An Awfully Pig Adventure: The Peppa Pig Film Preview

 

I went to school with a boy who later went up to Oxford and became a film critic for one of the student rags there. He became notorious for writing reviews of films he hadn’t actually seen. His claim was that his film knowledge was so superior that he could form opinions based simply on who made the film, who was in it and what it was about. Like most right-minded people I find this approach both high-handed and objectionable. And that is why I am trying very very hard to reserve judgement on the upcoming Peppa Pig film.

Or Peppa Pig: My First Cinema Experience to give it its proper title. The name strikes me as curiously functional, like re-imagining Raiders of the Lost Ark as Indiana Jones and the Search for the Culturally Significant Religious Artefact. In fact the label doesn’t refer to plot of the film. It’s directed at the audience themselves.

Thus it becomes probably the first film in cinematic history to incorporate its own marketing strategy into its title. But at least this way any potentially harrowing scenes involving Peppa’s first encounter with a hot dog stand are avoided.

I speculated as to the content of the film and how the makers would tackle the challenge of making this well-loved television character a cinematic proposition, without losing its essential Pepperiness. But actually, the Peppa Pig film isn’t a film at all, it’s nine new episodes shown back-to-back. So it may just be that Peppa Pig: My First Cinema Experience is less of an artistic endeavour and more of a profit-making one.

This novel formula at least offers a raft of opportunities: a week’s worth of surround-sound Coronation Street. 3-D weather forecasts. Or A Question of Sport: The Movie.

In fairness you could say that most films are propelled by financial imperative. And the format suits my children, particularly the Minor who would probably struggle to sit through the opening credits. I’ve sat through a few Peppa Pig marathons myself, normally at around 5.22am. It is possible to enter a sort of stasis during this period, and rouse yourself an hour or so later, slightly furred like the inside of an old kettle.

I should add also there are some episodes of Peppa that contain a streak of subversive humour which is genuinely appealing. Who can forget the classic moment when Daddy Pig reads The Wonderful World of Concrete to his kids at bedtime? Uttering the immortal line: “concrete is a construction material composed of sand, water and chemical admixtures”.

The resident cast boast several actual comedians, which has been bolstered for the “film” by the likes of Jo Brand and David Mitchell, perhaps playing a slightly spluttering middle-class badger railing at the rank commerciality of it all.

The most concerning element of the Peppa Pig cinema enterprise is that it’s apparently interactive. I’ve researched this and this involves live action characters (failed actors in intimidatingly large suits) initiating dancing and sing-a-longs. No parental hibernating here. Given that the only famous song associated with Peppa is the theme tune, I can only see this going one way.

Altogether ladies and gentlemen and children…

“Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun Pepppppa Pig dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun Peppppppppa Pig….”

How My Child Is Being Potty-Trained Without a Potty

 

I’ve had a revolutionary thought about potty-training. That it is possible to potty-train your child without a potty.

When I say potty-training I mean in the general sense of easing the transition from nappy to toilet. I don’t mean instructing your child to crouch over an imaginary potty and letting it crap on the floor. To be honest I don’t think it’s radical enough to stop the potty production lines whirring, but anyway. My technique requires a few bits of kit, preferably a toilet on every floor of your home and perhaps most elusively, a willing and capable child.

It is no coincidence that I have only had this revelation with my second son. He has observed the behaviour of his older brother, noting his methods with the keen eye of a UN weapons inspector. This is with a view to learning them and ultimately replicating them. It includes traipsing in after him to the toilet and making mental memoranda of his processes. From time to time I’ve also spotted him looking up at me when I’m about my business in there, which tends to focus the mind on keeping my aim true.

The potty is designed to counter at least three major shortcomings of the toilet in catering for those of smallish stature. First the toilet seat is too wide for a small bum, a child would simply find themselves wedged halfway down the bowl. This issue is resolved with the introduction of a specific child seat installed on the existing fittings. Our one is padded and printed with images of Thomas the Tank Engine and his pals. I feel certain this is exactly the use the Reverend W. Awdry had in mind when he penned his literary legacy.

