pixel power

Like many middle class parents with too few real problems, Mr Fixit and I spend many hours in bemused speculation over our children’s habitual disinclination to do anything much at all, unless motivated by money or food.

Mr Fixit has also always maintained that my insistent marshalling of the children’s spare moments into middle class obsessions like music lessons and exercise was sapping their native creativity, dragooning them into well-worn ruts in which their fragile minds would have no chance to blossom. Robbed of these bourgeois shackles, he contends, they’d be  reinventing the wheel and circumnavigating Pluto by lunchtime.

Surprisingly, no doubt, I have always taken a different view; hinting, when opportunity presented itself, that it could be something to do with the computers and games machines sitting alluringly on standby, twenty-four hours a day, right next to their beds.

Needless to say, this was his idea. Mr Fixit, as we know, embraces new technology with a fervour bordering on the apocalyptic, and still believes that the techno fix for global warming is just a NASA grant away. To him, therefore, living in the modern world (ie a Western metropolis) our children will be not only objectively deprived, but subjectively exposed to the relentless ridicule of their peers, if we remove these essential building blocks of human development.

Mr Fixit also earns his crust (white Sainsbury’s baguette of course) from television, and thus regards it as imperative that there be a TV screen visible from any point in the house. Luckily the house is somewhat open plan, but even so, that’s several TVs more than most houses.

Bruised by experience, I knew better than to attempt to limit any of this through counter-productive arguments about the carbon footprint of flat screen TVs and PS3s compared with, say, an hour of three-octave scales on a cor anglais or hand-stitching rag dolls by the dim light of a low-energy bulb. We battle-scarred environmentalists need more devious approaches these days.

I had to wait for the results to present themselves. And the opportunity came along with the summer holidays.

A combination of fashionable poverty, collective disorganisation, and excessive optimism on my part about the charms of circus skills training at the local sports centre,  left both Magnus and Dolly pretty much loafing around for the whole time. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to test Mr Fixit’s thesis, and let their natural spirit of adventure assert itself.

So Magnus spent most of the seven weeks re-reading two years’ worth of old Simpsons comics, while his younger sister assiduously taught herself the cosmetology skills to pass as the bastard child of Beyonce and George Hamilton 

At this point Mr Fixit, who’s about as likely to admit to a mistake as to borrow his daughter’s mascara, decided the access regulations had to change. ‘No screen-based anything till after supper!’ he pronounced, before striding off to hang up yet another load of washing.

At 18 20 that evening they began to ask when supper would be ready. ‘Seven o clock, normal time!’ I responded. Long faces and muttering ensued. Baths were done, the contractual half hour of outdoor exercise grudgingly taken; how could they possibly fill another forty whole minutes?

I have mentioned before that child time, like doggie time elapses at quite different rates from that of the adult world, and possesses an elasticity of which Einstein could be proud. So the thirty minutes of street basketball had taken, in my world, only about ten, while the time before supper promised to last several centuries.

‘It’s not fair’, muttered Magnus. ‘I hear the TV on EVERY NIGHT after I go to bed. Why are you allowed to watch it, and not us?’ Mr Fixit’s explanation about this being, technically, his homework, was met with predictable ridicule (though not, of course, by me).

Then, suddenly, I had an idea. Don’t those parenting advice columns always tell you to steer into the skid? ‘Magnus’, I began, ‘As you’re so determined to win that iPod Shuffle they’re promising to whoever gets top marks this year, why don’t you go to the library after school tomorrow and get some – you know, er – books, to read?’

He stood there for a moment, while I congratulated myself on my new found manipulative skills. Weaning him off technology by promising even more of it seemed almost  Machiavellian Then, ‘Okay, I guess I could,’ he responded. ‘In fact I could even start now, couldn’t I, because you know the library catalogue is all online, isn’t it, so I could see what there is, and reserve them right now, couldn’t I? That way I’d save time tomorrow. Get reading sooner.’

I must be very stupid. I had to wait for the other shoe to drop.

‘Of course, I’d have to use the computer, for the catalogue, yeah?’

Sometimes it’s comforting to realise that one’s children, at the age of twelve, are already equipped with all the low cunning they’ll need to survive the coming apocalypse. This was not one of those times.

Meanwhile Dolly lurked beside him, trying to figure out who had won I still had a chance with her.

‘Anyhow, you’re fine aren’t you, sweetie, because you’re really good at thinking of things to do!’

You have to remember that Dolly is not just a second child, but the younger sibling of a boy who has managed all his life to glide straight to the heart of every teacher, by pure charm. There is nothing she would not do to show him up and go one better. Gratification spread through her like hot chocolate on a frosty day.

‘Oh yes! I don’t care about TV and computers at all. I mean, I might just like, you know, take a peek when they’re on and stuff, but I mean there are loads and loads of other things I can do.’ Then, straight at her brother, for maximum effect, ‘I’M never bored, am I?’ And off she twirled. Straight to Top Models’ Tips for Better Bones through Blusher.

Well, it’s reading, right? So I sort of achieved my ends. One child is still using his computer, but allegedly to help him read. And the other has turned her back on pixel power in the cause of becoming a nine-year-old rock goddess.

All I’m saying is, sometimes the path to a better world is neither straight nor obvious. And you have to celebrate small victories where you can.