Category Archives: Children’s entertainment

Toy Story ruined my life

This is Jeffrey.

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Jeffrey once got left in a café in Hackney; my husband had to leg it back sharpish when we realised he was missing only 5 minutes from home. Jeffrey came with us to Barcelona; after the Hackney café incident though, he wasn’t trusted to leave the apartment so didn’t really see the sights. Jeffrey was once the cause of the most traumatic bedtime in memory, when his owner – our eldest son – snuck him into the bath when we weren’t looking, not realising monkeys take a lot longer to dry than people and therefore couldn’t accompany him to bed.

Jeffrey is part of our family.

This is Sleepy Bunny.

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Sleepy Bunny is disgusting – a constant bundle of smeared snot and spit, chewed and sucked on continuously and inexplicably all day by our youngest. Sleepy bunny is also a saviour; when all else fails, ‘do you want bunny?’ is sometimes the only thing to stem the tears. Sleepy Bunny is also my nemesis; I can often be found running around the house at 2am muttering ‘where the f***is Sleepy Bunny’ when we have forgotten to put him in the cot at bedtime. Sleepy Bunny is an enigma; no one has the faintest idea where he came from!

Sleepy Bunny is part of our family.
(Had I known this at the start, I would have given him a better name.)

The attachment a young child has to their soft toy is a strange and beautiful thing. A source of comfort, a confidante and an early friend, the soft toy is a staple of any kid’s life.
But soft toys are slowly destroying my sanity.

I blame Toy Story.

Every time I tidy up, ramming seemingly endless toys into which ever bag, box or tub has most room (I’ll sort it all out one day, I promise), the shiny plastic eyes of a fluffy owl seem to gleam up at me, begging me not to leave them stuck underneath that stupid phone on a string, it’s sharp plastic edges sticking into its fuzzy little wings.

Last week, we had a mini-clear out; my son chose a few toys he never played with and agreed to give them to charity. As I placed the bag at the end of our driveway for collection, an elephant’s trunk reached out to me. ‘I’m sorry Nellie’, I whispered (yes really!), ‘but no one plays with you here anymore. Maybe you can find a new child to play with, someone who really appreciates you’. I hoped this was the case, and she wouldn’t be left on a shelf, gathering dust for ever more.

And on rare occasions when Sleepy Bunny isn’t being used as a chew toy, I find him/her (can an animal which is half blanket have a gender?!) unceremoniously abandoned in a corner of the room. ‘Don’t worry’, I want to say, ‘He still really loves you. He’s just busy trying to figure out how to break into the snack drawer’.

I blame Toy Story because, with alarming regularity, I imagine the boys’ toys springing to life the moment I leave the room. I imagine them crawling desperately out of the crush of the toy box. ‘When the hell is she going to sort us all out?’ they wheeze. ‘There’s a soft toy bag upstairs, why aren’t we all in that? Why do I always end up with the double decker bus on my head?!’ I imagine them comparing their days, those who haven’t been played with in months quietly sobbing into their cotton padded sleeves when they hear of the fun Tom the Triceratops and Eddie Dinosaur had in the garden today.

But most of all, I think about Jeffrey. Poor Jeffrey. Once so loved, but now so often rejected. I imagine the silent hurt he feels every time I say to my eldest, ‘Do you want to cuddle up with Jeffrey?’, and he cheerfully replies ‘No thanks’ as he turns to gaze adoringly at his Spiderman posters, or switches on the torch to look at his Horrible Science book under the duvet.

I imagine Jeffrey’s heart breaking as he realises: ‘He’s growing up. He doesn’t need me anymore’.

I’m sorry Jeffrey. I know how you feel. I really do.

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The terrifying world of children’s story books

