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Date: 30/11/06

Turned Off

It's quite a significant evening here at Mental Towers. Tonight marks the night that I stop watching television, at least at home.

Now, for the benefit of all the exotic foreigners who may be passing through, I'll give a brief explanation of why tonight is the night:

In what is still called (in spite of increasing evidence to the contrary) the United Kingdom, if you use any television receiving equipment, you have to pay a licence fee to the State. This currently stands at £131.50 per year. Using the equipment (i.e., TV sets, VCR or DVD recorders, PCs with broadcast cards, digital receiving box) without a licence will land you with a fine of up to £1000 and a criminal record.

The licence fee goes to the BBC as its primary source of income.

Now, I should make it clear that I have no objection to the licence fee in principle: on the whole, I think it's the least unfair way of funding the BBC. The mad marketeers have made their suggestions down the years, but they are all deeply unsatisfactory: subscriptions would freeze out those too poor to pay them; getting the BBC to take advertising would be a disaster, especially in a time of reduced income in that sector (look at the mess ITV has become for the direst of warnings); and direct funding out of general taxation would place the BBC at even greater risk of political interference than it is at present.

I've thought about getting rid of my television in previous years, but have always chickened out at the last moment. This was partly because Christmas was on the horizon (my licence runs from December to November, you see), partly because I might be seen as party to some of the loony campaigns to get rid of the licence fee altogether (the most vocal of which has featured an extreme right-wing columnist from the Daily Telegraph, a Russian emigré ex-mental patient and Norris McWhirter), and partly because I renewed my licence at our village Post Office, and I liked the thought that I was putting business the way of a much-needed community resource.

It is this last-named factor which has now changed. Earlier this year, the BBC did a nasty little back-door deal with a private company which meant that people could no longer buy their licences (or buy saving stamps towards the full amount) from their local Post Office. Instead, this captive and highly-lucrative cash-stream was handed over (without, of course, so much as a squeak from that cartel of clowns known collectively as 'The Government') to a company called PayPoint, who run various services through grocers' and newsagents' shops.

It was this which finally tipped me over the edge. Well, that and the fact that television has become increasingly unwatchable for anyone with a modicum of taste. In any case, the analogue transmitters are going to be switched off over the next five years or so, and everyone is going to have to go digital if they want to watch television at all after that point. I had no intention of paying for new equipment simply so that I could watch an increasing number of channels full of under-resourced and under-talented crap, so this is simply a case of now rather than later.

Lest I should be accused of being snobbish or snooty about television, let me say that I have, in my time, loved television. If you look around this site, you will see ample evidence of my affection for it and what it has meant to me in my life. However, that loyalty has been strained to breaking point in recent times and, but for the news services on CEEFAX/Teletext, I would hardly ever have the set switched on of late.

So, at about 20:00 this evening, I started my own closedown sequence. First off, I switched the VCR to its output channel. This meant that I would be able to tune every channel on my TV to that, so that no channel could receive a signal from outside. Then I disconnected the aerial, and discovered that a certain amount of signal was still getting through.

I then went through each of the forty channels on my TV, setting them to the VCR's RF output channel. This was not as easy as it seemed, because the set (a Bush, about twelve years old) has one of those auto-tuning things on it which only runs one way! This means that if its starting point was, say, Channel 39, it would have to work its way all the way up Channel 68, jump back down to Channel 21 and then go up to where I wanted it.

As a result of all this, I got faint glimpses of the channels as they went by. It was a bit like a delirium dream, in that everything was rather fuzzy and disparate images followed hot upon one another. I saw (only saw, because I had the sound off) what appeared to be a scene with a comedy vicar; an advert for ear-wax remover, quickly followed by another one where a girl with full lips, big teeth and (one suspects) no knickers seemed to be eating something from a can of dog-food with almost orgasmic relish. Then there was a scene with a good-looking young couple sitting on a sofa talking. I suspect this was American, because it was set in one of those living-rooms where the staircase runs up the back wall. Then there was a woman trying (and failing) to be as sexy as Jenny Agutter (that's the American Werewolf In London Jenny Agutter, NOT the Railway Children one: whadya think I yam, some kinda poivoit?), followed by a brief glimpse of some men of limited articulacy kicking a ball around a field in Frankfurt.

All these images taken together seemed to sum up all that is television today, and much of what is wrong with it. They all passed, like the images I imagine flash across the inner eye of a dying man.

Finally, all forty channels were detuned. Then it was the turn of the VCR (a Sony, about nine years old) itself to get decommissioned. This was far easier, because I could select each VCR channel and simply type in the RF channel number and that was it.

Finally then, shortly after 22:00, the sets were switched off, disconnected, and manhandled into the corner of an upstairs room, there to sit unregarded.

There are some things I will miss, of course:

On the other hand, I will not miss:

I don't know whether I'll be able to keep up this spirit of noble detachment for long. I hope so, because I can think of many more interesting things to do than watching television (like learning how to play that acoustic guitar I bought nearly four years ago), and I now may have the time to do them. Life is, after all, too short.