The Disappointment of Television

Ah television you are a fickle mistress. You dominate our culture, sitting smugly in the corner of every living room across the country, pulling furniture into your orbit until everything faces you and you alone. You bathe us in the flickering of diodes and fill our minds with whatever the executives ask you to.

There are times I want to hate you. When I flick you on in the evening and my choice is between yet another reality dancing show, cookery or endless reruns on Dave. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to cater purely to my tastes, just occasionally. I’ve lost count of the number of times I look down the schedule for the night and there’s not a single program on that I fancy watching.

And even when there is something halfway palatable on, more often than not it only takes few minutes of watching before I become disproportionally furious. Total Wipeout – one joke spread over hour long episodes and countless series – is particularly abhorrent to me. I wonder what’ll happen this week Richard? Oh, he fell in the water. Shocker.

Then there the shows that – I feel – misrepresent how the world works. Take for example both The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den. The lessons that I take from these shows are that, to be successful in business you have to be rude, blunt, and as downright obnoxious as possible, that your failings as a person make you eminently suitable for employment is the upper echelons of the business world. The defence put forwards for these programs by both the Beeb and their fans is that they’re not meant to be taken seriously, that they’re for entertainment purposes only. But that’s not how they put themselves across, and most people don’t even think to make the distinction.

And yet…. sometimes you, television can be so wonderful. The Wire, Generation Kill, Being Human and Sherlock are some recent highlights. Sometimes you capture me spellbound for hours and fill my head with pitch perfect stories, amazing acting, set design, music and other tiny components too numerous to mention. I sit there gazing dumbstruck at you as this perfect majesty plays out before me. Often I only return to my body when credits kick in, using them as a mental breathing space to take in what I’ve just seen and digest.

And then you squeeze them into a tiny box in the bottom corner and jabber all over the theme tune to tell me what’s coming up next. Great work telly. You’ve ruined it again.


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Surprises and Cinema Trips

I was sat playing a pub quiz recently, nattering away and paying what can only be described as minimal attention to proceedings, when of the questions was ‘Which of Steven Spielberg’s films – his highest grossing – has been re-released in cinemas this week following its twentieth anniversary?’. Now, none of my team had any idea what the answer was so, as always happens in these situations, we just plumped for our favourite film, hoping that it would be right. And unequivocally, undeniably, unarguably, Jurassic Park is his finest work to date and that was what we subsequently scribbled down as the answer.

Fast forwards half an hour and imagine our surprise, the magnitude to which my gob was smacked, when that turned out to be the right answer. Our plans for Friday had been made. At the tender age of twenty-two I never saw Jurassic Park during its original release window – at least, I assume I didn’t – and I wasn’t about to squander the opportunity to do so now.

On Friday, as me and a friend walked into the cinema, my whole body was tense with excitement and I’m not ashamed to say that, as the lights lowered and the curtains slowly rustled their way open, I clapped my hands together like a small child. And my excitement turned out to be fully justified.

Every epic scene you remember from the film, be it Samuel L. Jackson’s disembodied arm flopping gently onto the leading lady’s shoulder or the scene where the children are chased through the kitchen by velocoraptors, the entire experience is enhanced by the simple fact that your seeing it in a cinema. The difference from television is palpable. The size and quality of the picture, the thundering soundtrack; it’s the step up between black and white and colour, between beta-max and blu-ray; indescribable to someone who has only experienced one of the two.

Which brings me onto my real point. Now don’t get me wrong, as a member of ‘the digital generation’ – loathe as I am to use the phrase – I have pirated things in the past. I even own special eye-patch to wear while I do so. But increasingly I fail to see the point, particularly in respect to films. Yes I can can go online and download a film the day it’s released in America, but it’ll be shakily shot by someone holding a camera in their lap, people will stand up in front of the screen and the sound quality will be terrible. And even if it wasn’t, nothing can really compare to the experience of going to the cinema, of sitting through the adverts, paying over the odds for a snack that’s ninety per cent air but having an amazing time anyway.

So if you’ve got eight or so pounds going begging, and two and a half hours to kill, I don’t know where you’re not already on your way to watch dinosaurs tear it up like it’s 1991.

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Fireworks and Thoughts

I love fireworks night. I think that, bar Christmas, it is my favourite seasonal holiday or event or whatever. There’s just something about it that turns all men, including myself, into five-year olds. From the moment that first rocket screams up into sky the and detonates, filling the air with the crackling of magnesium. The way that over the course of half an hour the sky is flooded with a thousand beautiful, short lived, unique constellations. Nothing else says the fifth of November like the faint tang of burning metals in the air.

Usually we have some fireworks at home with the family and this year was no exception. Some baked potatoes slowly crisping in the oven and the hot-dogs just going on the boil, along with the traditionally teeth pulling, home-made bonfire toffee and we were set to go. Off into the garden we trooped, dad’s face split by an enormous grin. He does love his fireworks bless him.

It wasn’t an enormous display this year, just a few rockets, a few of the ground-based fizzy ones, a load of sparklers….. oh yes, and a 120 shot Roman candle with a minimum safety distance of 100 meters. Now, this may surprise you, but my garden in definitely not 100 meters long. It’s a lot closer to ten. You’ve never felt truly alive until your father has lit an enormous, multi-shot rocket so close to the shed that roughly one in three of the rockets hits the overhang of the roof and ricochets off in a random direction before exploding. Terrifying, don’t get me wrong, but amazing to watch.

That was on the 5th itself, but on the Friday I also went down to watch the fireworks display in Corby. There were so many people there, all walking in the same direction, a mass of humanity. There was laughter in the air, hot-dog sellers, men selling light-up plastic tat from buckets. The bonfire was lit at seven and there was a real buzz. Everyone was happy to be there. Then the display started.

And what a display. So perfectly timed, so well planned, rockets popping off in unison, different colours mingling and matching in air. Wonderful. And the people watching it were all of the same mind, ahhhing and ooohing as one. There was a real sense of community in the air, as though we were banding together for this one night. And then the fireworks ended. People looked around, reformed their groups and, without missing a beat, started to trudge away again. Within minutes nearly a thousand people had vanished leaving nothing behind but the smouldering remains of a bonfire and heaps of litter on the floor.

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