I am a huge advocate of children reading. I’m not sure you’ll find a bigger one. When I first became a Godmother, I shunned the traditional silver bangles and rattles (what is the point?) and instead bought a library of classics. She may only have been a couple of months old, but you are never too young for Dear Zoo! 
Aside from the many cognitive and educational benefits, it is one of the few guaranteed ways of getting a cuddle once the kids are old enough to run away from you and, quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone gets through bedtime without a story
Yet, if reading is supposed to calm and relax children before bed, why are we determined to scare them?
Have you read any children’s books recently? I have. Sadly, there is an awful lot of rubbish out there. Peppa Pig books make me want to climb the walls and nothing compares to the mind numbing boredom of being preached at about emotions in ‘Anna Angrysaurus’. 
Thankfully, my extensive research has allowed us to find a huge number of excellent books, but I am slightly disturbed by how keen we seem to be to terrify our children just before they go to sleep. 
Let’s start with the classics. Grimm’s fairy tales certainly live up to their name, with a genuinely disturbing view on the world where curses are commonplace, parents show their love for their children by locking them in towers and small children escape getting eaten by witches only to turn delinquent and burn said witch alive.
Then again, being eaten seems to be a recurring theme. From Red Riding Hood and the wolf, to the witch in Room on the Broom and the dragon, imminent ingestion seems to be a permanent threat in a child’s world. Often it remains only a dark threat, or something just escaped by the wily protagonists, but occasionally you will stumble across a slightly more sinister tale, where the threat becomes a reality, such as the excellent but disturbing ‘I Want My Hat Back’ by Jon Klassen. I will never forget the disapproving stares I received when, bored on maternity leave, I took the book in to a baby group to share with the others. As she reached the big reveal of what happened to the naughty hat stealing rabbit, our group leader, ‘Judgemental Jane’ as I shall call her, drew back in horror and shot me a look as if she was considering calling social services, before gently placing the book down and reaching for ‘I Love My Mum’, or some other boring, saccharine nonsense. At the time, I grinned cheekily across to the one other like minded mum in the room, but now my son is older I’m reluctant to read it again, wary of the moment he realises what has actually happened and grows up to believe that the punishment for poor behaviour is being eaten!
Still, I guess it can’t do much harm. I come from a generation which grew up almost exclusively reading Roald Dahl, undoubtably the best children’s writer ever, yet also perhaps the darkest. Remember the jolly old tale of James and the Giant Peach? Remember how he ends up with the horrible aunts because his parents are eaten by a hippo? Hardly a relaxing bedtime tale. What about The Witches? Perhaps it’s the enduring image of a terrifying Angelica Huston immortalised on screen as the Grand High Witch, but I am still a little nervous of eating sweets on the off chance I turn into a mouse and get squashed under foot. Even into our twenties and thirties, a group of workmates and I discussed animatedly only the other day how scarred we were by the idea of being trapped forever in a painting, then gradually disappearing, such is the power of the Dahl. And living in Hackney has become a nightmare since the beard trend came in: don’t these people remember the Twits?
Part of me is deeply concerned about the psyche of a person who decides to make their living telling stories to young children, then filling them with nightmare inducing possibilities: horrific prospects which, if acted out in full, would result in an 18 rating.
Still, it does make a better story, and if it meant I’d never have to read Peppa Pig and the Biggest Muddy Puddle in the World again, I would happily terrify my child every night of the week.

The Great In the Night Garden conspiracy

It’s that time of year when normally rational and intelligent people suddenly become bumbling idiots, unable to comprehend events which have happened, without fail, year in year out throughout their entire lives.

“I can’t believe how dark it is!”
“It’s weird because it’s six o’clock, but really it’s five o’clock. But really, it’s like six o’clock”
“I guess I’m hungry because really, it’s sort of tea time in my world.”
“I know why it’s light, but I just don’t really believe it. You know?”

If you you haven’t heard variations on the above phrases, you must live in a hole. A really deep hole which is not penetrated by light. A hole in which time does not exist.

There is, however, one group who remain largely unaffected by the clocks going back: parents. Specifically, parents of young children. While the rest of the world lazed around in their PJs on Sunday morning, enjoying the benefits of that extra hour in bed, we were up as normal. Toddlers could not care less about that extra hour, if anything they take the opportunity to get up even earlier. If the whole country can mess around with time just to suit itself, why not children? Sod 6am – why not get up at 5? Or even 4? Not that this will have any impact on bed time of course. No self respecting toddler would go to bed at 8pm if they could stay up dancing until midnight (oh habits of our twenties, how you come back to bite us on the ass!)

If you find yourself up with your offspring in the ungodly hours of the morning, while the rest of the world snoozes on oblivious, there is only one answer: TV. More specifically: In the Night Garden. Other TV may well suffice, but only In The Night Garden, with it’s soothing plinky plonky noises and the deep chocolate tones of Derek Jacobi will both entertain the little one while allowing you to peacefully doze through the mind bogglingly dull adventures of a group of oversized stuffed toys.

So, last week, I found myself sprawled face down on the sofa while my two year old hit me repeatedly on the back screeching ‘Look Mummy! Tombliboos!’ with a level of noise and enthusiasm which should surely be illegal before 8am.

Peering up to deliver the cursory ‘oh yeah’ I realised something. Through my bleary, barely conscious eyes, with just a one second glance, I knew I had seen this episode before. It was the one where one of the Tombliboos steals all the Pinky Ponk juice.

