It’s 10 pm and the gravy in the pork casserole is congealed. Putting the glass dish into the microwave, I remembered the days when my grandfather would come in late from work on the farm. Dinner was usually in the middle of the day, but if he was away all day his plate of dinner would be covered by an upturned plate and put in the oven to heat up. Did it really heat through, or was it more a gesture?
My grandmother was a lady for routine. It would have been unthinkable that tea might be served at 7.00 or 8.00 instead of the customary six o’clock. In those days of two television channels, there were particular programmes to be watched at particular times – Crossroads and Coronation Street foremost amongst them. In those far off days, Coronation Street was screened at 7.30 pm each Monday and Wednesday.
I was never sure if she became an afficionado of daytime television in her latter years. Maybe she did, she only died four years ago. It’s hard, though, to imagine that a woman who was always finding things to do would have sat inside on such an afternoon as today’s.
Sitting in the front room of a grand old house beside a farmer of advanced years, we joined together in the words of the 17th Century Communion service – a little semi circle of us around a little table. The sound of the television had been muted, but the set had not been turned off. There seemed to be one of those afternoon programmes filled with women who ensure the profitability of the cosmetics industry. Judging by the packets being passed around, there seemed to be a discussion of condoms.
About to suggest that it might be appropriate to switch on the television, there was the realization that everyone else was oblivious to what was flickering across the screen; asking for it to be switched off would only draw attention to it. Pressing on with the service, the distraction continued with a feature on the waxing of female nether regions – with diagrams carrying exotic names such as Californian and Brazilian.
Ah, come on, lads, it’s the afternoon – who is meant to be watching this stuff? The kids are off school for the Easter holidays but the ones not outside in the sun are probably watching the Cartoon Channel. The only places I would regularly see afternoon television turned on are hospitals and nursing homes. What is the target audience for 4.30 pm features on contraceptives and pubic hair removal? Would people the age of my grandmother have refrained from reaching for the remote control?
Closing the Prayer Book, I wondered if Cranmer had to cope with such distractions when he wrote the words of the Communion service in the mid-16th Century. What did the people who appear on afternoon television do in Tudor times? Did they have conversations that would interrupt people in their devotions?