Magazine article The Spectator

Tea and Telly

Magazine article The Spectator

Tea and Telly

Article excerpt

I don't watch a lot of telly these days because I'd rather read. But when I was going out with my boy's mother, she and I watched it all the time. It was all we ever did. I'd come home from work and we'd sit on the sofa and watch the telly until it was time for her to go to bed and for me to go home.

She was living with her family at the time and we'd all watch telly together in their tiny front room. There'd be me, her, her mum, her dad, her gran, her older sister and her younger brother in three inward-facing rows, night after night. Her dad was a cowman and the house smelt of cattle, and we sat around an open log fire - otherwise the situation was remarkably similar to that portrayed by the TV sitcom The Royle Family.

We sat and smoked and ate and watched mainly soaps, game shows and 'reality TV'. If a programme with any kind of intellectual content came on, it would be derided as 'rubbish', and we'd switch channels. The best-appointed chair was reserved for the cowman father, William, who'd continually make wind and look for applause afterwards, as if his ability to execute farts was the greatest gift that Nature had bestowed on him. Sometimes his wind would pass out of him as lightly as a summer breeze. At other times he would close one eye and his face would shudder, as though the required effort involved the combined energies of his mind, body and spirit. Critical reaction to these flatulent outbursts was often mixed. As in The Royle Family, the sullen younger brother, Wayne, was always sent out for cigarettes, or made to answer the telephone or the doorbell. He was very unsure of himself in those days. On one occasion there was a knock at the door and we said, 'Go and answer the door, Wayne.'

And he made a scene about it. 'But I'm crap at answering the door,' he said. And he was, too. He'd open the door, see someone standing there, and he'd panic and his mind would go completely blank. He'd come back into the sitting-room after answering the door and we'd say, 'Well? Who was it? What did they want?' And he wouldn't be able to answer either question satisfactorily. Nor, when pressed, could he give a description of the visitor or an account of the conversation that had passed between them.

I sat in that sitting-room every night watching telly for about three years. …

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