The Radio Times has become as much a part of my Christmas as decorating the tree, swapping presents and pulling Christmas crackers.
It all started when I was a young girl when I would find a copy of the magazine lying around at my grandparents’ house. Bored by adult chatter, I would often pick it up and flick through it in a bid to escape the dreariness of family get togethers. But it wasn’t the lists of television and radio programmes that caught my eye but the middle section that was crammed full of holiday adverts. I used to love looking at the sunny pictures of hotels and holiday parks and their dazzling blue swimming pools.
I would often dream that mum and dad would take us there but they never did. Instead, holidays consisted of me, my brothers and our parents squashing into a two bedroomed caravan on a site somewhere along the British coast. It was the 1970s, money was tight, and family holidays were a basic affair – no all day entertainment, swimming pools or sea front location. We were doing well if we had a play area.
As I grew into a young woman and met my husband to be the RT still managed to wheedle its way into my life at Christmas time. Whenever we visited my future in-laws we would often borrow their copy of the magazine and look for holiday ideas. Filling in the ‘request a brochure’ coupon we would send off for an array of brochures that would drop through our letterboxes weeks later. The joy of picking a holiday during the bleak winter months was bliss. Free from the obligations of having to go on family holidays and enjoying the fruits of our burgeoning careers, we enjoyed many foreign and British holidays together.
When we married the RT continued to become a regular fixture of our Christmases but rather than poaching relatives copies I now started to purchase our own copy alongside the christmas pud, turkey and sprouts. This time, however, the magazine was not just used for holiday ideas but to plan what we wanted to watch and listen to during the Christmas break. Life as the two of us was leisurely and we could freely indulge our interests.
Then we started our family and within a few years we had three children; two daughters and a son. Life was hectic but we could still find time to read the Radio Times, usually when our children were tucked up in bed and we had the luxury of an evening together. But as our children grew and my son’s autism started to have an impact those evenings together became a thing of the past. We rarely had the chance to read the thing let alone sit down. Instead the poor old RT started to be torn up during meltdowns, used as a telescope in rare creative moments or discarded in the corner of the lounge gathering dust. But still I continued to buy the magazine with always the intention that I would make time to read it. Even if I knew I was unlikely to read it, I couldn’t stop buying it. The Radio Times had become a tradition just like those naff Christmas crackers that I insist on buying every year and as you know traditions are hard to break.
A few years on and our use of the Radio Times has evolved again. Now that our children are older and now that we are better at managing our children’s autisms, we can find time to read some of the magazine. I say ‘some’ because the one part of the magazine that doesn’t even get a glance is the travel section. Holidaying with our son is now almost impossible as he is unable to cope far from home so I try and avoid looking at the holiday adverts as it painfully reminds me of what we can’t do. It is somewhat ironic that the thing that first attracted me to the Radio Times (the holiday supplement) is now something I choose to avoid.
However, there is something that overrides the loss I feel when I glance at the holiday adverts and that is my son’s use of the magazine. He is now starting to enjoy the annual arrival of the Radio Times and enjoys the ritual of highlighting the programmes to be watched over Christmas. We are curious as to why he does this as he is not normally a telly fan so we can only assume he has copied one of our traditions. Of course it doesn’t matter why he does it and it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t go on to watch any television either. The act of highlighting his chosen films acts as a visual schedule for him which makes the excitement of Christmas a little bit easier for him to bear. Surprise is difficult for my son. He hates the unknown or anything that is out of routine so marking the RT is a way of him having a little bit of control during this crazy season of ours.
As for me, I can’t help but smile as I look at how the Christmas Radio Times is now catching on with the next generation of my family.