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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Buying a Television


We lived in a rectangular-shaped bungalow. A mason had a brilliant idea to make the sitting room smaller by erecting a wall for a separate room. Unfortunately, the new room looked like a corridor. It, therefore, became a corridor us kids loved to play in and cause a racket. My parents became wiser with time and did away with the wall. 

For entertainment, I played outside or listened to the radio- a larger than life apparatus no bigger than a gym bag. Loud enough for neighbors to hear from the comfort of single rooms, on the other side of the picket fence. The radio announcers weaved stories and painted vivid pictures in my mind. It's the reason I still enjoy listening to a good radio program.

I never understood football commentary, since I had never gone to a football stadium. I imagined, men like my father's friends with beer bellies running after a ball, with a crowd of people running after them shouting. A ball for me was papers rolled together, and bound with nylon strings, chased around by estate kids. To be honest, I had never seen a real soccer ball. And if you want to judge me remember it was the 80s. Where would a kid in a small backwater town get a leather soccer ball?     

As for news! The president was up there with God and was a father to all of us. I couldn't resolve how he could be my father when dad was around. The less I thought of it, the more I felt comfortable. Why did he have that small white club anyway? It was all so confusing.

Radio music was lively, colorful, and enjoyable. My father took this further and had a gramophone in a brown case and owned several vinyl records. This collection introduced me to Rock, Lingala, and Country before I knew what these were. My father treated his records like priceless artifacts. He would put the brown case and LPs away in storage until special guests visited, or Christmas was upon us. I really loved listening to that music. Years later, when I hear Lingala, it transports me back to childhood.

That all changed one fateful Friday evening. Like any other day, I was seated at the dining table. The radio turned off. The sound of crickets, frogs, and the wind filled the night outside, and I felt a bit sleepy. I had to persevere, my father was expected to arrive any moment from his weekly travel. A honk at the gate, and my elder sister and I were out and running to receive him.

"There is a package at the back," dad said, after our initial excitement. I ran to the back of the Land Rover, as dad's driver brought out a sizable box. It was bigger than I could carry, and my mind started racing.

"What's in there?" I wondered, my father never bought anything boxed before. My young mind drew a blank. The driver and my father carried the box to the middle of the sitting room and went on talking, their focus diverted. I was shocked how scatterbrained they were, and sat down beside the box and waited. After what felt like hours of chatter, my father remembered.     

"Oh, there you are," said my father. "Ok, let's get this opened."

A ceremonial knife was brought out, and they cut the tape holding the box flaps. Then came out this contraption covered in white foam. It was huge. A wooden rectangular box of some sort, with a dark concave screen on one side, and a protruding plastic bump with fin-like openings on the other. Alongside the dark concave screen were circular knobs. The men lifted the contraption into our wall unit. They turned a knob, and for the first time, the screen turned a grainy white and black, and noise like that of torrential rain came from the box. I squealed. I was so excited, mesmerized, and completely immersed.

"We need to put an antenna outside to get this working," said my father, looking very austere and technical.

The next day, five guys arrived with the longest metallic pole I had ever seen. They dug up our back garden and hoisted the pole. On top of the pole, they put a thing with many poky feelers they called an antenna. The men pulled a long cable down the antennae into the ceiling, and like an umbilical cord onto the television.

They turned the TV on, played with the dials, and instantly my world changed. Until that very moment, I was ignorant, foolish, and unschooled. From that moment on, 'Great Wall' became our resident butler for information. A close ally of mine that could not lie. The first visual I saw stuck with me. It was a figure skating event, and the woman was spinning on ice so fast, my mind couldn't get what was happening. "Who were these people in the small box? What were they doing?" I had so many questions. I froze right there, found a seat, and watched that television for the rest of that day. The world around me grew silent and distant.

My parents lost all the control they had over me for a few days. They regained it when they created the 'No watching after 9 p.m.' rule. I objected but discovered it better to negotiate. 

At first, I learned from my father how to turn the TV on. Then I discovered the station would 'come on' at a particular time of the day. 2 p.m. on Sunday, and later on weekdays. The clock in our house started to make sense to me from that day on. The long hand needed to be at twelve, and the small hand at two on Sunday, or five, during the weekday, not nine, since that was my bedtime.

On the first Sunday, 2 p.m came. The white and black grains transitioned to black and white lines with an irritating pitchy sound. Our national flag appeared, and the national anthem was sung by unseen people. That day, I watched Gillette World Sports Special, something as alien as the moon. I also watched Joy Bringers Family Show as grown-ups stood in front of a make-belief set playing musical instruments.

Every moment watching television after that was an education in culture and world affairs, even the cartoons were strange and new. My nursery school classes became old-fashioned and ancient. For that, I thank Great Wall, my family's first television.  

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