Like washing machines and the Pill in an earlier era, there are two innovations that truly assist modern life. One is kids’ telly on tap. Modern children have it made; they can sit down and watch whatever they like, particularly now we’ve rigged iPlayer up to the telly. I’m not sure how it works but it’s the stuff of Tomorrow’s World right there in my living room. It’s impossible to explain what life was like in the Dark Ages of telly by appointment only.
Thing Two: ‘Did you have CBeebies Mummy?’
Me: ‘No, we only had three channels: BBC1 and 2, and ITV.’
Thing Two, excitedly: ‘CITV??’
Me: ‘Alas no.’
We didn’t even have a video-recorder. Presumably the lack of on-stream entertainment was why my brother and I watched so many unsuitable programmes such as Winner Takes All with Jimmy Tarbuck (catchphrase: ‘We’ll agree to disagree’). It was that or read a book. Or write on our slates.
The other life-changing thingy is of course the mobile phone. For most people, the topic ‘what did we do before mobiles’ leads to amusing sepia-tinted reminiscences about couples waiting haplessly in front of two different town clocks. But for those who are friends with Grange Girl it is a living thing: a daily reminder of an earlier, more trying age.
‘So if you get there at 3pm I’ll be in the rose garden, but later than 3.15pm and I’ll have moved onto the gardenias. From 3.30pm I’ll be in the tea-tent, and after 4.15pm I’m going to wander aimlessly round but it’s only seven acres, you’ll find me, right?’
It seemed a bit late to tell her we didn’t even want to go to the open garden because it was raining. I’m still not quite old enough to properly enjoy gardens anyway.
‘Grangey, if you just had a mobile phone…’
‘La la la! I’m not listening!’
Come the afternoon no-one wanted to leave the house. Partly because God in His Infinite Wisdom was on day three of His Festival of Rain. And partly because God in H. I. W. had scheduled such brilliant programmes on CBBC that no-one could be fagged getting off the sofa.
‘Let’s just not go,’ said Man of the House, gawping at Horrible Histories.
‘But we’ve no way of letting her know.’
‘Her fault for not having a mobile.’
‘Mummy, is that what it was like when you were little and there were only three channels?’
‘No darling, that’s the Crusades. It’s pouring! There are no buses on a Sunday. How will she get back … gracious isn’t that Alexei Sayle?’
Suddenly it was five o’clock. I dashed out and found poor Grange Girl sitting damply in the tea-tent, amidst a pile of empty cups. ‘Thank you,’ she sobbed as I led her to the car. ‘I almost borrowed someone’s phone to call you, but it seemed like giving in.’
‘Well Grangey,’ I said, channelling Tarby, ‘We’ll just have to agree to disagree.’
Beth Miller, 19th July 2011. Photo by Alex Leith. Published in VivaLewes.com