It is Sunday, in the lazy pause between lunch and tea, and the rain is lashing down, diagonal stripes of doom blatter from an afternoon sky dimmed to a dreary sulk beyond the window pane. Douglas Adams called it the 'long dark tea time of the soul'.
But on a wet Sunday afternoon these days, the chances are that most of your family are looking at another pane of glass entirely; staring at a phone or tablet that animates a sun-soaked world of primary colour palettes and 8-bit chip tunes. This is all a very long way from how we spent an indoor afternoon when we were growing up. Or is it?
Before Fake News was a thing, the news weighed about a kilogram or so on a Sunday. Sunday wouldn’t have been Sunday without all the dense analysis on newsprint that could take a week to read by itself – that is, if you were fascinated by every single one of the features and advertorial sections. Property, motors, gardening, family, sport, travel and food were all inserted into the fold of the main paper and every one of them had their own inserts of glossy flyers for products that nobody would consider buying unless they were bored out of their minds: Loose covers for armchairs; commemorative plates; greenhouses; self-watering flower pots; and binoculars from the People’s Republic of Myopia. By mid-afternoon, after a solid lunch, a kind of newsprint fatigue would set in and older members of the family might be found dozing under the property section.
Before the App Store, the only kind of interactive amusement you could have on a wet weekend would involve getting one of the long boxes from the sideboard and setting up Monopoly or Cluedo. While many of us play the quick version of Monopoly these days, in the 1970s and 80s Monopoly seemed to last so long that you’d have to revalue the currency at regular intervals. Perhaps the most irksome of those board games was the simplest: Frustration. Frustration was (still is) space-age plastic Ludo with an annoying spring-loaded dice under a plexiglass dome at the centre of the board. Although a simple game, the mechanics of Frustration – the clunk of the dice and the clack and clatter of moving pieces on a Perspex board seemed to rattle even the calmest nerves. I remember fondly the family arguments and slammed doors of my Frustration-filled childhood.
So many of our childhood pursuits now look like something suitable for a retirement home and jigsaws are no exception. Normally a fairly anti-social enterprise where outside assistance was as welcome as a doorstep chugger, jigsaws were the kind of pointless challenge now beloved of mad aunts who have yet to take up badger watching. The construction of a single picture, in the corner of a room, alone, made jigsaws the iPads of their day, albeit with a very slow screen refresh rate.
Before television was the size of a wall or the nerve-centre of a fidgety digital on-demand culture, fine old family films held sway on a channel or two and you watched them again and again because you liked them. Not forgetting, of course, that they were the only thing on. Classics like The Railway Children, Passport to Pimlico or Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday would flicker away in the corner but, if you were really lucky, you’d get an afternoon repeat of the Rockford Files or, the ultimate treat – an hour of cartoons.
No, not wi-fi or Bluetooth or NFC, ‘the wireless’ was what the older members of the family would call the radio. After the World This Weekend at lunch time, the radio would bounce between fairly soporific lifestyle programmes but, if you were lucky enough to have your own radio, the Radio 1 chart show would start their top 40 countdown at 4pm. While Spotify and iTunes are as amazing as all the other digital delights of the 21st century, we can’t help remembering that the two hours of the chart show made wet and watery Sunday afternoons the best day of the week.