Friday 21 October 2016

The overwhelming bliss of proper telly (and what it taught me about addiction)

Declan Lynch on ecstatic childhood holidays visiting a household with impossibly glamorous English TV - in colour

Published 21/12/2015 | 02:30

Young tv addict: Declan Lynch was unable to get colour TV or the BBC in Athlone when he was growing up
Young tv addict: Declan Lynch was unable to get colour TV or the BBC in Athlone when he was growing up

For reasons that are too boring to detain us here, we lived in Athlone but would spend Christmas in the seaside village of Blackrock, near Dundalk. Which was a lovely place, though again that is something that need not concern us here.

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The only thing that matters here is that it was a place in which you could get the BBC and ITV - and you could get them on a colour television. And when I was a child you couldn't get any of those things in Athlone.

It was a powerful thing. It was overwhelming.

I believe that one of the few moments of perfect happiness I have had in my life was when I was eight and we arrived up from Athlone one Christmas and I set myself up in front of the television to watch the black-and-white movie A Christmas Carol, with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, knowing that about two weeks of such magnificence stretched in front of me, this thing that was so much better than life itself.

It would start a few weeks earlier, when the Christmas movies on TV would be announced, releasing a flood of anticipation.

Already I could see myself luxuriating in the BBC's offerings on Christmas Day, the Top of the Pops Christmas special in the afternoon, Morecambe and Wise and Mike Yarwood in the evening, and maybe a James Bond film that was now available for mere TV viewers, after some mysterious bidding war conducted at the highest level by the most brilliant operators then working in the industry of human happiness.

And then there was Boxing Day. . .

I must have been about 10-years-old when I first took note of the words 'Boxing Day' being used by a BBC continuity announcer describing a bill of fare that featured a special edition of Grandstand and a full programme of football matches. Which would mean a special edition of Match of the Day to come. And the racing from Kempton featuring the King George Chase with commentary by Peter O'Sullevan.

It was too much, too soon.

Even now the memory of the theme music of Grandstand transports me to that higher place in which I dwelt during those days when I was in a permanent state of peace.

That place in which I would gorge myself incessantly on all these lovely things that were coming out of the box, happy even to be watching the test card before the official start of play each morning, because whatever was on the test card, seemed to me inherently more interesting than anything that might be happening outside in Ireland at that time - though there would be the odd interruption on UTV when an Ulster voice affecting an air of calm would ask key-holders in the Craigavon area to return to their premises to search for incendiary devices.

Not only was Christmas TV filling my days with pleasure, it was imparting a deeper understanding too - I now had a certain insight into those stories in which members of a primitive tribe would be exposed to western gadgetry such as the radio, or maybe just electricity, and how it could have unintended consequences for them, even perhaps disturbing the delicate balance of their minds.

Clearly I was in a state of addiction that was already quite advanced before I had even reached the age of 12. It could hardly be otherwise, given the pattern that had been established of gross deprivation for most of the year, and then this massive overdose of the finest television known to humanity.

And then back to the terrible emptiness of life without Michael Parkinson and David Coleman and Frank Bough and the incomparable Cilla.

Indeed in later life my researches into matters of addiction in general have been informed by these early experiences, whereby a long period of complete abstinence would be followed by a deluge of intoxication.

In the fullness of time, as soon as the opportunity presents itself, a person exposed to such a regime will most likely be seeking intoxication constantly, and finding it harder all the time to get what he is looking for, given that even Christmas TV is not what it was, and in fact is now as bad as it used to be great.

And even back then, at those moments of the deepest peace, leafing through pages of TV listings of so many fine programmes as yet unseen, I would feel a certain poignance starting to creep into the edges of my consciousness.

Even as I sat watching that version of A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim, with so much in store, I could already sense the erosion of time, an awareness that each minute of this other-worldly excellence was also bringing me a minute nearer to its absence - the feeling that, ultimately, all things would pass.

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