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Television and me

I raised my children without television. So appalling was their deprivation that they had to resort to books. Not the kindle kind. Crusty old books, library books, other people’s books. Books that smelt. Of longings, of dreams, of lost lives and forgotten promises. Just books, books and more books. To me this was an ordinary childhood. My Dad gave me ‘The tale of two cities’ and ‘How to make friends and influence people’ to keep me occupied when I was bored and listless one steamy summer afternoon. I was eight.

It was always a universal panacea in my family. Sad, sick, hurt, lonely, lovelorn, bored, tired or plain broken. Read a book. Grab a comic. Start composing your own epic. Except for absolute, life threatening moments that needed specialist intervention such as a doctor, policeman, dentist, lawyer or hairdresser, reading was always the remedy. And even in those emergencies we read while we waited, to die, be healed or have our hair cut.

So seamless was this way of ordering my universe that when my children were small I took the job of librarian at their little country school. That way they had the choice of the whole library and I was able to read all day. I started reading to all the kids. Greek myths, Japanese folk tales, Peruvian adventures, cooking books, stories told in rap, a piece of Auden’s poetry, Mandela’s biography, anything really.

I don’t know the exact moment when I began to suspect that I was of alien birth. Alarm bells started to ring after reading’ Alice in Wonderland’ to a bunch of 6 year olds. One little fellow piped up with “My Dad says not to worry about anything you read in the library because it’s all made up and none of it is real”.  Forget about slaying a dragon or facing the Minotaur, a 6-year-old can swiftly bring you to your knees.

When my daughter entered high school she was asked to watch a contemporary television series and write a review. I find that teachers are rarely lost for words however her teacher was momentarily quieted by my daughter’s admission that she didn’t have a television, or rather, her mother chose not to have a television. After a pause she said ‘Well its time your mother moved into the current century!”

While not an absolute devotee of modernity, it has its own charm. The notion of human rights, women having the vote, an 8 hour working day, time travel and the abolition of slavery. Oh hold on I just made one of those up. No, slavery hasn’t been abolished yet in this century. However it’s not just the charm of this century that holds me here, tell me, where else am I going to go?

So I ask myself, what makes a person fit for modern life? The brilliant educator Richard Rorty said we all need a sentimental education. Teaching the heart. Maybe we need more stories, all sorts. Stories from life, stories from death, stuff we see at the movies and read in magazines, stories from the other side, not just our story but the stories of others. Stories that give us a chance to travel in another’s slipstream, even just for a moment. And maybe that is the true charm of modernity. Stories at our fingertips. Electronic, digital, downloadable, disposable, keepable, daily, hourly, beautifully dispensable and eminently available stories.

And yes lots of them are, well, made up.


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