I bloody hate that episode. This selfish, irresponsible little wretch wanders around happily thieving from all of his friends while they innocently play, unaware of his criminal shenanigans. Eventually, the self-serving little blighter drinks so much of everyone else’s Pinky Ponk Juice that he becomes ill. Once he is discovered, rather than being reprimanded or punished or left to suffer the illness he has inflicted upon himself, the others prance around him, desperately trying to cheer him up. He learns no lessons about theft, gets free entertainment and presumably doesn’t even have to wash up the cups. What kind of message is this sending to our children? Especially ones like mine whose lazy, slovenly parents allow them to watch this exact episode on a seemingly regular basis?

Annoyed, I dragged my carcass into a sitting position to watch and see what other morally questionable lessons Derek Jacobi and the Night Garden residents were teaching my son.

Then there it was. The ending, and the clue as to the cause of all my sleep deprived nights.

“Somebody’s not in bed.
Who’s not in bed?
Iggle Piggle’s not in bed.”

Here, in a programme ostensibly designed to help send young children off to sleep, was the central character charging around well after story time, hiding behind trees and refusing to go to bed.

Once spotted, Iggle Piggle flops to the ground where he stands and is told softly by Jacobi’s satin tones: ‘Don’t worry Iggle Piggle’ as he too, gets away with whatever he wants.

Suddenly, it all made sense. The bed time antics. The sneaking around after dark. Regularly finding my son sleeping in corridors and on bedroom floors, clutching toys, water bottles and blankets; basically collapsing unwillingly into sleep anywhere other than the warm, comfortable bed we had spent time and money putting together for him.

I turned to him slowly, regarded his delighted grin with mistrust and said:

“Iggle Piggle doesn’t go to bed, does he?”
“No!” he replied with glee.
“Is this where you learned it from?” I asked outright.
He turned to me, slowly drew his fingers from where they had been stuffed in his mouth, grinned a cheeky, slobbery grin and screeched:
“Yes!”

And so it was that I discovered the great CBeebies conspiracy. Children’s entertainment? Public Service Broadcasting? I’ve seen through you and your game. Make a programme to get kids off to sleep, teach them bad sleep habits, then tired, desperate, sleep deprived parents will sit them right back in front of the very programme which caused it all in the first place just to get a few moments peace! The irony. It’s genius!

Well Jacobi, you may have fooled us before, but I’ve seen through you now, and there’ll be no more Pinky Ponk Juice in our house!

My inspiration for writing

There is nothing in the world so important and which brings so much pleasure as reading.

My life revolves around reading: my house is full to bursting with books, in my job I teach children to be able to read and to love reading, and almost the moment I get home I settle down to read with my son. In a world where we are bombarded with noise, screens and media, there is nothing more beautiful and simple than snuggling up with your child to share a story. Storytelling is the foundation of our imaginations, our literacy skills and our social abilities.

That’s why It’s so disappointing when you come across a ‘bad’ children’s book. Obviously it’s all objective, but no one likes a book that’s too preachy, too boring or so simplistic as to offend the fun and creative minds which lurk inside each little person’s brain. Thank goodness for the genius of Julia Donaldson, Jon Klassen and the perhaps less well known Werner Herzog (if you haven’t yet read ‘The little mole who knew it was none of his business’, you’re in for a treat!) who keep our bedtimes full of fun and giggles. It’s clear you’ve got a great story in your hands when you find your 2 year old, who has only just learned to speak, turning the pages and ‘reading’ the story to himself when he thinks no one is looking.

The reason these stories are great is that they look at the world, not through the eyes of an adult who wants to read to children, but through the eyes of a child. A crazy, imaginative, silly child who finds wonder and fun in everything they see.

One of my favourite authors from my own childhood, Roald Dahl, wrote that the problem for most adults was that they could not remember what it was like to be a child, they only thought they could. The difference for him was that he really could remember, and that was why he could write his particular style children’s books (written in The Roald Dahl Guide to Railway Safety, showing how brilliant he was that I remember that 25 years on).

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Alongside the amazing Mr Dahl, my other favourite storyteller, I am certain, knew exactly what it was like to be a child. If she hadn’t, she could never have created the captivating stories she did. Don’t try looking her up online; like all the great artists, Ellen McCormick was unrecognised in her time. I know only of her great work because I am lucky enough that she was my Nana. For that reason, only myself and my brothers will ever know the wonders of Angus McFangus who ate only Aberdeen Angus, or Auntie Esther who lived in Chester, or the boys who snuck off in the night on adventures with little green men, seeing the world but always getting back just in time to get under the covers before their parents came in.

Two years ago when my son was born, I began to think about how sad it was that he would never know my Nana, who had passed away the year before. I could piece together her stories from the scraps she left behind on the backs of envelopes and lines of sticky notes, but he would never know the funny, mad and wonderful person she was. He could hear the stories she wrote, but not the even crazier things she did in her own life (such as painting the ceiling, failing asleep part way through and waking up thinking she was blind because paint had dripped down and stuck her eyelids together) which inspired her stories.