The second problem is that the toilet is inaccessible; to ascend to its height requires a deal of clambering, which again can lead to a plunge down the bowl. We’ve found a seat that comes with a miniature step-ladder. The Minor loves this, I think because it gives a ceremonial quality to his toilet visits. It may also seed a very early ambition to be a tennis umpire. Or a lifeguard. In fact, perhaps he can oversee his brother in the adjacent bath: no diving, no bombing and no heavy petting.

Finally the potty is light and mobile. I’ll admit this is where the toilet falls down in comparison. Which is why a toilet within perhaps the range of a five seconds’ dash is desirable. But the key advantage of the toilet is the flush, and its capacity to remove waste immediately. The potty demands that its contents are dealt with and then its insides cleansed and disinfected.

Fortunately for us, the Minor has largely snubbed the potty in favour of the toilet. His technique is already pretty polished thanks to the insight gained from watching his brother at work. It has to be said that he does like to wash his hands first as opposed to afterwards for some reason. But it’s a start.

Nappy Talking: The Great Pampers Swindle

 

It was monsoon season in our house recently. Each night for a few weeks the Minor would produce such a robust gush that his nappy would be unable to contain it. And he would wake up in a little wet mess. To his credit he would not be downcast by this accident. In fact it was on these mornings that he was at his most energetic and wriggly. If I was not careful he would squirm from my grasp and roll across various bits of soft furnishings, spreading his wee scent like a musky fox. There are probably parts of my house that are still covered in historical piss. There may even be bits on me I’ve missed with the shower loofah.

It seemed that his nappy could not cope with the volume created by his blockbusting bladder. Which left us with a problem. For a few nights we changed him in a middle of the night – a pit stop to keep him dry – but it was not sustainable because the inevitable kerfuffle stirred him awake. My wife then took the decision to change our nappy provider.

From the first day of parenthood we used Pampers. Pampers was there to catch the very first poo. When I went to buy nappies all I saw was Pampers. Nappies, Pampers. Pampers, nappies. It never really occurred to me that there was any other brand. We walked dreamily into Pampers and Pampers welcomed us presumptuously with open flaps.

I did not challenge Pampers until the time that its nappies began to fail us. At that point we began to flutter our eyelids at alternative nappy manufacturers. We eventually plumped for one from Lidl called Toujours, supplied as part of Lidl’s unswerving commitment to weird-sounding continental brands. On the backside of the nappy are printed the words “made with love”, which presumably refers to the nappy itself as opposed to any future contents. Perhaps in the nappy factories of Europe there are operatives lovingly placing individual piss-crystals in each gusset, a bit like Rowan Atkinson preparing Alan Rickman’s gift-bag in Love Actually.

The reality is that the Toujours nappy feels a little less luxurious than the Pampers nappy. A little less pampering I guess. It has a slightly crinkly feel like the bog roll from a 1980s school. But the ultimate test for a nappy is whether it can handle the storm of pee rained down on it on a nightly basis. In this aspect the Toujours nappy pisses all over the Pampers one, to use a deliberately unfortunate metaphor.

So it’s taken us four years of parenting to work out that Pampers wasn’t the best choice of nappies for our children. The Minor has begun to request that we hold him over the toilet for his evacuations so it may be that our need for nappies is coming to an end. Just when we’d finally worked it all out.

I was not paid by Lidl for this post. I just think that their nappies are better than Pampers.

My Son Keeps Saying He’s Tired And It’s Tiring

 

In case I didn’t know that children are illogical, the Minor has recently developed a habit of waking up in the middle of the night to complain that he is tired. Sometimes he does this in a soft sad wail and sometimes he does it in loud angry rant. The rant would probably be expletive-ridden if he knew what expletives are. Last night at around 3.45am he pointedly said: “excuse me I’m tired” as if I’d gone into his room and woken him up on purpose. Then he added “actually actually actually I’m tired” to stress his point, each ‘actually’ slightly more tired than the first. It’s demented.

The sensitive reaction to this absurd protest is to advise him gently that he is best to go back to sleep. But set it against a backdrop of night after night of interruptions, it comes out more like a livid hiss: “we are all tired, pal”. This would definitely be expletive-ridden except I don’t want him to know what expletives are. We’ve found that it’s best not to engage with him at all. Because every snippet of conversation exchanged with him makes him a little more alert and a little less likely to fall back to sleep.

