Is there a very thin man inside my TV set?

I still don’t know how my TV works. Do you? Basically, I don’t know how most household items work unless they happen to be held together with nuts, bolts, screws or elastic bands and don’t require electricity to function. And basically I’m not interested enough to find out. I prefer things that I can take apart and put together – things where you can see what’s what.

I gather from WikiLeaks that the FBI may now be able to spy on me from my TV. Apparently there are microphones inside Samsung television sets – and naturally I have a Samsung television set – that can be recording the most intimate details of one’s private life whilst appearing to be safely turned off. Reactions have been mixed. One man has vowed only to watch TV in the nude from now on.

The only thing is, it says smart TVs. Now, I’m not sure my Samsung TV is all that smart. The thing seems to have trouble even managing its pixels. A good strong wind or a torrential downpour outside and it takes to pixilating wildly. If the bad weather continues it become one big pixel and no picture. Then I have to try all the usual recipes for getting electronic devices to work – first I talk to it, gently but reprovingly; then I screw all its little pointy plugs back in at the back, several times over; then I waggle its wires and inspect the bits stuffed into the waste paper basket (yes, my wires are in a waste paper basket) that one of the cats once peed on. Have those sections dissolved any more since last time I looked at them? Finally, I do what everyone the world over does – I turn it off and turn it on again. Of course it might still be listening? The rainstorm pixel-storm might just be a ruse to make me think it was turned off or a cover for FBI agents or Russians tuning in:

Hey, Hank, it’s the dame with the knitting and the Sudoku set or

Ach, Yuri – dat babushka vid all the felines…

I was trying to think whether I had got anything at all in my house that might be classed as “smart”. There’s the fridge of course. It’s fairly new but it doesn’t seem to talk to anything, just sits there – whitely, despondently – gurgling to itself at intervals. It certainly doesn’t hold conversations with the oven, which just sits there – rustily, sulkily – refusing to communicate with anybody.

I tried to clean the interior of the oven a while back, with a substance recommended on the internet – probably bicarbonate of soda, that’s what the internet usually recommends. It foamed up, dribbled out and, eventually, rusted. Not that I cook much anyway. I did manage one of my signature vegetable hotpots in it yesterday, and that tasted OK. There’s the toaster, of course, but most of the time it lurks inside one of my kitchen cupboards. I do place my ear to the door at intervals but so far haven’t heard it tapping, or a muffled toaster-y voice demanding to be let out.

As for tech, I have a mobile phone but it’s not the smart kind – devious perhaps – forever hiding the address book and relocating the place where you can update the clock. It and I do not get on.

I have a desktop computer – indeed, and here I am sitting in front of it – but somehow I doubt that it is looking back at me. It’s been rebuilt so many times by despairing Mr Computer Fixits that any eavesdropping device the FBI may have put in is likely to have been destroyed several times over.

There is the tablet, of course, the Kindle Fire. Now that may indeed be smart. Certainly it’s got apps on it: does merely having apps make something smart? I wonder if they will ever get round to installing apps into children – bypass all that schoolwork, just download Pythagoras’ Theorem, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Shakespeare’s Sonnets….?

In any case I can’t see why anybody would be in the least interested in listening in to me and my twelve moggies. I mean, they’d surely die of boredom since most of the time it would be silence; maybe the odd shuffling of paper, a cough, the slurping of tea, a chorus of plaintive meows around feeding time. Reluctantly, I had to rule myself out as a potential candidate for Gogglebox on that very basis.

I do enjoy Gogglebox, though like everything else it becomes almighty tedious after the first few series. Gogglebox consists entirely of couples and families slumped around on sofas throughout the realm, being filmed as they are watching TV whilst eating sandwiches and salted peanuts, attempting to remove large dogs from their line of vision, screaming, gasping, chortling, arguing and exchanging barbed marital witticisms.

giles.png

Giles and Mary, Gogglebox

I did think I would like to be on it, but it’s difficult to be entertaining, even unintentionally, when you live on your own. Whether it’s a baby bird teetering on the edge of its nest high up in some mountain eyrie, a turtle being chased by hundreds of snakes and just about making it over the sand dunes to the water’s edge, some politician saying something mind-bogglingly stupid or someone falling over and revealing their bespangled knickers whilst meant to be ballroom dancing – what can you say, when you’re on your own in the room? It’s hardly worth an “Oh!”

