mind actually lose valuable living-hours watching the stuff.  Far too passive.

Had she really never heard of The Bridge?  Copenhagen did seem the logical place to avoid the onslaught of Scandinavian noir.  Hiding in plain sight, as it were.  She did, however, note my conflicted frame of mind – brought on, it must be noted, by the impending arrival of a child I was expecting with a girlfriend I’d lost to someone else – comparing me, tellingly I felt, to the character of Mark in the estimable Peep Show.  See, we all watch telly really.

Down here in the den, it’s watching TV alone I can’t face.  Too easily maligned as an agent for passivity, TV has for longer than I can recall been, if anything, a shared activity – a true agent for cohesion.  Social glue, to be current and icky.  Far from being an isolator and a device for making people do nothing (with the honourable exception of Why Don’t You?), it succeeded for the best part of a decade throughout my childhood and early teens where all else failed – it unified my family.  For one hour in the week, the magic hour, (approximately 7.00pm, BBC1) All Creatures Great And Small served up old fashioned, no-nonsense dollops of comfort viewing to my well fed family in its entirety.  It must, I suppose, have had ‘something for everyone’ – manna for the TV exec.

On other nights, unlikely alliances were forged around the schedule.  Wednesday evenings, 9.00pm, BBC2, M*A*S*H.  Regular trips to the 4077 that were acerbic and humane in equal measure, draped gently in a mantel of martini-sodden despair never quite shrugged off by the machine gun patter and the wisecracks.  Or indeed by the machine guns.  My first intimation of the adult world beyond the suburban semi-detached one I was living in, even if it was the mud of ’50s Korea (or the foothills just outside LA) and shared with my father.  Other than the six episodes of the Beeb’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, those half-hour slots ring-fenced in the middle of the week were to prove our only real shared experience.  In life, never mind in front of the TV.  But as a child you take what you can get.

Friday nights were better yet.  The audience (me and my mother) warmed up with a double-header of Dynasty and The Cosby Show before the warmest hit of humanity you could hope for before the weekend started.  Central Television’s Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, an hour of true social cohesion (that’s living, alright) and in pre-video times, the best of reasons to stay in and watch with mother.

Fast forward to the box-set years and the hefty DVD tomes that marked the passage of ‘our’ relationship.  That’s the ‘us’ that now exists only in inverted commas.  Oh, and as co-parents.  When there was an ‘us’ free of inverted commas – us – , no richer a journey was taken in tandem on the sofa – steady – than the 86-hour odyssey of The SopranosPine Barrens, naturally, and Long Term Parking provided matchless comedic and dramatic pinnacles respectively.  An epic voyage that, along with the Dickensian sweep of The Wire, won’t be forgotten.  And we won’t either of us forget who we took the journey with.

Now it’s just me and the tablet – headphones on and face uplit in the darkness as Leo sleeps in the cot at the foot of the bed.  Match Of The Day and re-runs of The Crow Road, as he breathes in, breathes out.  This is the new TV – curation and collection, bespoke viewing tailored to the needs of the individual.

But my televisual needs remain simple for now, at least until such time as father and son can rack up some shared TV experience of their own on the sofa.  There’s going to be an awful lot of cbeebies before then.  Right now screen hypnosis can wait.  The most recent research emanating from the States into the influence of TV on very young children suggests much that doesn’t surprise with lower vocabulary, disturbed sleep, and disrupted playtime among the outcomes.  Indeed, in the States guidelines suggest keeping kids away from screens altogether for the first two years of their lives at least.

What intrigues, though, is that it may be that what a child is actually watching is key.  A child can be mesmerised or interact, depending on what’s being viewed – and who with.  The trippy day-glo costumed hypno-blobs who have hijacked the (very) early morning schedules are either proto-Paul McKennas (looking very much into our kids’ eyes, not around them), or kindred spirits in the minds of our progeny – I’m not sure any adult will ever know, barring those that created them.  Watching with mother, or father, meanwhile, can enhance viewing as a shared experience.  So we’re back full circle to the family round the box.  Even if only one member of the family gets it.

It’s the prospect of time siphoned off irretrievably that deters me, that and the screen’s true cohesive force – i.e. glueing you tight to it.  The net worth of time has rocketed and I can ill afford to lose any, so I’ll be declining the open-ended invitation to procrastination.  I already have the internet to contend with, thank you.  And in any given week, where time between work and Leo (and he’s not work but he takes time and I give it) has to be jemmied out of a locked down schedule, I’ll corral it and keep it and spend it on reading and writing.

In this brave new telly-free dawn the ministrations of a day with Leo are played out to the accompaniment of BBC Radio 6Music in any case, and that is precisely what’s required down here at lone-parenting central – the companionship of the wireless as opposed to the distraction of the TV.  Too busy living.  And judging by Leo’s high-chair dance routines, just the soundtrack is fine for now.  The visuals can wait…

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