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Thursday, 11 November 2010

At the setting of the TV - Part 1

Continuing the Arthur C. Clarke theme of "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"...

I think I’m turning into my own grandmother.

By that, I don’t mean because of my rapidly greying hair or lined features (or the aprons for that matter, but we’ll draw a veil over that), I’m referring to my grandmother’s view of technology, the television in particular.  My grandmother believed that, when they called it a Television Set, set is what they meant.  It was something that should not, ideally, be disturbed but if alterations had to be made they should not be “taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly” (as the Book of Common Prayer used to have it, but not about televisions).  In my childhood innocence, I was quite happy to fiddle with such technological advances as the Vertical and Horizontal Holds (which sound like something Jackie Pallo might have got involved with), but my grandmother viewed even changing channels with deep suspicion.  The reason why I think I might be following in her footsteps is because I now understand her reluctance to mess about with something you don’t really understand. 

We have recently had a new digital television and DVD recorder, which cost half as much again to fit and connect to the aerial, and I don’t understand it (I mean the equipment not why it cost half as much again…oh, I don’t know though).  Every previous bit of ‘hardware’ that we have bought I have understood (mostly) and felt comfortable with setting it up and making adjustments, but not this.  When some road repairs threatened to disconnect the houses in our area for a few hours the other week, my wife asked if I was going to unplug the T.V., I had to shamefacedly admit that I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to upset it!  I fear this may be the steep end of a very slippery slope.

My earliest recollection of what might loosely be termed ‘entertainment technology’ at home was that standard item of equipment in any house in the 1950s, the large wooden wireless.  This was, as far as I can remember, our sole source of entertainment when I was very young.  The wireless was a faithful provider of such daily diversions as ‘Housewives’ Choice’ and ‘Worker’s Playtime’, both of which could be found on the BBC Light Programme and, best of all, ‘Listen with Mother’, which I think lurked on the Home Service.  In those days (for those of you for whom the dawn of Radio 1 took place when dinosaurs ruled the Earth), the total output from the BBC, in terms of radio programmes, could be found on three channels, the Light Programme, the Home Service and the Third Programme.  For anything else, you had to look to the exotic delights of the foreign stations and, in particular, Radio LuxembourgThis was a wonderful source of continuous pop music but only in the evening and only then if you could cope with the accompanying violent oscillations of the signal that sounded like a squirrel being slowly but deliberately fed through a mangle. My Dad used to try to convince me that this was caused by the signal rising and falling with the waves over the Channel (actually, he didn’t have to try very hard, I was always very gullible and they were called radio waves after all).