My Nana was the one who sparked my love of stories, which led to a lifetime love of reading. She is my inspiration.

Last year I began to write the stories of ‘Nana Nellie’ – a mad, scatty and fun loving Nan – for my son and all the other children who are not as lucky as I was to have a real Nana Nellie in their life*. It became a new inspiration, and sparked off a new love – a love of writing. Now I think back and remember what it was like to be a little child, and look through the eyes of my own child, to write stories which I would have wanted to read, and which I would like to read with my son.

This post is my entry for the Mumsnet: The Big Idea competition for aspiring children’s story writers.

* The Nana Nellie stories are in the process of being illustrated by my very talented sister-in-law. I would have asked for some pictures to include in this blog but she is getting married in a couple of days so is rather busy! She designed my logo though so you can get an idea of how it might look.

Why football chants are not suitable toddler songs…

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Chasing pigeons

It’s memorising and somewhat therapeutic to watch a toddler running around the park. The sheer pleasure and the shrieks of glee remind you that there is nothing quite as wonderful as the truly simple pleasures in life. Whether you’re charging after them or just watching from a distance, as soon as those pudgy little legs start waddling along, all the worries in your life just seem to drift away…

With one exception.

While still mesmerising, there is something rather troubling about watching a toddler chase pigeons.

First of all, why pigeons? Why are little kids so obsessed with a creature which is essentially a rodent with wings? My boy has been fascinated by pigeons since the moment he could walk and his fixation shows no sign of abating.

Second of all, what’s the point? On Saturday I was killing time in the park and enjoying running around and pretending to dance on the grass with the little man in my life when suddenly, out of nowhere, he charged off with more sense of purpose than most business people show walking into a make-or-break meeting. My only warning to what was happening was a sweetly chirped ‘Oh! Mummy! Pigeons!’.

So began 10 minutes of desperately energetic, impressively purposeful and yet entirely pointless chasing. Like a lame cheetah chasing after a the gazelle equivalent of Usain Bolt and the Jamaican sprinting team, he pursued those pigeons with steely determination. I watched in wonder. What was he trying to achieve? At what point would he realise his still disproportionately little limbs, with their plodding and waddling stride, we’re no match for an animal with wings who could glide off at a second’s notice? And when would he give up?

Apparently, never.

We walked all the way home and the chasing continued. Every time a feathered rodent appeared the ‘oh mummy’ cry and charge down the road swiftly followed, each time as enthusiastic as the first.

‘God, how did we ever involve into civilised societies if all we naturally want to do is chase flea ridden BIRDS?’ I pondered as we approached home and, watched him cheerfully accept yet another defeat – a brief moment of utter, earth shattering disappointment at missing yet again quickly replaced by the boundless optimism which vexed me, being so entirely unfounded and pointless.

Then it occurred to me: here I was acting all high and mighty, thinking I knew better because I wasn’t pointlessly chasing pigeons, but he had one over on me the whole time. It’s not about catching the pigeon; it’s about the chase, the effort, the determination.

A while ago, a psychologist friend of mine explained to me the differences between goals and values. We are a primarily goal driven society: buy a car, get a promotion, get married by 30. So often we forget the important values that go with these things: being able to get around independently, doing well at something you love, sustaining and enjoying a loving, committed relationship. I’d struggled with this. I’ve always lived my life by dent of over-organisation, but since becoming a mother I’m practically incapable of doing anything if it’s not first written on a list with a handy tick box at the side. Each evening I set myself an impossibly long list of often unnecessary tasks to complete once the pigeon catcher is in bed – do the ironing, mark a set of essays, call family, clean the house, write a blog (tick!) – and inevitably go to bed feeling like a failure because I didn’t meet all my goals. Inevitably I start to feel frustrated and give up: so many times I have moaned that I haven’t blogged for ages because I can’t think of anything good enough, or I haven’t written in so long everyone will have forgotten and no one will read it, forgetting that the value was always in the joy of writing, not in what happened with it after.

So, this week I’m setting myself a challenge – a pigeon challenge! I’m going to focus on the values, the thrill of the chase, and not simply on ‘getting things done’. Each time I feel like giving up and moving on to a more ‘productive’ task, I’m going to picture my boy chasing after those pigeons. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t catch one, he’ll keep trying and so will I. He’s only two and sometimes gets closer than you think; I’m. 32, if I’d kept at it, I’d almost certainly have caught a pigeon by now.

5 children’s songs that ruined the world

Ugly Duckling

In a world where we continually tell ourselves looks don’t matter and talk to our children about beauty being ‘more than skin deep’, we are undermining our message before the kiddies are even aware of their own reflection.

