Monday, 20 July 2009

tv or not tv?

It is not exactly a matter of life and death, I know, but the question of what to do about the telly seems to be gaining significance in my world.

You see, I was brought up on a diet of strict BBC, permitted only to fill the gap between my return from school and my mother’s return from work, though this would technically not count as ‘permitted’ as there was simply noone there to object.

Less controversially, telly was allowed after tea (which is dinner for those readers in the south of England) provided any homework had already been done. Never, ever EVER was the television on during a meal.

My mother’s inverted watershed meant no daytime television was allowed at all, which neatly ruled out all the stuff broadcast early on a Saturday morning to give parents a lie in while the kids are in the care of the square baby-sitter.

I can’t complain about that really. I spent most of those mornings on some frozen forgotten sports field anyway, so I would not have been around to tune in, even if the television had not been deemed the cause of the country’s gradual slide into sloppy table manners and creeping mispronunciation of the word ‘controversy.’

It simply meant I had to busk my way through playground chat about Tiswas and Swap Shop both of which I have yet to see, and try to keep calm when, the morning after a sleepover at a friend’s house, we ate breakfast on our knees in front of something called Shang-A-Lang.

Before Snooks was born, I read a newspaper article about a new children’s programme, which was exceptional in its ability to soothe very young children, rather than excite or try to educate them.

The article quoted lots of intelligent, respected voices in praise of the programme for its colour, music, humour and gentleness. It was suitable, they said, even for little babies.

It got me thinking about whether the gogglebox might not deserve its attention-sucking, conversation-killing reputation, but could be quite a useful tool in bringing up a child.

I gave In the Night Garden a trial run before allowing Snooks to see it, recording it and holding a clandestine viewing one night when the Engineer was out. I noticed that the slow pace, the repetition and the retelling of the story at the end meant it was very like reading a story from a book, only with moving pictures. And a proper orchestra playing the music, already. And Derek Jacobi doing the voices. Come on, this is classy.

So, I introduced Snooks to Iggle Piggle when he was around three months old, letting him absorb the colour and music and switching off when he started to turn away.

The programme goes out at 6pm, meant to be the Bedtime Hour but in our house is the Getting the Dinner Ready hour, which provides a perfect wind down at the end of the day for both of us.

These days Snooks sits on the rocking chair I once occupied (wearing my Magic Roundabout t-shirt) for such activities and reels backwards and forwards, yelping and pointing as the action unfolds.

I cook the dinner and follow the story sufficiently to know when Snooks is going to need me to join him in a celebratory whoop that Iggle Piggle has finally got his ball back.

And the Engineer usually returns from work about half way through and accompanies Snooks for the rest of the programme, so that we are all up to speed on the plotlines.

What can be the harm in that?

Well I suppose it is a bit like that other box; knowing it contains something as lovely as In The Night Garden, Snooks now wants to know what else is in there. Mostly, when he gestures to the blank screen, I reach for one of his books on the shelf above it, pretending to misunderstand. But it won’t work for much longer.

Perhaps Pandora’s mum should have just hidden the remote.

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