Recently, the weather has been what could kindly be described as “inclement”, but where this over-used word normally refers to an isolated spell, the Met Office has officially confirmed that February 2020 has been the wettest month since records began. With literally hundreds of flood warnings up and down the country, high winds, snow and ice, the impact has been felt widely, with some areas experiencing severe damage.
On a personal level, I feel a bit guilty admitting that I have been only slightly inconvenienced, given I can work from home, and have had no need to travel. Compounded by a winter cold generously given to me by my grandson, Fraser, I have spent most of February in the house. However, with regular visits from my daughter and Fraser, a pile of novels and lots of non-fiction on my Audible account I’ve been far from bored.
I also confess to enjoying the luxury of a new HD Smart TV, and as a digital immigrant, never cease to be amazed at the choice of viewing. The quote "TV is chewing gum for the eyes" is often attributed to the late Frank Lloyd Wright, but was later amended to "chewing gum for the mind " by a Montana Newspaper in 1962.
But is this really the case? Surely it comes down to selective viewing.
A character in one of the wonderful late Victoria Wood’s sitcoms commented that she intended spending her retirement sitting in front of the TV eating biscuits. That made me somewhat wary, but in my current state of semi-retirement, I find that I enjoy deliberately choosing the time when I want to simply sit and relax and get lost in a good film or boxset.
TV can be educational too, and HD is wonderful for nature programmes and documentaries, and I could never have imagined being able to access content from the Smithsonian Channel or PBS. What a treat!
But it’s not just the adults who can be educated. Fraser is 17 months old and absolutely loves kids’ TV. I am now an expert on all the characters in Fireman Sam, Paw Patrol, Masha and the Bear and Super Wings. My own childhood memories are of Andy Pandy, the Woodentops and Bill and Ben. Apparently the Woodentops was devised to teach children about family life, but viewed through a 21st century lens, its middle-class values, received pronunciation and stereotypical gender portrayal feel quite ridiculous.
What strikes me today, apart from the obvious transformational improvement in terms of colour, sound and picture quality, is the multi-layered aspect of all of these programmes. On a superficial level they are bright and colourful, fast-paced and have (in the main) catchy music. But dig deeper and there are some seriously strong social and emotional messages holding the stories and characters together, which hopefully are making a positive impact on the impressionable minds of their young viewers.
Teamwork and leadership feature widely. For instance, despite the highly visible presence of Station Officer Steele, Fireman Sam is both the technical expert and default leader in the Pontypandy Fire Service.
In Paw Patrol and Super Wings, individual pups or aircraft are picked and tasked with tackling specific problems dependent on their particular skillset, or range of impressive gadgets. They often have to improvise and sometimes pull in other characters, but all the while are focused on achieving their outcome, which always follows a theme of helping and supporting others.
Norman Price and his long-suffering mother, Dilys, in Fireman Sam
There is a strong thread of kindness and empathy running through the programmes too, and this is handled in a more subtle way than simply the old-fashioned good versus evil mechanism deployed in the cartoons of my childhood. The mischievous Norman Price in Fireman Sam – Fraser’s favourite – often wreaks havoc with his daredevil escapades, but we are conscious of his mother struggling to run her business and look after her boisterous son.
No mention is ever made of Norman’s father, and the child and adult characters have an innate sense of concern and tolerance for him. Norman is not exempt from reprimand, but gentle allowances are made for his “bad” behaviour and patient explanations given to try and help him modify this.
Everything in moderation. We try to ensure that TV is never used as a passive means of babysitting, and complemented by books, toys, group activities at playgroup, and outdoor play I think the modern kids’ TV programmes are remarkable and definitely have a place in a child’s development.
No doubt our viewing hours will be reduced as the weather improves and “normal service” resumes. But, for a dreich, miserable February, I don’t think our TV viewing represented chewing gum for the mind. Even the fact that I had to think about that is in itself proof that it can and should be much more! And…the final word has to come from the late great Victoria Wood.
Jogging is for people who aren’t intelligent enough to watch television.
Take care. Lead well.