Tim Dowling: my TV is big – it’s just the picture that got small

Should I have to leave my chair and peer at the screen from six inches away to reveal the show’s plot twist? No I should not

There is mounting evidence to suggest that the people in charge of the broadcasting and streaming industries are assuming I have a much bigger television than I actually have. All I know is that I was not consulted.

In a popular crime drama, someone holds up a letter and gasps at the significance of a particular line.

“Was I meant to be able to read that?” I say, leaning forward.

“Here we go,” my wife says.

On another night, a victim looking through a book of mugshots suddenly points to one. Two policemen exchange worried glances. Scene ends.

“Am I supposed to know who that was?” I say. “From here?”

“Probably,” my wife says.

“Go back,” I say, standing up. “Now pause.” I peer at the screen from six inches away, scrutinising a face just a few pixels across. Then I sit back down.

“Yeah, it’s what-his-name,” I say.

“I thought so,” my wife says.

“I shouldn’t have to do that,” I say. “I shouldn’t have to leave my chair.”

Our television is not small. It may not be as big as some of the tellies I glimpse on my walk home from the tube in the magic hour after sunset and before people close their curtains, but it takes up most of the shallow alcove where it sits. If I wanted a bigger telly I’d have to take out the chimney breast, just so I could decipher a tiny sign taped to a shop window in the time it takes for the main character’s features, reflected in the glass, to contort with realisation.

“What?” I say. “Lost cat? Bass player wanted?”

“I’ve seen this episode already,” my wife says. “And I still can’t remember.”

“Honestly, how big a telly would I need to read that writing?”

“I think we find out what it means in the end,” she says.

“That’s not the point,” I say. “Either I’m supposed to have this information or I’m not.”

“In the meantime, you’re spoiling it for me,” my wife says.

“How can I be spoiling it if you’ve already seen it?” I say. Then I realise what she means: you are spoiling it by being so openly old.

I do not wish to be old about this. I accept that people who have bought much bigger televisions than mine probably only feel they’ve got their money’s worth when they can make out the address on an envelope as it lands on the mat in a starkly lit communal hallway while knowing that somewhere, someone like me can’t.

“On the other hand, young people watch whole movies on their phones,” I say. “What about them?”

“They’re the ones you really feel sorry for,” my wife says.

At the start of the football season I noticed that during matches the competing sides were no longer identified by three letter abbreviations in the upper left corner of the screen, but by tiny team badges. The name of the team may or may not appear on its badge, but even if it does you won’t be able to read it.

“How am I even supposed to know who’s playing?” I say, my right eyeball grazing the screen.

“Um, because you just do,” says the middle one.

“Maybe if this TV took up one side of the house I could read that,” I say. “It’s absolutely …” I stop myself there, realising exactly how old I sound. It’s not even a question of failing eyesight. It’s just the world moving forward without me, while I shake my fist at it.

I go up to my wife’s office, once a child’s bedroom, to complain further, but she isn’t there. Looking out the window, I see that the car is gone. I can also see TVs lighting the windows of neighbouring houses, some showing the same football match, bright and clear in the fading afternoon.

When I return to the living room a few hours later, I find the middle one still watching the football, albeit a different match, on a different channel. On this channel they still use the old three-letter system to identify the teams, which I confess sometimes still baffles me. I try to puzzle it out for a while, but eventually I give in.

“What does NFO stand for?” I say.

“Nottingham Forest,” says the middle one.

“Oh,” I say. “I thought it stood for Not Fucking Around.”

“That doesn’t even work,” he says.

“Yes it does,” I say. “Because the O is ‘a round’. Get it?”

He rolls his eyes before lowering them to his lap, where he is also watching a film on his phone.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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