Number four in a series of “I was there when it was invented”, today – satellite TV.
1989, we were living in a nice little 2 bedroomed house on a brand new development which had been built in the style of TV’s Brookside Close, in fact our development was built by the same builders who had done the real life Brookside, we had our own little cul-de-sac and everything, I loved that house.
It sounds corny to say it but the dozen young couples who lived in that cul-de-sac were all on good terms, we actually used to speak to our neighbours – imagine that !
I’d come out of the house in a morning to get in my car and someone would wave and bid me a good morning, incredible to think that it was less than 20 years ago that we spoke to neighbours, just incredible.
Two doors down at the end of the cul-de-sac lived Maxine and Michael, we’d been invited to several of their barbeques in the past but one weekend we were invited to an all-night boxing party, that is we weren’t going to engage in pugilism all night long (well that wasn’t the original intention anyway) but were having a party on the feeble excuse that Frank Bruno was fighting Mike Tyson in America.
Frank Bruno was the nearest thing that the UK had to a heavyweight boxer in the 1980’s, fundimentally a pantomime actor and TV comedian Frank had bluffed his way through the fight game in a series of staged two and three round “fights” in the UK until someone in America became convinced that he could actually do a job against Tyson and offered him an impressive amount of money to be beaten to pulp in a ring at the end of a nice holiday, its the sort of work that I could do with right now.
I was a bit uncertain about whether I wanted to stay up half the night to listen to a live fight on the radio – the fight was timed to happen around 3am in the morning UK time and everyone knew that it would only last a matter of seconds, it really did seem like a feeble excuse for a piss up.
But then Michael mentioned that we would be watching the fight live on TV using his newly ordered satellite dish, Sky News were showing the fight live (Sky Sports as yet uninvented) and his dish would be fitted on the Friday, one day before the big fight.
I was stunned, for this was technology that had slipped past under my radar, I asked Michael to explain what he meant by this “satellite dish”, what was that and what did you do with it ? He explained the whole thing very carefully, with a Sky dish you could get three extra channels to the four on offer to us mere mortals with TV aerials. Michael was convinced that it was the future of TV in the UK and that in a few years time there could be as many as 10 new channels and perhaps a dedicated sports channel too.
“Fuck off”, I jested, “Ten new channels ? Fuck off” and I laughed like the dumb innocent fool I was.
He shook his head in pity and told me to come around on the Friday night to watch the fledgling Sky TV, and so I did, and when I arrived found him sitting there looking very glum as the Sky installers hadn’t turned up, but they had promised, absolutely promised to come out on saturday morning to fit it, he had threatened them with some impressive threats that they had better do so as his boxing party sort of depended on the presence of a boxing match on TV.
Saturday morning came and went and I spent almost as much time as Michael did out ont he street peering up the cul-de-sac for any sign of a Sky TV van, he phoned them at dinnertime and they gave him the bad news, they wouldn’t be coming at any time on the Saturday.
I thought he was going to cry and he slumped down onto the stack of crates of beer that he’d bought in for the party, but suddenly the spark of an idea flashed across his eyes, he rang the installers again and they confirmed that yes they had his stuff in stock but that they had no installers, Michael told them he was coming down for the dish and receiver, they tried to talk him out of it but he was back within the hour with two big boxes.
They’d tried to explain to him that you can’t find the satellite in the sky by pointing the dish at random clouds, it wasn’t like a normal TV signal where you can get an aerial somewhere near and it will pick up a signal, in there words “you are pointing the dish at something the size of a small car that is three hundred miles away” as succinct an explanation as I’ve heard really, but we ignored the men at the satellite dish depot and set about installing it ourselves.
There wasn’t enough time to start climbing up ladders and fixing the dish to the side of the house, and besides, neither of us wanted to climb up the ladder, so we ran the cable up to the top of his garden and rammed the pole that the dish fitted to into his lawn, clamped the dish to the pole and then he ran inside to look at the TV.
Of course there was no reception, I moved the dish around to the left by one degree, still no picture, I moved it again to the left by another one degree, still no picture, each time that I moved it he had to run back in the house to check the TV then run back out and tell me “no picture” and I’d move it another degree and he’d run back in then run back out, “no picture”.
An hour later and we’d done all 360 degrees of the compass and so decided to tilt it upwards a bit more.
Just a few years ago I fitted an identical non-digital satellite dish for my father-in-law and we got a picture almost straight away, but that was easy as almost every house in his street already had one fitted, we only had to point his dish in approximately the same direction as his neighbours and then tweak it to get the perfect picture, although I was suprised then at just how little you need to tweak the thing to make such a big difference.
In 1989 in Michaels garden we were the only people that I knew that knew that satellite dishes even existed, so we had no-one to copy from, we were pioneers and we were fucking useless at locating something the size of a small car that was three hundred miles away.
We tried for two hours to find the satellite and never got so much as a flicker from the TV set, despondant, fed up and dismissive of any encouragement from Maxine that we could still have the party anyway, we cancelled the evening and Michael had to wait until the following tuesday for the installer to come and fit the dish, then locate the satellite with the aid of an extremely complicated compass and signal tracker – he pissed himself laughing when we told him of our attempts on the back garden.
“Do you know you were trying to find something the size of a small car fro…” he tried to explain
“yes, yes, yes” said Michael, “where do I sign”
I got my dish two weeks later.