Traditionally the best way to get him down is stuffing a bottle into his mouth and putting him into milk-induced stasis. But now he has discovered this new streak of contrariness, his reaction on finishing the drink is “I’m thirsty”. My head at this point is full of expletives.

It seems he regards his night-time milk as an aperitif for some other beverage. I have once given him water (the milk was a kind of chaser) and predictably woke up a few hours later with a confused piss-soaked little boy next to me. The Pampers didn’t know what had hit it. The other effect of his midnight feast is that he is less hungry during the day. The fatigue makes him less hungry. He is also tired because he slept badly. He tells us he is tired a lot. The person who coined the phrase ‘vicious circle’ definitely had children.

He repeats that he is tired when we are trying to put him down for the night, it comes out like a chant. He fights off sleep by telling us he’s tired. He bolsters his resistance with increasingly surreal requests like ‘a giraffe’ or ‘a horse to carry him home.’ It’s ironic, avant-garde performance art. It’s at this time that becoming overtired is a live threat. I’ve never really understood the concept of ‘overtired’ given that there is a very obvious solution to the issue (going to sleep) that is always eschewed in favour of a high-octane paddy. I don’t understand the concept of ‘overtired’ but I’ve definitely witnessed ‘overtired’.

There is a lot I don’t understand about the Minor’s various states of ‘tired’.

And I’m tired. Actually actually actually tired.

Why I Really Really Like Going To The Dump

 

Of all the sickening sights that I’ve witnessed as a parent there is nothing more putrid than the nappy bin in a public baby changing room. The stench from my own son’s nappy is unholy enough, but when the nappy is atop of a mound assembled from a hundred other children’s nappies then it becomes overwhelmingly evil. To glimpse down the open shaft of a communal nappy bin is look into the actual depths of hell, the very basement of hell where even Satan is a bit scared to go.

A lot of parenting is waste disposal. It’s not just nappies, there other revolting unwanted substances to get rid of: half-digested breakfasts, dripping snotrags, sodden bread crusts. Bin administration dominates conversation. The quality, or lack of quality of bin bags has a serious material effect on my wellbeing. We have three large bins outside our house which we fill almost the second they are emptied. Some homeowners want to improve their house by converting the loft or installing a new kitchen. We need to create a landfill site in the garden.

One of the few benefits of producing so much rubbish is the necessity to visit the local dump on a regular basis. I’ve been so often recently I deserve a loyalty card. In truth I’ve been keen on dumps even before I became a dad. I have many cherished memories of the dump in Wembley near where we used to live. It even had a traffic-light system in place to ensure that waste was disposed of in an orderly manner.

The dumps local to me are not as organised. It’s sensible to go early in the morning when the ginormous bins are just starting to glister under the milky sun. Even at this time there are several other dump-goers. And there is a communality, a sense of shared satisfaction in clearing the decks, getting things in order and flinging large objects energetically into skips. I find peculiar pleasure in lobbing bottles into the bottle banks. If I hit the right trajectory a tremendous smashing happens. But I’ve also got it wrong on occasions and shattered a bottle on the side of the bank like a mental Queen christening a liner.

What I really like about all the dumps I’ve visited is that the staff always seem to genuinely care. The customer service is excellent. The moment they spot you grappling with a large slab of MDF they’ll dart over and say things like: “ooh, I know a lovely bin where that could live”. I once turned up with a knackered old microwave and the operative waved me over to a small stack of microwaves he’d built. I felt like I was releasing the microwave back into the wild.

This piece is an excerpt from The Good Dump Guide 2017.

A Good Way To Entertain Your Child In The Supermarket

 

I once saw a man limping down a supermarket aisle, a demanding toddler in each arm and a basket crashing rhythmically into his thigh. Both his children had obviously required an urgent cuddle, but he also needed to buy his groceries. He looked exhausted. And faintly hunted. I would not do well in this scenario. I do not have the muscle. The three of us would end up cowering in a huddle by the bakery counter. Continue reading “A Good Way To Entertain Your Child In The Supermarket”

It’s One Small Step In Gazing Up At The Stars

 

Like most children probably, my sons are inquisitive by nature. They ask a lot of questions. Normally I can field these satisfactorily but sometimes they happen upon a gap in my knowledge. This is always a concern to me because I’d rather the boys regard me as wise and all-knowing so later in life when important decisions need to be made they’ll seek my advice and in this way I’ll exert some sinister form of mind-control. Continue reading “It’s One Small Step In Gazing Up At The Stars”

Teething Problems Really Are Teething Problems

 

Children don’t remember anything before the age of two. Their brains are too tiny to retain all the memories. It does make me wonder why we bother doing anything nice with them while they’re small, they’re not going to remember anyway.