The ugly duckling is portrayed as a heart-warming story about triumphing over a childhood of bullying. But how does the ‘ugly’ little one triumph? By getting beautiful! All his problems evaporate into thin air the moment he transforms from a runt with ‘feathers all stubby and brown’ to a ‘very fine swan indeed’. Who knew it could be so easy to get on in life? There’s no need for education or hard work, just wake up one morning magically transformed into an indescribable beauty and you too can live a life of happiness and fulfilment alongside the cruel and shallow bullies who once mocked and made your life a misery.

No wonder Lord Sugar’s latest investment was in a chain of walk-in cosmetic surgeries; our offspring are being brainwashed into the world of vanity before they’ve reached nursery. Bring on the plastic surgery and unfulfilling personal relationships!

5 Little Ducks

This cute little ditty masquerades as a sweet story which helps children to understand numbers and even the rather complex concept of object permanence (just because you can’t see the ducks, doesn’t mean they’re not there anymore. Clever, eh?)

What this song actually teaches our children is a worrying lesson in bad parenting. In Oscar Wilde’s classic farce ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’, Lady Bracknall reproaches the protagonist, stating that “To lose one parent, Mr Worthing may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.” What would she make of the haphazard and careless shenanigans of ‘mummy duck’, a mother so careless she watches all five of her children disappear into the unknown reaches of ‘far away’ before she bothers lifting a feather to go and find them! Bloody lucky they come back in the end or she would have been facing a serious enquiry, although judging by the lack of intervention from any of the other aquatic inhabitants she may well have gotten away with it.

Just to add to this lesson in how to raise a crap family, I once attended a baby class where for the final line, after mummy duck had successively failed to get her children to do as they were told by ‘quacking’ (come on Mummy Duck, is that really all you’ve got when faced with the loss of your entire family?!), the saccharine hippy in charge crooned “then Daddy duck said quack, quack, quack, quack, and all five ducks came swimming back”. Seriously? No-one listens to mummy duck but daddy duck rocks up, says one line and everyone does exactly as they’re told? Do me a favour!

The Farmer Wants a Wife

The farmer wants a wife – so he gets a wife.
The wife wants a child – along one pops.
The child wants a dog – they happily oblige.

While all seems to be going perfectly in this microcosm of rural life, there’s a lack of sentimentality and a reinforcing of gender roles which leaves me slightly uneasy. The farmer wants a wife. Wants. Not meets. Not falls in love. Just wants, and gets. Then, obviously, the wife wants a child. She doesn’t want a career, or friends, or a happy and fulfilling marriage – as a “womb on two legs”* , all she needs out of life is to reproduce. Finally, having achieved her goal, she (I assume he won’t help, he apparently didn’t want the child, just a wife) raises a child so spoilt and demanding they clearly don’t understand the phrase ‘I want never gets’.

No wonder the divorce rate is increasing.

The Old Lady Who Swallowed a fly

This song has so much to answer for:

1. Poor knowledge of the natural world. A spider to catch a fly – common sense. A cat to catch a bird – fair enough. A goat to catch a dog?? A cow to catch a goat???! What weird, f***ed up farm did this woman grown up near where passive herbivores ran around trying to gorge on one another’s flesh? In all other stories, cows just stand there and go ‘moo’.

2. Obesity. It teaches a frighteningly unhealthy attitude to eating; teaching our children that there’s never a reason to stop until you’re dead. Could this be the key to the modern obesity crisis? It wasn’t turkey twizzlers after all; it was rhyme time at the local library!

3. Once fully inducted in the ways of gluttony, our children are taught to live life with an unhealthily blasé attitude towards death. During the composition of the song, did the writer not once stop to think that having “perhaps she’ll die” as the main refrain in a children’s rhyme was a little weird and inappropriate? And ending with the line “She’s dead, of course” a little too matter of fact for one of the most traumatic events a person can experience? I’m going to stop singing it now or I fear my own funeral will involve my son shrugging his shoulders before heading off to try and swallow a dolphin in the hope that it will sort out that frog in his throat.

Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie

A disconcerting tale of bullying, sexual harassment and ostracism. If I’d thought about it a little more during pregnancy, I may have thought twice about naming my son George…

* The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I’m teaching this at the moment and I’m still stuck in work mode. Sorry if it’s weird!

What the hell is going on with kids TV?

A few weeks ago I had a truly disturbing experience.

The little man had been ill. Mostly recovered but still suffering from an unexplained rash, I’d had to take the day off work a until we could see a doctor. While my lessons for that day were covered, I still had things to do and needed to sit down and do some work. Unfortunately, he was determined to spend the entire day clinging to me like a limpet; never quite happy to sit still and equally unhappy to be more than 2 inches from my lap at any time. There was a time, shortly after returning to work, when I would have relished the opportunity to spend a day cuddling and playing. But not the day before my performance management and first observation since returning to work. I needed at least an hour to get stuff done!

