This Time Conway, You’ve Gone Too Far! [2April2013]

Whenever I tell people what I have done, some politely look away, others react with shock . . .

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It’s just over 18 months since I made the decision described in the post: Farewell Unreal World.  The decision which just seemed to evolve naturally as my tastes gradually changed, but which has shocked some people far more than anything else I have done in my long and colourful ife. The decision that I no longer needed a television.

If you read the piece I wrote at the time, you will see that this was not so much a sudden decision to do something radical, as the logical de-cluttering of my lifespace by getting rid of a device which I no longer regularly used.  I thought it might be interesting to write about it, and I certainly never expected it to provoke the sort of reaction it did (and still does) from people I meet. But more of that later.

First: a quick catch up. Yes, I am still living without a television, and I so seldom remember or notice this changed state that I have forgotten to write this followup piece on multiple occasions. I was going to write a follow-up when a month had passed, but I didn’t remember, so then I told myself 6 months. But the next time my TV-less status came into my mind it was 9 months, so I resolved to wait for the year anniversary, and forgot again. The only reason I’ve managed to hit the 18 month date is because I put a reminder in my phone the last time the thought crossed my mind, back in February!

So, my life without the actual object in the room seems to be pain-free (I’m not saying “my life without TV” since I had gradually diminished and ceased watching before getting rid of the actual device). I noted in that article 18 months ago having a stack of unwatched DVDs ready in the corner in case I needed entertaining . . . well, quite a few of those are still unwatched, some have been gathering dust for a long time. I will watch the occasional old film, or the odd TV episode on DVD, but aqt a rate where it would take me about 3 years to get through one season boxset. When I got rid of the TV I reminded myself that I could, if I so desired, catch the odd really good TV programme online. 18 months later, my online viewing in that time consists of two episodes of a series on canals from RTE, and assorted video clips from news stories on the RTE and BBC News websites.

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As I said, disposing of the TV set and doing without live TV just seemed pretty natural to me at the time, given that I had stopped using it. I imagined that others might find this a little off – people are pretty wedded to their TV after all – but even I was shocked by some of the reactions from people in my life who heard of my decision or read the piece.

There was a visceral, almost fearful reaction, from those around me.

People who had happily chatted to me about “crazy” stuff I had done in the past (such as doing a naked photo shoot for an album cover and Hotpress magazine article, or running away to sea to do offshore radio) declared that this was just too odd.

“You’ve gone too far this time, It’s not funny, just plain weird” one co-worker told me.

Some pitied me. “If you have an addiction to TV, you should just try cutting down a little – there is no need to over-react by getting rid of it altogether” another colleague tired to counsel me, totally missing the point that I had dispensed with the set because I was hardly ever watching it, not because I felt I was abusing it.

Many people seemed offended by my decision to get rid of the TV, seeing it somehow as an attack on themselves for still continuing to enjoy television. Some felt that I would have problems visiting other people’s houses who had TV, because  either my hosts would have to turn off their set, or I would be “offended”

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have no problem visiting houses where there are TVs, just as I have no problem visiting people who have Black & Decker Workmates, Wii games consoles, or motorbikes, which also happen to be things which I, personally, do not use. Likewise, my personal preference in women tends to run towards dark hair, and I haven’t dated a blonde in 20 years, but no one would expect me to be offended by, or avoid visiting,someone just because they have a blonde partner.

To me, the way people feel so very personally challenged by my choice to do without a particular domestic accessory tells me more about their anxieties about the relationship with television than my own.

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An interesting thing though. All those people, including the ones most vocally hostile when I wrote the piece, all seem to have blanked it out of their minds. They never bring it up, and in conversation will frequently ask if I saw such and such on television last night etc. It’s like I’ve made a choice which is too different for the mind to fully accept and record in memory.

Now, I’d love to tell you that my life is different and more full of time and interesting things since I got rid of the TV set, but that wouldn’t be strictly true, as my life had already become these things gradually, as my viewing declined, long before I got rid of the physical object.

But I can tell you that the space it occupied has been suitably filled with clutter.

Steve


Live Reading, Dublin, Thursday 14th March 2013 – “Television”

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After a short break from the live scene due to a hectic schedule last year, I am delighted to be returning to public readings as part of a special themed event at The Workmans Club, Wellington Quay, in Dublin City Centre.

Hosted by Seven Towers, this is a short evening event kicking off at 6.30pm, with writers and poets including Orla Martin, Phil Lynch, Eamonn Lynsky and myself exploring the theme of “Television“.

