Day twenty-five: A couple of days ago I was discussing old television shows with a friend, comparing the shows we used to watch. The shows I remembered were for sentimental reasons mostly, shows I used to watch with my grandmother, and it got me thinking back further, to my much younger days.
In those days we were allowed to watch an hour of television a day – I think. I can’t remember in truth, because there was not much to watch apart from the afternoon children’s television which only went for an hour anyway, and the Saturday morning cartoons. When I was home sick, which happened a lot as I had unreliable tonsils, I would watch the midday movie. That’s why I have a fondness for old movies - those days spent lying on a camp bed and eating jelly and ice-cream to soothe my ravaged throat.
Our mum was often at work – she worked at the local telephone exchange – when we got home from school. Our afternoon tea would be prepared for us and in the fridge, our milo drinks in the freezer if it was summer. My favourite show at the time – because it was the only show for my age group – was called Adventure Island. I don’t remember anything about it, except that at the time I loved it. My brother preferred a war series called The Rat Patrol. All I remember about that was the opening credits with a lot of jeeps driving over the crest of sand dunes.
The problem was that these two shows were on different television channels, and they were on at the same time each week day. That we only received two television channels did rather restrict what we viewed, but still, it was an unfortunate coincidence that led to many fights between us. We were supposed to watch our shows on alternate days, but since mum wasn’t there we always fought over whose day it was.
My brother, who has now grown into a very nice man, was a horrid brother – as all big brothers are I’m sure. He would change the channel to his show, regardless of whether it was his day or not. When I say we fought, I don’t mean we shouted at each other although we did that too. We fought, literally, physically. As I was five years younger I usually came off worse, but it didn’t stop me laying into him as much as I could. We gave each other scratches and bruises we fought so much. Even the notes our mother left on the kitchen table always ended with ‘DON’T FIGHT’.
Remember I said our mum worked on the local exchange? In our wee little town the home phones connected directly to the exchange when you picked up the receiver. I can’t now remember if there was even a dial on them as all calls were connected by the exchange. Eventually one of us would stomp to the phone and grab the receiver to complain to mum about the other. That poor woman would have to tell one or both of us off over the phone.
One day we must have well and truly over-stepped and she carried out the threat we heard every time we got too much – she took away the television. We got to stare at an empty corner of the lounge for what felt like a month. I don’t remember now the real duration of our punishment, but I still remember the empty corner of the room. That slowed us down for a while and we didn’t fight so much.
Eventually we grew out of it; the five year age gap meant that soon he was too old for such nonsense. And I became the annoying little sister who always wanted to hang out with him and our cousin. I was so annoying that on one memorable occasion they let me come with them to the river whereupon they abandoned me high on the river bank where it was difficult to negotiate the trees and grasses. I used to go alone with the family dog frequently so I did know my way around – childhood in the country, but still. I had to make my own way home – I was furious, they were unrepentant and none of us ever thought to tell any parental figures about that one.
We did a lot of things as children that our parents never found out about until much later. In my very early years we lived on a dairy farm. I remember clearly one wet afternoon my brothers, sister and I sliding down a muddy hill on a piece of cardboard - or maybe it was wood – and lying flat at the bottom to clear the underneath of the barbed wire fence.
Anyway, back to television. There were two other shows that I loved (apart from Dr Who) – The Banana Splits and Lassie. Everyone loved The Banana Splits, if we were at my cousins house we would all watch it there. I adored Lassie, but the music was so sad it invariably made me cry. There was always a rush when the opening bars of the theme song came on and a shout from my mother, ‘Quick, turn off the TV! That music still makes my cry, right at the part where Lassie lifts up her foot.Lassie end credits Does me in every time.
Those were the days when Disney movies were so sad: Old Yeller – the dog dies, Bambi – traumatized an entire generation when Bambi’s mum was shot, The Fox and the Hound when the widow abandons Tod in the woods, Lady and the Tramp when Trusty is hit by a car, and that’s just some of them. Mind you, they aren’t that much better now.
When I think back to those old shows I am put into the past. I can see the lounge room of my childhood, I can feel the despair when Old Yeller had to be shot, I can feel my agony when poor Lassie wore the pads of her feet down so that they bled. I remember lying on the camp bed watching Gene Kelly singing in the rain, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing so beautifully, James Garner leaning forward and casually sticking his finger into the barrel of a shotgun in Support Your Local Sheriff, a drunken Lee Marvin on his drunken horse in Cat Ballou, and so many more. I was sick a lot one year in particular with my tonsils, so I saw many classic movies.
My childhood was not ideal and things happened that have affected me my whole life. I have blank spaces for a lot of it, gaps in my memory as though a knife has surgically removed sections. But the memories of tormenting my brother and cousin, watching those television shows, walking to the river with our border collie (a very patient dog), sitting in a cold bath on a hot day reading a library book, perching on the veranda rail in the predawn stillness to watch the street lamps switch off, reading under the covers by the light of a torch after lights out – those are good memories and I’m glad to have them.
Here is the end theme to Lassie - still makes me cry