I tried putting him down for a nap. I failed.

I tried to wear him out by letting him toddle around while hanging off my fingers. I failed.

I tried to distract him with building blocks and stacking cups. I failed.

I resorted to the one technique which always works. My failsafe, shut the baby up and keep him occupied while I get on with housework technique. The one thing guaranteed to keep him quiet and independently happy for at least 10 minutes. I gave him a rice cake. It failed.

Tired, grumpy and at my wits end, I gave in and switched on the telly.

I was not prepared for the barrage of bizarre, disturbing, migraine-inducing, all-singing, all-dancing technicolor nonsense which attacked my senses with all the force of a hurricane on a small, defenceless town. What is this nonsense they call CBeebies?

First of all, there’s Peppa Pig. I always quite liked the idea of Peppa Pig. We even have a Giant George toy watching over our living room as if it were standing guard. The characters seem like fun and the drawings are cute,but the storylines are a weird mix of ludicrous and mind-numbinglymboring. In the only full episode I’ve seen, Peppa moans so much that she wants to go to the seaside that her parents relent and take the whole family to the beach to go swimming, despite the fact that it’s so cold it’s snowing, and then everyone’s surprised when they’re freezing at the end of the day. That’s not fun. That’s just bloody irresponsible parenting!

Next, let’s explore the steaming pile of poo that is The Adventures of Abney and Teal. I can’t even describe how boring it was, except that it was so boring and weird that it failed to hold even the little man’s attention. And he claps every time it makes the plinky plonky winding down noise on Pointless. Every single time.

Moving on to a programme that genuinely gave me nightmares: Baby Jake. I understand the concept; kids love babies, babies love babies, make a programme about babies and you’ve basically got a guaranteed success. The problem is when they take a real baby’s head and stick it on to an animated body to make it go on adventures. So freaky! Didn’t they ever see  Chucky?

Finally, scariest of all, is Justin’s House. In any realm of the real world, if a flamboyant middle aged man invited pre-pubescent children round to his house where he entertained them with a range of his weird and wonderful friends wearing a shiny waistcoat which would make John Virgo envious, we’d all be a little bit worried. In my husband’s words, ‘I hope he’s CRB checked’.

Just in case Justin’s lawyer is reading (presumably in an exceedingly shiny waistcoat), I am in no way accusing anyone on CBeebies of any wrong doing (and neither is my husband).

I also recognise that I am not the target audience of any of these programmes, and while I was ready to bang my head against the living room wall rather than watch another minute, the little man did actually enjoy Justin’s House and joined in with all the clapping, albeit not as much as he does when someone wins Pointless.

I also realise that kids TV in my day was equally nonsensical and in many ways worse – clearly designed by people who’d had a bit too much of the fun stuff over the weekend and were still in their own little world when they came to write their scripts on Monday morning. But let’s be honest, it was much better.

Abel and Teal’s adventures in the woods versus Bert serving ‘him upstairs’ in Trapdoor? An easy choice.

In the Night Garden versus Willo’ the Wisp? Kenneth Williams wins hands down.

Grandpa in my Pocket versus Thundercats? They would whoop his ass!

Peppa Pig’s trip to the seaside versus Dangermouse’s fight against the custard mite of Glut? Seriously. Do you need to ask?

You always hear parents talking about kids TV as something which has unavoidably become part of their everyday life. I always hoped to avoid it, and definitely intend to do so if this is the state of moderkids TV. My husband regularly berates me for my encyclopaedic knowledge of eighties cartoons, claiming I must have never left the house (look up that custard mite of Glut reference, it’s real). Maybe he’s concerned that I’ll pass my addiction to our son. If this is the current state of TV, Idon’t think he needs to worry. I have always been strongly against drugs. No one has ever persuaded me that downgrading classifications of commonly used narcotics is a good idea. But give me another year or two of kids’ TV designed by totally normal, un-chemically affected people and I may just change my mind…

 

Who’s in charge: the kids, the parents or the advertisers?

Sometimes, I’m a bad mum.

Sometimes, when I’m really tired and just can’t face singing any more songs about farmyard animals or cleaning the kitchen floor for the fifth time today, I sit my son in a washing basket with a few toys, make myself a coffee and watch TV. Aaah TV, the monster in our living rooms: ruining our children’s eyesight with increasingly large screens; destroying our collective imaginations with mind-numbingly stupid programmes; and turning the next generation into a mass of unthinking consumer robots. I love it!