Full details at www.seventowers.ie

Steve


HMV & Blockbuster, The Melting Glaciers Of My Past

How one branch of HMV kept Radio Caroline afloat in the 80s, and Blockbuster rescued my life

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The new that both Blockbuster and HMV in the UK have gone into administration this week would have been a huge blow to my much younger self, for whom those stores were an essential component of living.

I remember the first time I saw a Blockbuster Video – it was such a revelation compared to the tiny stores that were all we knew in the mid 80s, and where any enquiry for a popular video would be met with the new that their only copy was out on loan.

The arrival of Blockbuster in Ashford, Kent in 1989 was quite the most exciting thing to happen to the town since . . well, since my arrival earlier in the year.

Ashford in modern times has grown to a massive extent and now has a huge international station, but when I went to live there in 1989 it had little in the way of excitement, and the only cinema was soon to be demolished. Apart from the lure of the nearby countryside, the only thing that possibly kept me there was the girlfriend who had lured me to Kent in the first place.

Blockbuster was great, there was dozens of copies of each video, and many more titles than you could get elsewhere. I was a firm customer in those days.

I can’t remember when I last rented a video or DVD, it would have been sometime in the late 90s, but by 2000 it was more economic to buy rather than rent, especially as I can be something of a collector.

So I guess I’m as responsible as anyone for the demise of the store.

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HMV is a different story. This is a store I still use to this very day, for although I no longer buy music from them (preferring to purchase online) I still regularly impulse buy DVDs from their store in Dublin. In fact you could say that they were the beneficiary of my lost Blockbuster custom.

One store will always have a special place in my heart though – HMV in Oxford Street, London.

Here it was during my period as Programme Controller of Radio Caroline in the late 80s that I would come to buy music in bulk, to bring out to the North Sea with me. Usually hotfooting it over from Chelsea, following a meeting with Ronan O’Rahilly, I would have a bundle of money provided for music purchases, and I would spend this carefully, buying as many new albums as possible, rather than singles, so that we would have fresh music for the weeks and months ahead.

I remember one day spending £400 in the store in a single visit – which, in todays money amounts to £884 (or over a thousand euro).  My arms were aching by the time I had dragged my two heavy rucksacks of music from oxford Street, all the way to Victoria Station, down to Dover on the train, across to Calais, and on to Dunkirk from when our supply ship departed.

The Oxford Street store also had another connection to Caroline – it had an in-house radio station where many DJs worked while on leave from the ship – I remember Simon West being the mainstay there, but there were others too. Simon always made sure that advance or promo copies of new tracks given to the station were left in a package for me to collect and bring out to the ship also, so it was a “safe” way for record companies and promoters to get their product out to the ship.

In later years, that same store was where I bought my first console games – Super Mario 2 and 3, and Zelda for the Nintendo.

Hopefully the stores can survive, though these are indeed changed time, and I fear they will not.

Another iceberg from my past melted to nothing.

Steve


Farewell, Unreal World

Those few of my friends who know about the personal choice I made at the start of this month don’t really understand it.

Even my friend and neighbour Oran, who is open-minded and welcoming of every possible lifestyle choice to the point of being impossible to shock, has his doubts about what I have done.

I could walk into his house carrying a purple minature elephant and proclaiming a newfound sexual attraction to holly trees and Oran would be thoughtfully accepting, rejoicing in my newfound desires and, possibly, willing to try it too.

But of this choice, while supportive, he is quick to assure me, gravely, that it can be undone at a moments notice, and that I only have to say the word and he will help me to return to normality.

You see, I’ve not only joined the estimated 1-2% of people who have chosen to live without television, but of that tiny minority I am not in either the “ultra religious wanting to protect children from TV sex” or the “I don’t want modern technology in my home” subsets who make up two thirds of the abstainers. Nor am I one of the people who moved into a house without a TV and never got around to buying one.

No, I had a perfectly good TV, and made a conscious decision that I no longer needed it in my life, and I took it down the stairs and out of the house, and waved bye-bye to it as it walked down the road*

(*dramatic licence – it’s actually in the shed waiting to be boot-faired)

So, what am I, some kind of weirdo? Some kind of anti-technology nut?

No, I grew up like everyone else of my era, with TV a big part of my life. Through my twenties as I moved from bedsit to flat to house, the TV was always one of those “must-haves” that had to be there on day 1, like the kettle, the duvet and the fan heater (those bedsits used to be cold drafty places!).

When my marriage came to an end in 2000 and I moved back home to Dublin after decades in the UK, I started afresh with almost zero possessions, but the first thing I brought into the first room I rented, when suddenly back in bedsitland, was a little black and white TV, which I propped up on a chair in the corner of the room.

And within a year it was replaced by a much better, colour, combi-DVD unit on a proper stand (indeed, I think, the very one pictured above).

