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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Like a Virgin.

Removing the TV from my life was harder than I expected. Not because I crave it, but because the people that control the fact 99% of homeowners own a TV make it really, really hard for you to give one up.

In my case, it’s Virgin Media.

I hate Richard Branson, I hate his company and I hate giving them my custom. So I was delighted to call them today and tell them I would no longer require their set top box. I didn’t anticipate the reaction, but what follows is further proof that the people in charge really want us to keep watching TV. Which in fact reminds me of the best quote from my anti-TV book. When TV first became popular, a government official said: ‘Well, we have to think of something to do with them when they’re not at work.’

We’re not lemmings! We’re not robots! Come on people, pick up your TV and throw it out the window! Take up a hobbie, learn a new skill – opps, sorry. Tangent. Smug Moron. But Virgin’s reaction reminded me how sinister the notion of television is and my soap box was gathering dust.

A highlight of any call to Virgin has to be the endless ‘press one’ lists before you finally get through to a real person. In India. Before I’d even got to that stage, an automated voice told me that, peril! Calamity! It looked as thought I hadn’t updated my smart card and I was in danger of losing channels. In danger? That’s a bit of a drastic choice of words.


Ridiculous. I ignored the message, because I was here to cancel my TV anyway. How very dangerous.

‘Option One,’ Virgin begins. ‘To add more channels to your account, press one.’

No, Virgin, I don’t want more channels. I want less. I want zero channels. Which button do I press for zero channels?

The automated voice bangs on. ‘Option Two,’ bla bla bla. Finally, in the dark recesses of the handset, the number no sane person would be waiting to press: ‘Option nine, to make a change to your account, press nine.’

I’m in!

'Hello, I will no longer be using my set top box. Would you like to come and collect it or shall I throw it away?’

‘If you throw it away we’ll charge you £250,’ came the curt reply. Well trained, Branson, well trained.

‘Alright mate, I’m only asking. I’d like to remove my TV package from my account please.’


'TV is evil.'

'What do you mean by that?' he asks, unamused.

I explain and request for someone to pick up the box. He begs me to ‘stash’ it in a cupboard somewhere, because it’s likely I’ll change my mind in a few months.

Complete stranger, telling me it’s likely I’ll change my mind.

‘I won’t.’

'You might.'

'I won't. Can you arrange for someone to pick it up please?'

'Are you sure you don’t want to keep it in a cupboard, just in case?'


'Please hold while I put you through to an advisor.'

Brilliant. Isn’t this a marvelous system? I’m having so much fun. I could do this all day, just listen to the Virgin music and get passed from pillar to post, being told what I feel and why I need to keep my TV. I haven’t had this much fun since I called the TV license company and told them to cancel my direct debit.

Yes, I had to call them, because nowhere on their website is there an option for canceling your license. Sinister, no?

When I finally got through to them, I was told that in no uncertain terms, if I was lying about no longer having a TV, I would be fined. And that an officer may call round at any time to check up on me. I would be charged £1000 if I was found to be using my TV.

Crumbs. Thank god I replaced it with losing scratch cards, so the officer won’t have anything to complain about.

However, if he’s bored while he’s inspecting my property and looking for potential televisions I may have hidden in the fridge, perhaps I’ll give him Virgin’s number – always a good way to wile away your afternoon.
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TV Go Home

I have given up TV. I am now one of those annoying people who, when you say: ‘Did you see X Factor on TV last night?’ retort with: ‘No, I don’t have a TV.’ What a moron. I hate people who say that. But that is now me. I am Smug Moron, how do you do.

I had to do it. I didn’t want to have a TV in my life for the rest of my life. It’s too much commitment to an object that doesn’t know what my favourite food is, what my favourite colour is, or what my name is. It’s a one sided relationship and it's over.

My cantankerous decision to part with the box started when I read a book about the evil black hole in the corner and the sadistic advertising that starts infiltrating our minds as babies and carries on until death. Death on the sofa, in front of the TV. It put me right off. So I sold it to a friend for £25.

(£25 I promptly spent on scratch cards. I won £4. Moron strikes again.)

Gareth didn’t really get much of a say in our mutual decision to sell his TV. His TV, that had cost him £400. I read my anti-TV book and declared that we were selling the TV. ‘But I quite like TV,' Gareth protested wearily. One of the things I love about him is that he knows when I’ve got my soap box out and there’s a bee in my bonnet, it’s easier to just go with it. Anything for an easy life, Gareth always tells me. He’s very lenient.

So we sold our TV. Half way through X Factor, which I will miss terribly. I don’t mean half way through the series, half way through an episode. It was terribly inconvenient, but the disappointment at the timing of the sale further confirmed my decision as the right one – if I care that the TV is being taken away half way through X factor then it’s time to take away the TV.

Last night Gareth was in London and it was my first night alone with no TV. Ordinarily, I’d cosy up to a rom com, possibly a Thai green curry, don some comfy pyjamas and enjoy the early evening removal of contact lenses.

Not tonight. With TV removed from the equation, I looked through recipe books and chose a delightful cake to make for my brother’s upcoming birthday. I built a desk and wrote this column. I dyed my hair a sunny shade of red, and, consequently, certain parts of my face. Now, if that’s not a productive evening, I don’t know what is.

The plan is to now become ridiculously intelligent from all the books I’ll read and as cultured as milk from all the cultural nights out I’ll enjoy.

Although, there’s always i-player.
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