In a letter to the Telegraph last week, the organisation ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ pleaded with the government to introduce greater restrictions on advertising aimed at young aged children, warning that we are in danger of turning out “young consumers rather than young citizens”. They claim that advertisers target children specifically so that they use “pester power” to get their parents to buy them things.

Well, duh!

Of course advertisers target children. They are impressionable, they like what they’re told to like and they’re desperate to fit in. They haven’t yet got the strength to see the difference between what they want and what is good for them. Just like when they turn their noses up at a nutritious dinner of chicken and broccoli pasta and instead decide they want to eat nothing but custard creams. But you don’t smile and hold out the biscuit tin (and if you do, call Supernanny now!) because you know it’s not good for them.

Just as we, the parents, are in charge of making sure they don’t overdose on sugar before they reach their third birthday, it is our responsibility to stand up to the little brats and say no when they throw a tantrum and demand the latest little Bratz doll (a terrifying anti-feminist nightmare of a toy which I can only assume has been inspired by a toy-maker’s personal love of drag queens). Sure they might scream and cry and throw all their other toys out of the pram, but we’re strong enough to cope with that.

Oh wait, no, apparently we’re not. Because, wherever you go, you see screaming children getting exactly what they want, and then demanding more as a result. And it’s our fault. We’re the ones turning them into “little-consumers”, because from the moment they’re born we teach them that people show love by buying you things.

After reading the letter in the Telegraph, I got to thinking about the things children “pester” us to buy. I headed off to the toy store to do some research, intending to write about how ridiculous children’s toys are, how extortionate the price tags and how stupid parents are to give in.

As I wandered around, I marvelled at the idea that any parent would even consider spending £35 on this nightmare-inducing giant bee…

I winced at the thought of a well-meaning relative spending £33 on a ‘Sophie la Giraffe’ gift case, which essentially contained a blanket and a squeaky dog toy presented a fancy cardboard box (and yes, I am a hypocrite because we do have a ‘Sophie’ and it is well used, but I still maintain that it really belongs in a pet shop)…

And I recoiled when I noticed how much my son seemed to like these hideous, googly-eyed monsters, which I wouldn’t dare take home for fear of spilling water on them or accidentally leaving the biscuit packet out after midnight…

I walked around the store characteristically sceptical, sneering at the ridiculous way in which we desperately try to prove our love by turning the simplest of pleasures into a consumerist activity.

Instead of happily talking through the old family album with your kids, record a message on Tomy’s ‘Forget Me Not Photo Album’ and you’ll save yourself the trouble of ever having to talk to your children about their Nan again.

Rather than expend the hugely difficult effort of breathing on a small plastic stick costing 50p to create bubbles, you could invest in the “Bubbleator”, currently on sale at only £25 for 2!

Yes, I sneered at this nonsense, and then berated myself for falling for it all. For as I walked around the store, my son challenged my scepticism by loving all the things I hated. He actually cried when I took away the evil gremlin toy. Cried! But then he stopped crying ten seconds later when I waved something else in his face, then cried when I took that away. This pattern repeated itself as we mooched around the store for over an hour, clearly proving that he didn’t really love these toys, he just got excited by anything new.

Yet it took all my mental and emotional strength to walk out of that store without spending any money.

At the moment, my son loves nothing more than to hit a spoon on the tray of his highchair. Literally hours of entertainment. It’s prompted at least 3 people to say, “Ooh, shall I get him a drum kit for his birthday?” to which I respond, “Why?” He doesn’t need a drum kit. He’s made his own, which will never get boring like the toys in the shop did, because as soon as it does, I can just give him a different spoon or tray. The possibilities are endless! Why waste your money on buying him something which he can imagine and create himself?

Still, I know that on his next birthday we’ll be bombarded by drum kits, electronic gismos and all sorts of other lovely but inevitably short-lived presents. Because that’s what you do. Even when the children are too young to ‘pester’ us for what they want, the consumer culture is so ingrained in adults we can’t help but go out and buy loads of stuff for them anyway.

So maybe ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ is right. Maybe we should be fighting harder against the insidious influence of the advertising industry. Maybe we should be exercising more control over what our kids are exposed to. And maybe, occasionally, we should just leave our kids alone – preferably with a wooden spoon, a biscuit tin lid and sitting in a washing basket…

Washing basket fun

Baby fashions: when childhood becomes more Kat Moon than Cat in the Hat.

Happiness

by A.A. Milne

John had
Great Big
Waterproof
Boots on;
John had a
Great Big
Waterproof
Hat;
John had a
Great Big
Waterproof
Mackintosh —
And that
(Said John)
Is
That.

