I woke up and switched on television. I remember exactly what I saw: an old woman in a housecoat, lying on a couch. For minutes, she stared at the camera with an air of ineffable boredom while I waited for her to do, say, or have something happen to her. Finally, she picked up a remote controller and stifling a yawn, pointed it at the camera.
I flicked channels in search of a little more excitement. On the nature channel two hyenas glared at the camera, frozen in mid-stroke, like any other couple waiting for a voyeur to depart before resuming their intimacies. It was the time of day when programming was given over to interminable soap operas and home DIY shows, but instead of the usual documentaries, what I saw on television were half-a-dozen men and women lounging around a pot of tea in a garden.
It was not so much the filming of a building crew on a tea break that got to me. It was the eerie silence, the dearth of music, of voice-over – and the fact that they neither spoke nor drank their tea. Even the cameraman had gone to sleep, presenting just that static shot. All they did was stare back at the camera. But for blinking eyes and the occasional rise of a cigarette to pursed lips, it could have been a still picture.
Television was certainly going to pot.
I channel-hopped for another minute during which my anxiety mounted. The music stations featured sullen crowds and bands that sulked on stage with downed guitars and drumsticks crossed on drums. Reality channels showed house guests glaring moodily from red couches, sans quarrels and inane conversations.
Finally I returned to the woman on the couch. She had not stirred, although she was just lowering the remote to her lap. With some alarm, I recognised my housecoat. I pressed the volume button on my remote controller. I shook it.
‘Your TV’s fine,’ she grunted eventually, ‘just get off your lazy bum. It’s our turn to watch you today.’