I was looking at the TV just now – not the front, the back. It’s very narrow. When we got our first television set it seemed to take up most of the living room. It was the size of a sideboard. In those days it was quite possible to credit what your parents told you – that there was a little man who lived in the TV, and he was what made it work. I really believed that. I used to worry about him. Wasn’t it stuffy and dark in there? Didn’t he ever get tired of wrestling with the vertical hold? How did he eat? How did he pee? Did he have a special bottle?

Now of course I have put away such childish misconceptions: if the FBI or the Russians are indeed lurking inside my TV set with microphones or secret cameras, all I can say is they must be very thin men (or ladies) indeed.

Following the White Rabbit

Apparently there are now mugs advising one to KEEP CALM AND FOLLOW THE WHITE RABBIT. I rather like all these Keep Calms though they’re a bit old hat now.

Follow the White Rabbit – I was assuming Alice in Wonderland but I gather – and this is the beauty of blogging, you find out so many totally irrelevant things – that it may also have some sort of drugs connotation, but also may refer to a scene in The Matrix (I thought I’d seen all the Matrix’s but I can’t remember this scene) where Neo is advised to follow said Rabbit and shortly thereafter is visited by a lady with a rabbit tattoo on her right shoulder. I must watch those films again… but since I can’t afford to go to the cinema, or indeed anywhere I don’t have to in my little motor car, I will have to wait until they appear on one or other of the Freeview channels. Which they will. They’re almost as regular as The Sound of Music. That was on again this Christmas and for once I actually watched it – again. And I hate it. I loathe those goody-goody children in their matching frocks and silly dungarees. I loathe Julie Andrews and I loathe Christopher Plummer… who, I have just discovered, is exactly the same age as my mother. Assuming still alive. Christopher Plummer, I mean, not my mother. I know she’s still alive.

I must have been really bored.

This prompt, Keeping up with the Joneses (or Jones’ as they insist on putting it – no one ever kept up with a Jones’) is asking me to tell you about one luxury item I wish I could afford, in as much detail as I can. I am meant to paint a picture for you.

I’m never going to manage that. I’ve never been any good at selecting one just item out of many. That would involve a decision. I’ve never been any good at decisions. The best I can do is a list.

This is the first time in a long time I have allowed myself to think about what I might want. That’s the worst of poverty – not the lack of stuff but the gradual loss of motive for daydreaming. You get to the point where you cannot want. It’s a bit like sex. I can admire Daniel Craig – his chiselled good looks, his splendid physique, those icy blue eyes – but is there even the remotest chance that he would admire me in return? No. Therefore I cannot fantasise about him.

(Every time Daniel Craig’s name is mentioned I think of Kate Bottley, a vicar who watches TV with her husband and a dog on Gogglebox, wearing enormous fluffy slippers. Kate Bottley, not the dog. She once remarked that she knew there was a Benevolent God since He had created Daniel Craig).

It’s the same with money. After a while you ditch the desire for it. It’s a way to survive. But, for the purposes of this post, I will consider – what would I really, really want, if I suddenly got my hands on some money? Well, here’s my list:

I’d like a driveway. A long, gravel driveway with a house so far down that driveway as to be invisible from the road. I would like it to crunch as I drove down. I would like the house to be large enough for lots of cats to roam about in and wreck, but discouraging to callers. Preferably surrounded by tall, glossy-leaved laurel bushes. Nothing interesting.

I’d like a beach hut. Rented would do. I love the sea. I’d love to go down to the choppy English Channel with my flask of lukewarm tea, some cheese–and-pickle sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil and a thick blanket to wrap round my shoulders (I’m guessing it gets cold in beach houses) and I’d sit there and drink it all in. View, not the sea.

I’d like a camper van. Is that a universal name, or just British? Maybe they’re called something different in America, like caravans being trailers. I’d like a van I could stuff full of tea, cheese-and-pickle sandwiches, blankets – whatever else might be needed for a week away – and I’d like to just go, pootling around the countryside like Toad in his motor-car and parking in lay-bys. I never got to travel – well, a weekend in Paris, a week in Ontario and a few assorted works outings and day-trips to forgettable destinations such as Calais, Bruges and Le Touquet. Oh, and Scotland where like most people I didn’t get to see the Loch Ness Monster. But travel. I would like to just drift… from lay-by to lay-by… stopping to look at the view, keeping some kind of journal… And it would be sunny. Sunny, for once.