Baby clothes, in my opinion, should conform to two key principles:

  1. Keep the baby warm and dry
  2. Be easy to get off and clean when they inevitably end up covered in a substance seemingly more adhesive than superglue and so foul-smelling David Bowie should confine it to the Bog of Eternal Stench (That’s a Labyrinth reference. If you didn’t get it, you clearly didn’t grow up in the 80s)

However we all know that children’s clothes, like adult clothes, can often be more to us than simply functional items. They are an outward message to the world: ‘This is who I am’. They can tell you more about a person than a thousand Facebook updates.

And while babies can’t access social media, their clothes too can be more than just a simple cover up. They can be fun; they give the people who choose them endless joy; and while babies can only show limited aspects of their personality, what they wear can tell us endless amounts about their parents.

So what on earth am I to conclude about parents who choose to dress their child in this monstrosity…

3. Leopard print dress

Where Facebook has failed, Mylene Klass and Mothercare have stepped in, at last allowing babies to truly express themselves by making a “fashion statement!”

On a run-of-the mill shopping trip in Mothercare this week I happened upon this dress, so brash I would only have expected it to appear on Bette Lynch in Coronation Street circa 1988; a full leopard print party dress with frills and a ‘heart cut out back’ available for girls as young as 6 months. Well, while the style may not exactly be practical for a baby learning to crawl, the garish pattern may well help to disguise the results of a leaking nappy!

If the dress alone is not enough for you, you can accessorise (yes, apparently babies should accessorise) with matching leopard print socks and headband! I immediately snapped a picture and sent it to a friend who was in hospital having just given birth to a baby girl.

“Do you want me to pick this up for the new arrival?” I offered.

“Only if it comes with matching stilettos” she swiftly responded.

Sadly, Baby K at Mothercare hasn’t quite reached that stage yet. No imagination that place. Though if they ever get sight of this post, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found them as a new addition on my next shopping trip. I’ll take a cut of the profits – but for god’s sake don’t put my name on it.

Why are people so desperate for their children to grow up? Why dress them like mini-adults rather than just accepting that babies are babies. Even if we are going to a party – which Mothercare assures us this dress is “perfect” for and “sure to turn heads” – does anyone there really expect the babies to abandon practicality the way we do in order to look stylish? And do we really expect toddlers to make a “fashion statement”?

Dressing babies like mini-adults is nonsensical for so many reasons.

Firstly, the cost.

Last year, Marks and Spencer released the results of a survey (albeit one designed to support and promote their ‘Shwopping’ scheme, but it’s in a good cause so we’ll let them off) which revealed that the average under one year old owned 56 different outfits, totalling an average of £327. Now, unless you are willing to spend your life chained to the washing machine, you do need a significant amount of clothes as by the end of the day at least one set will be ruined by dribble/milk/sick/food/urine/poo or a mixture of all these things. But, for these same reasons, only a moron would invest in loads of clothes, or expensive ones.

A quick internet search for ‘designer baby clothes’ (a ridiculous phrase in itself), reveals some outrageously unsuitable options:

– If you feel three matching leopard print items just isn’t enough, you could always invest in some matching Ugg Boots. That’s right, for the bargain price of £45 you could equip your not-yet-walking child with boots which restrict her ankles and render her unable to move, making it much easier for you to sit on the computer searching for yet more inappropriate baby clothes.

– You could invest in beautiful striped Tommy Hilfiger babygrow for roughly the same price. If your little one is going to ruin an outfit with explosions from his backside which could rival Vesuvius for their force, let them at least do it in style!

– Or if you’re looking to splash out that little bit more, how about £101 for a fruity themed dress. Let’s skip past the frankly ludicrous cost and worry instead about the idea of labelling your young child “fresh and juicy”

Which brings me to my other point: if we do insist on dressing up little girls (there are a few mini-adult boys outfits, but nowhere near as many), must we force them into stereotypical, almost sexualised outfits? Mention leopard print to most people today and the majority will think of Kat Moon, the busty bawdy barmaid from EastEnders – hardly the ideal role model for a child so young they wouldn’t even recognise Ian Beale if he delivered fish and chips to their house in person. I don’t particularly want a brassy, saucy toddler – and I certainly don’t want Shane Richie for a son-in-law.

I guess I can’t totally rail against the idea of dressing up babies like dolls. On the same shopping trip I discovered the animal print nightmare, I bought this…

3. Bumblebee

Ok, I’ll justify it. As is so beautifully illustrated by AA Milne’s ‘Happiness’, a child’s clothes should be first practical and second allow them to enjoy the fact that they are actually a child. The bumblebee outfit is very soft and comfortable and I challenge you to find me any child who isn’t unfeasibly amused by an adult blowing raspberries and whispering “BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ” into their ears.

And anyway, he’s my bloody son and I’ll dress him how I want. Who the hell do you think you are to tell me otherwise?