I have always sworn that I will never have a TV in the bedroom. But I am only starting to figure out why, and my reasons have not been very good. A little TV in the bedroom could even be healthy for relationships, as long as you understand why. I have always sworn that I will never have a TV in the bedroom. But I am only starting to figure out why, and my reasons have not been very good. A little TV in the bedroom could even be healthy for relationships, as long as you understand why.
For most of my life I have maintained that aside from sleeping and dressing, the bedroom is for reading. I have finished some truly fabulous books in the bedroom. I remember starting and finishing The Great Gatsby in my bedroom as a teenager, in one sitting. I remember where I was when I finished Anna Karenina, The Turn of the Screw, and, most recently, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: I was in bed, late at night. It was marvellous every time. It was quiet, comfortable, and I could fall asleep with that satisfied feeling you get from a good story. I don’t remember where I finished The Satanic Verses or Pale Fire, despite their profound impact on me, probably because I didn’t finish them in the bedroom. Do you remember finishing a novel in the lounge, or the kitchen, or on the train? I certainly don’t. The bedroom’s the only place where you can properly enjoy that post-story glow. The bedroom is just right for reading. As a result, the thought of sullying this shrine to literature with a TV is just too awful. It smacks of middle-class anaesthesia and reclusive despair. The blue-light of brain death is the sly pre-cursor of that decadent nadir, eating in bed. It gives me the willies.
My problem, now, is that books have serious competition from televised sport. The more I watch, the less time I have for reading. Most keen readers pooh-pooh watching sport. They think it’s lazy. This is because, when they watch TV, they do so to switch off their brains for a while. So they think that when I’m watching sport on TV, my neurons aren’t firing either. This is not a fair comparison, as I’ll explain, but I admit that I’m not helped by the fact that the slumped, glazed posture one adopts for watching brain-free TV looks remarkably similar to the steady, focused attention that sports-fans put into their viewing. Despite the physical similarity, the two are as dissimilar as a putt is to a pee: they look the same, but one’s aim is quite different.
When I’m watching sport, I am indeed fully engaged mentally and physically. I am processing social and political implications faster than an essay by Edward Said. I’m grappling with plots as complex as Atwood’s, and with comedy as sophisticated as anything by Nick Hornby. I just don’t look like I am. It’s a very, very quiet art, you see. And like any keen reader, I have to go through a lot of material to find the good stuff.
If you’re a reader, and not a sports fan, you might know that Tiger Woods won the British Open last month. You might even know he cried afterwards. I watched it all unfold, knowing about his Dad’s passing away, the respective roles his parents played in his development as a golfer (and as a person), and the significance of his mother’s not being at the British Open. I watched his lousy performances just before and just after his father’s death. I understand his relationship and history with his caddy, Steve Williams, whose shoulder he cried on before turning to his wife, Elin. I know where Elin and Tiger met (she was fellow-golfer Jesper Parnevik’s nanny). And I know that the golfer who came second to Tiger, and had done so before at the Masters, Chris DiMarco, had lost his mother two weeks before the tournament, and that Tiger knew that.
There are lots of times I’ve watched matches, races, and tournaments and could have filled novels with the drama behind them. I saw Charl Langeveldt’s hat-trick against the West Indies that nearly ended Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s nascent career as their captain, and Chanderpaul’s tears as he watched, and I know something of the political significance of that moment for West Indian race relations. I watched troubled snooker legend Jimmy White beat poster-boy (and nice guy, incidentally) Paul Hunter to win the Players Championship in 2004, his first ranking win in 12 years. I saw Dave Andreychuk lift the Stanley Cup for the Tampa Bay Lightning after 22 years in the NHL without winning it, while across the ice Dave Lowry, of the losing Calgary Flames, contemplated retirement after never winning the Cup in a career of over 1000 matches. These are great stories. There are romances (like Agassi and Graf), families divided (the Niedermayer brothers), political undercurrents (Darrell Hair and Asian cricket), tragedies (Ayrton Senna), revenge (Steve Moore and Todd Bertuzzi), deception (Marco Pantani and Floyd Landis), rags-to-riches successes (Makhaya Ntini), controversies (Makhaya, again), and triumphs of the human spirit (Natalie du Toit). And once you understand what they’re doing, watching a great sportsperson perform is easily as satisfying as reading the work of a great writer.
My prejudices against TV falter before the grand theatre and intricate pleasure of watching sport. And by watching sport I mean really following it. Like reading, it takes a lot of time and energy. If I had a little, book-sized TV, I reckon I could watch it in the bedroom, couldn’t I? If it looked like a book, it could very well be as good as one. And I wouldn’t have to apologise every time my girlfriend frowns sadly from the bedroom door and says ‘I’m going to bed’, when I know perfectly well she’s going to read for about as long as it takes Tiger to finish his round.