On a more practical note, I’d like a white transit van capacious enough to transit a large number of cats in a large number of large pet-carriers, should I ever decide to move. Better still, one of those vans specially adapted for transporting animals, with built-in accommodation, like the RSPCA have. Although I suppose if I already had the camper van it could double up as a transit van. No room to park two large vans and my little car. Although of course if I already had the laurel-shrouded house at the end of the crunchy driveway, that would be no problem. I could day-dream a triple garage somewhere round the back. Or just park them all on the drive.

And lastly I would like approx £500 a month from some sort of Trust Fund, which will be discovered to have been set up for me by an Uncle in Tasmania I didn’t know I had. £500 a month would mean I didn’t have to think about money, ever again. I could manage on that. We could – the multi-cat-and-person-commune. Felix for all and the occasional tub of Raspberry Ripple ice-cream for me.

So what do all my ‘wants’ have in common? F.I.P. No, not Fell In Pond – as Rudyard Kipling recorded of unlucky visitors to Batemans, his beautiful house in East Sussex, but

Freedom

Independence

Privacy

 

ERISED STRA EHRU OYT UBE CAFRU OYT ON WOHSI

What would you see in Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised? What is the thing you so much desire to see that you might actually starve to death in front of a mirror of desire, gazing at it? What is your heart’s desire?

By the way, I am indebted for this tiny fragment of inspiration to Erised Moon, the éminence grise behind an excellent blog called Dwelling in Erised. I rather doubt that it’s an original idea, and won’t have been used a hundred, or even a million times before but wotthehell wotthehell as Mehitabel sings, I’ll give it a go.

You tend to become wary of dreams as you get older. Suspicious, reluctant, having been carried away, then let down by them many times before. First you get to know that most of them won’t come true. Then you get to realise there’s either no time or no realistic way for them to come true. A romantic weekend in Venice with Daniel Craig is out of the question: any un-magical mirror will tell me that. In fact, would always have told me that. Kate Bottley, the lady vicar who appears with her husband on Gogglebox, once remarked that she knew there must be a benevolent God because He’d created Daniel Craig. Daniel Craig, to me, falls into the same category as the Northern Lights, Ming vases and the Mona Lisa – unique, admirable, a thing of beauty, and to be appreciated at a distance only.

But then that’s the point of the Mirror of Erised, isn’t it? It gives you permission to dream without restraint.

So, what would I see? Different things on different days.

I might see Sophie, my cat, who had to be put to sleep after a long, long life. I might see her young, and purring, curled up in a corner of the garden, basking in warm summer sun.

I might see that forest retreat I used to dream about when I was younger, where I would write, or rather type on an old-fashioned, black, sit-up-and-beg typewriter (since one’s dreams can only be furnished with the technology of the time) and where there would be no one at all but me – just me, the trees, and the rain on the roof. And a black and white cat. In fact, Sophie.

Expanding that dream a little – after all there is rheumatism to consider, in a damply forested retreat – I might see a long, sandy beach, a hammock and a stack of really interesting paperbacks. Somewhere in the background there would be a nice little cabin with a straw roof, and a perhaps word processor rather than a sit-up-and-beg black typewriter – you needed hands of steel for those big old keys, they were so hard to hit. And of course there would be cats. Sandy sort of cats, more than one, possibly ginger.

I suppose I might see a different looking me – less of a giantess – fragile, lissom, blonde and impossibly, high-cheekbonedly beautiful. You see, it does matter what you look like. Beauty may only be skin deep, but it’s both a head start and something to fall back on. It’s like the secretarial or accountancy qualification children who want to be actors and actresses are always urged by their parents to get. In times of dearth and famine it’s a weapon and a resource at your disposal. With looks like that, even Daniel Craig might have been a possibility.

I wonder why I would not want to see my grandparents, or their garden, my playground and retreat when I was a child. Or the man I loved and lost. Years, I spent fantasising that one day, just one day, just briefly I might be permitted a fleeting glimpse of him – in a crowded city street, perhaps. And then I did see him, in a queue at the Halifax building society during my lunch-hour. I was thirteen years older than the last time he’d seen me and, frankly, I looked a mess. Because it was such a lousy, wet day I was wearing those zip-up grandma ankle bootees from the old-lady catalogue; not the sort of bootees you’d want to be seen clumping around in by any desirable man, let alone him. And I think he saw me, but then again, maybe he didn’t. And I think maybe we saw each other and arrived at some instant, unspoken decision to look in different directions. Because some things can only ever work in the past; symbols, archetypes, memories, characters in some long-forgotten play, therein lies their power. Invisibility and impossibility – that’s what makes them sweet.