Jonny McCambridge: My remote control and the fall of the Roman Empire

It’s Sunday morning, early enough that the depth of the dark seems to have no limits.

Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 9:30 am
Updated Sunday, 19th January 2020, 3:32 am

I’m awake, as usual, and I instinctively know the prospect of getting back to sleep is remote. While my body feels lethargic my mind is busy, with random thoughts rising, cascading and then fading away like showers of sparks.

I decide to get up because my wife and son are resting peacefully and I’m afraid my state of agitation may disturb them. My bones crunch as I haul myself upright and my feet sink into the carpet until I can feel the strands of fabric between my toes.

I go downstairs in the dark and shield my eyes as I turn on the light in the living room. I decide that I’ll take the opportunity to watch some TV before the rest of the world wakes up.

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But then I notice that something is wrong. Badly wrong. The remote control is not in its proper place. I feel a shot of frustration pulse through my body.

The remote control has a designated spot. It should be on the wooden stand where the telly is. If you need to use it you walk over to the TV, make your choice, replace the remote and then go back to lounging on the sofa. It should never be removed.

I’ve explained this to my wife countless times and raised my son to understand the vital importance of the remote having a permanent spot. That is how you always know exactly where it is. Any deviation from this leads to a world of disorder and chaos, of searching between cushions on the sofa and down the sides of armchairs. It’s the first step towards the sort of indiscipline that led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. I simply don’t want to countenance a world where the remote control becomes...well, remote.

I’m mumbling such thoughts to myself as I begin now to search for it. It’s not on the little table or the armchair. I start to move toys around and am startled when a red, plastic dinosaur emits an angry roar in response to my touch.

I stick an arm down the side of a sofa cushion, plunging into a dark place where there are crumbs and loose change. I feel something damp and unidentifiable and quickly withdraw my arm.

Then my head is on the floor as my eyes scan the area below the furniture. Amid the hidden grime under the sofa, right at the back, I see the dark outline of a shape which looks like the remote. But I have to stretch to get to it, manoeuvring my torso into an awkward shape and pushing boxes of toys out of the way.

Eventually my fingers reach the object and it is recovered. I hold it up. It’s a half eaten Crunchie.

I stand up and pull a cobweb from my hair. My search takes me into the other room, where the other TV is. It does occur to me that I could just watch telly in here but I know that I’ll never be able to relax until I find the missing remote. I have a vision of myself as an old man with a long white beard sitting in the corner of a bar, nursing a drink and mumbling about how it all started to fall apart the day the remote got lost.

I go to the kitchen. I check the cupboards, the bread bin and, inexplicably, inside the kettle. The remote remains defiantly elusive.

And then I have a thought. It is certain that either my wife or son are responsible for losing the remote but they are enjoying a lie-in while I’m being tortured. I feel a diabolical sense of cruelty descend as I decide that I’m going to wake them to demand answers. I’ll deliver the lecture about the Roman Empire one more time. We’ll all be miserable together.

I’m halfway up the stairs when I feel a weight in the pocket of my dressing gown. I assume it’s my phone and I retrieve it to quickly check my messages.

But it’s not my phone. In my hand is the remote control.

And I begin to wonder. I wonder if this is a transformative moment. Is there something to be learnt about self-reflection, perspective, conceit and judgement? Is there a lesson in all of it for me?

I decide not. I go back downstairs. The world moves on much as before.