Wider yet and wider

Monday August 7, 2006

I set myself some targets today. Visit the bank. Done. Shop to a list, itemising several basic things we needed for the caravan home. Done. Paint at least half of the study with the top coat. Done. Take another big black sack of laundry up to the wash-o-mat and get it washed and dried in time to be back in the caravan to watch the second programme in the repeated series of I, Claudius. Done. Watch I, Claudius. Failed.

See, when the atmospherics are unfavourable, several digital TV channels disappear on their journey across the Bristol Channel from Wales to West Quantoxhead. One of the most vulnerable is BBC Four and, this evening, it disappeared at almost the same time as my much-loved programme started.

“What are you doing here?” Graham asked when I turned up at the bar shortly afterwards, seeking liquid compensation. “I thought you’d be glued to the screen to watch I, Claudius.”

“No signal on BBC Four this evening.”

“Oh, bugrit. I’m sorry about that.”

“Not to worry. It’s only a TV programme, not the end of the world. I’m disappointed but not upset.”

“Well, I’m upset. You’ve been looking forward to it.”

“True. But they’ll repeat it like as not. And when we’re in the house we’ll have a decent digital signal so it won’t happen any more.”

“Not the point. You love that programme. Soon as we can we’ll get you a copy of the series on DVD.”

“Make a good birthday present, would that.”

“Don’t fish. You’ll get what you get.”

Hey ho. It is only a TV programme, even if it’s a very special TV programme for me. I watched the original, thirty years back, and I’ve watched every repeat since. It’s still fresh and intensely watch-worthy, just as the original historical novels by Robert Graves remain a darn good read, to which I’ve returned over and over throughout my reading life. And the period covered—the Roman Empire and the lives of four of the most interesting Emperors—is one which I find endlessly fascinating.

What’s interesting is Graham’s take on the glitch to my TV watching plans. Buy the DVDs, and you can watch classic TV whenever you have the urge to revisit old friends. DVDs make these things as instantly available as books on your shelf. If you don’t care to buy them, you can take them out on loan from your local public library. More and more of the BBC’s classic programming, new and old, is available on DVD, along with the best of the output from other sources.

It’s an intriguing and complex development, impacting on broadcast TV programming and on the marketing of mainstream movies. It changes the viewer’s attitude to watching rubbish on TV—you really don’t need to suffer the likes of Big Brother, or sports broadcasts, when you have a decent library of classic programming on your shelf. And increasingly, with broadband development, you can augment your own library with a massive resource ready to view over the Internet.

I’ve only a limited idea of how it all works, leave alone the question of how it will go in the future, especially how it will impact on future TV programming. All I am is grateful that I’m becoming less and less at the mercy of dull, lowest common denominator TV broadcast schedules, and becoming more and more independent of inferior, unreliable TV broadcast technology.

It’s strange how it all comes together, though, isn’t it? As my sixty-seventh birthday grows ever nearer, and while I’m engaged on a decorating project which, to be honest, is only marginally within my age-diminished physical resources, I’m acutely aware of the way that Internet and video technology is coming along just in time for me. Instead of closing in as I grow older, my world becomes wider yet and wider. I like that. My boundaries are not set.



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