But I’m a great man for radio, and I’ve a love of news and current affairs, and they do wonderful  programmes on BBC Radio 4, so the TV was not always on. And as the noughties rolled on, and the X-Factors and their clones swept through TVland, it was on less and less. At first days would go by when it wasn’t switched on, and then, sometimes, weeks.

And I have a stack of unwatched DVDs in the corner that can be viewed on the laptop as easily as the TV, and as broadband improved, there is so much content on the web too.

But the TV was still a “must-have”.  Or so I thought.

Until I began to think.

My first conscious moment (the waking from TV-enthralled slumber?) came, of all places, at Holyhead ferry terminal, at around 8pm on a cold blustery night back in February.

I had driven several hundred miles to catch the 10pm ferry, having spent a long weekend staying with a good friend and her flatmate who were, frankly, the most TV-obsessed people I have ever met in my life. In their home, the TV was on constantly, X-Factor, Dancing On Ice and I know not what else was constantly watched and analysed, every carefully choreographed tiff between presenters believed as true-life drama, no TV cliche or stunt too transparant to be swallowed whole.

While watching live TV their Sky+ box was constantly recording other material to be viewed later, the hard disk was always full, and the arguments over what should be deleted to make way for more of the same heated and bitter. But I could tolerate that, in small doses, for the sake of seeing my hosts.

But now, having driven like the devil and endured peak-hour tailbacks through the Midlands, I was being subjected to ferry company customer service at its finest. Having got through the initial checkpoint, and passed outbound customs, I was among many motorists now corralled in a holding area, where terminal facilities were available “for your comfort and convenience”

Entering the building, it became apparent to myself and many other motorists that the coffee and snack shop was closed.

The door onto the corridor leading to the toilets was locked.

There was not a single member of staff anywhere to help.

Children were crying, people wanted the loo, I wanted a warm drink in me, and everyone was vexed. All we had access to was a large waiting room with hard plastic seats, and a big, booming television.

And then Eastenders came on, and suddenly no one was vexed, everybody settled down and looked at the screen, and the locked toilets and the lack of “comfort and convenience” didn’t matter to anyone any more, as they were comforted by the ultimate complaint handler – a bit of telly.

At that moment, as the dum dum dum of the Eastenders theme crashed around the room, I felt my world spin, and it was as if I could suddenly see what TV does – drains the passion, the thought, the fight, out of a population, and makes them . . content.

I went back outside, and sat in my car. I knew it was not a plot, it was not deliberate, but yet, the effect was a visible fact – treat customers any way you want, as long as you give them a bit of telly, it will all be OK.

That played on my mind for a while, over the summer, and my spells with the TV off became longer, not so much as a conscious decision, but more because I was finding the endless promos and trailers and constant stripping of programmes such as The Simpsons and Friends and all the “real-life” dramas across many channels to be more and more of an irritation.

And I could see my own childhood favourite, Dr. Who, being sucked into this, with more and more flashy guest-stars, and less standalone, thoughtful and quirky episodes.

I thought about life without TV. Not a life without watching programmes or films, but without the actual set itself, sitting there consuming space and asking to be switched on. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that even the space the TV itself claimed was more use to me than the slim pickings I now got from it. And so the decision was made, the TV would go when my current Sky contract came to an end at the start of October.

A shocked Oran helped my carry it downstairs and out of my life.

It’s not as if I can’t watch things if I want to. I’m not a luddite, and I’m not anti-media. Anything I want is available on the Internet if I really want to get it, but that is more of an active and discerning choice, which I like.

And the very last thing of all that I had told myself I was hanging on to TV for, live news, is now accessible just as easily online as through TV.

Above is a screenshot – don’t try clicking on the links !

RTE have their main news bulletins easily accessible, and the individual stories also, as featured videos (see above). And the BBCs online news video service is even more impressive.

I can still watch episodes of TV if I really want to, I can buy or download, and my stack of DVDs is still in the corner, but, still just as little viewed. But I find I’m not doing that so much.

For the first week that the TV was gone, I felt serious pangs. Which was ridiculous, as I had been going weeks at a time without turning it on anyway, but it more the absence of the ability to turn it on, the loss of an object which had been a focal point of every residence I had lived in through my adult life. Another week has gone by, and the pangs are gone.

I listen to radio (mostly speech), I often listen to downloaded podcasts of shows from Radio 4 and the World Service in the evening, I have extra space where the TV used to be, and I feel . . . liberated, awake.

You were good to me once TV, you coloured my childhood with Daleks and Liver Birds and Life On Earth . . but we fell out of love when it became too stale, and I gave you your marching orders.

And now I don’t miss you one little bit.

And when I see you with someone else, I won’t be jealous.

Steve