Dear Friends

Letters home from Prince George.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dear Friends 13

Written: September 17, 2006
Published: September 27, 2006

Dear Friends,

This afternoon, as I was standing at the kitchen sink, I casually looked out of the window, and I got the clearest sign yet that autumn is upon us. Strolling through the garden, looking for apples were a black bear and her two cubs. Now, we don’t have any apple trees, and our neighbours took theirs in last weekend, so they nosed around for a bit, then wandered off down into the woods. But if the bears are raiding the fruit trees, it must be autumn.

And as far as I can tell, the season after summer in Canada is autumn, not fall – this is a whole area which still catches me out from time to time: I find myself in the middle of a conversation pausing because I’m not sure if the Canadian word for something is the same as the American word or the British word. For example, here we have taps, not faucets, but our new cars have trunks, not boots. And this whole area is further compounded by television.

Now that autumn is here, and we are no longer out every evening at soccer games, or all the other things which have kept us busy through an exceptionally warm and dry summer, we will have to start getting our heads around the television situation. So far, we have just hit channels more or less at random until we found something we recognise, but it’s really about time that we understood what it is we are watching.

Back in England, we were probably unusual in not being satellite or cable viewers, and apart from a few months when we had a digital box, we were used to having just the 5 channels to choose from, and having been brought up with them, knowing what kind of thing would be where. All that has now changed, and we have what seems like several hundred channels to choose from, and no background to help us decipher it all.

The important thing to keep in mind is that, since the vast majority of Canadians live within broadcast range of the northern US, pretty much all the American channels are available here alongside the Canadian ones. Hence the language confusion – the TV announcer who just talked about the fall is probably talking to us from Seattle, but could just as easily be Canadian, and even after nearly 6 months, we really haven’t worked out what is where, or where it is all coming from.

And it doesn’t help that we arrived at the end of the season. Not the soccer season, but the TV one. Now this is something I was vaguely aware of before we arrived, but the reality has been somewhat bewildering to those of us who consider that the choice of 5 channels is new-fangled and confusing.

Essentially, all the US networks start showing their major drama and comedy series in September, and they run through to April or May, with various breaks and repeats along the way. The UK broadcasters probably have similarly strict calendars, but it somehow is nothing like as obvious to the viewers. Once the finales have all been shown (and we had to avoid most of those, since we were weeks, months, or even years behind any that we had been watching) the summer schedules started – and they seemed to be mostly reality shows.

So we spent the summer trying to find reruns of shows which we hadn’t yet seen, if that makes any sense. Along the way we discovered that just because something is on at 9pm this Tuesday, there is no guarantee that it will be in the same place next week, or indeed that the next episode you see will actually follow the previous one. We also discovered that US networks seemed to show Canadian adverts.

That one took a bit of working out, I can tell you.

As I understand it, certain Canadian networks have the rights to US programmes, and show them at the same times. Because the advertisers would get upset if everyone just watched the broadcast from Seattle instead of the one from Vancouver, the Canadian network essentially usurps the US one on its own frequency, which is extremely baffling to the uninitiated.

And, yes, there are a lot of advert breaks which pop up in very odd places. I’m sure that eventually we’ll be used to the way that programmes start, then stop abruptly after the theme music for some adverts, then drop in and out unannounced. If an advert is shot in a similar style to a programme, it can be quite disorienting trying to work out who all these new characters are, and why they are selling us their car.

Just as I thought I was getting the hang of things, I discovered that we have some channels up in the higher numbers which appear to be coming to us from the future. Of course, these are east coast channels, and they are showing the same programmes as the west coast ones, but 3 hours earlier. Which is only really useful if you know you are going to forget to watch something in 3 hours time. Or if you want to know where to buy things in Detroit.

So now here we are in autumn, and the new season is just beginning. There are new shows which we’ll have to keep to ourselves, so as not to spoil things for when they eventually make it across the Atlantic, and there will be shows which we will have missed huge chunks of, and we’ll make the best of it, and by the time spring rolls around it will all seem normal, and I’ll finally have worked out which channel is CKPG, and what it shows.

And if all else fails, we can just open the curtains, and watch the bears in the garden.