When I was doing my PhD, I discovered a passionate love of the Australian soap opera, Neighbours. I found it entertaining, exciting, insightful, and thoroughly wonderful. A missed episode, in those pre-TV-on-demand days, was a cause of intense anxiety: I had to know whether one Ozzie teen would fall for another Ozzie teen, or whether the other evil Ozzie teen who’d been jilted would spill the beans about the first one’s shocking past; or would the comedic figure with the ‘g’day, cobber, you little ripper’ catchphrase discover the secret but completely misconstrue its importance? These things mattered. They did. Really. They mattered so much that there was no way I could read, write, or research anything to do with the hegemonic attitudes and social epistemology of the Victorian upper classes and their systematic subversion in the later novels of William Wilkie Collins. It was a simple matter of prioritizing: and Neighbours won hands down. Fortunately, it was but twenty or so minutes out of my day, and I managed to complete, and indeed submit, my thesis despite my fascination with the inhabitants of Ramsay Street.
Picture, if you will, that glorious day: the sun is shining; my thesis has been submitted; my time is now my own. I sit down and switch on the TV. The familiar voices of Paul Norton and Wendy Stapleton sing out about the joys of ‘when neighbours become good friends.’ And… action! Toadfish or Lou or Harold has got himself into a pickle and delightful hilarity should ensue. But… something’s different; something’s wrong. Can this be the same programme that only yesterday had me gripped and prevented me from proofreading my thesis? That was high drama, well acted, well scripted, engrossing — and this is, well, utter twaddle. These actors cannot act; their characters are unconvincing; their scrapes and predicaments are far-fetched and contrived. Five minutes in and I’m zapping through the channels to escape the strains of Strine and see what else is on.
You see, I had developed a psychological dependence on Neighbours as an escape from my studies. I loved doing my PhD — I even want to do another one if and when I can afford it — but there is something in my brain which means that almost anything is better than the thing I’m supposed to be doing. Almost anything pointless, that is. I am never overwhelmed with an urge to do housework or take the rubbish to the tip. No, it has to be something that serves little or no useful purpose, but at the same time makes me feel I’m concentrating hard and can shush any who try and disrupt my absorption.
Like now. I have jobs I should be applying for and a novel I should be writing. But am I? No, clearly I’m not. Instead, I’m writing about why I’m not writing; I’m telling you why watching Neighbours was so important to me then but isn’t now. And it really isn’t — now I know what drivel it is, my powers of self-delusion, prodigious though they be, are not up to persuading me that I need to fire up Channel Five’s catch-up service and diligently catch up on however many of the thirteen years’ missed episodes it has available. But… ooh… maybe I ought to try Endeavour…? I really did and do like Morse and Lewis, so… And, oh, there was that other thing my friend recommended but that I wasn’t so keen on — maybe I should give it a quick look just in case… And…
[Again, I have no idea who the woman is in the picture. This image is pinched from the photostream of Steve Collins on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/smallritual/6912621151/).]