It also occurs to me that this memory deletion also works as a coping mechanism for the trauma of teething. I’ve now witnessed both my sons go through this ordeal and I’m glad I’ve forgotten my own experiences. It’s saved me thousands of pounds’ worth of therapy bills.

I can’t really imagine what it must be like to live your entire life in benign gummy innocence only to find yourself attacked from within by rude stabby rectangles bursting through into your mouth. Added to this is uncontrollable drooling, ruddiness, insomnia and a fierce desire to chew off your own hand.

For some curious reason my sons also suffered sore bottoms during the process, possibly because the hands they’d just eaten hadn’t agreed with them. It’s chaos theory in one miniature body. There’s no sugar-coating it: teething turned each of my children into a tiny sad shambles.

I’ve tried to picture as an adult what this pain and confusion must feel like. Perhaps discovering that your spine has started poking through the skin on your back and you’ve got a cold and the same digestive issues as the last time you ate a lamb vindaloo.

We’ve only found one thing that has come close to resolving these teething problems: mounds of pure uncut powder delivered straight to the tongue. We went straight for the good stuff. The teething powder my wife chose is made by a company called Ashton & Parsons, a name I found comforting because it sounded solid and old-fashioned.

I felt like they weren’t manufacturers, but purveyors of teething powder. Perhaps they were official suppliers of teething powder to the Queen, in case the Queen suffered from random new teeth and a poorly bum.

I later discovered that they have been operating for 150 years. Of course back in Victorian times, teething powder was even more important than it is now as it got the child workforce healthy and back down the mine or up mill.

At the beginning I imagine that they sold teething powder in shops down Burlington Arcade, where men in tall hats browsed while Dickensian waifs pressed their noses against the window, coveting lovingly-merchandised pyramids of powder.

Having seen what I’ve seen, if the plot of A Christmas Carol had Tiny Tim suffering from teething issues, then he’d have been probably been saying instead: “God help us, everyone!”

This tangent was not sponsored by Ashton & Parsons.

My Kids Can Sniff Out My Fun And Ruin It

 

It had just turned midnight. 2017 was minutes old. The crowd was full of expectation. Both for what the New Year would bring but also because I had just moved towards the decks, ready to take them to a higher level with my triumphant selection of tunes. A writhing mass of bodies on the dancefloor hanging on every knob-twiddle, awaiting the first monumental track…

…and then my kids woke up and I had to go and deal with them.

In truth the writhing mass was a couple of slightly pissed neighbours and the dancefloor was a small space created when we pushed the table against the kitchen wall. The atmosphere was mainly being provided by a peculiarly funky cheeseboard. The decks were in fact the Spotify app on wife’s phone connected to a puny Bluetooth speaker, my DJ skills limited to operating the keyboard function.

The record I had lined up was ‘Kiss Me’ by seminal artist Olly Murs. Perhaps a man approaching his forties shouldn’t be dabbling with popular music of the teeny-bop persuasion but I’m always seduced by a guitar bit that sounds like the incidental music from an erotic thriller in 1987.

Olly Murs’ guitar had to be put on ice because both my sons were awake and calling for their mother. But their mother had already been up there for an hour before midnight and because of an unspoken rota system between mum and dad the boys had to settle for me.

Earlier in the evening various party-goers had brought their children and put them into temporary storage in vacant bedrooms, turning the first floor of our house into a toddler doss-house. We knew that if the boys became aware that like-minded small people were close then they would be electrified to the point of insomnia and we’d end up mainly spending the New Year cajoling and lulling and shushing. We deployed an energetic aunt and uncle to exhaust them with a robust itinerary of activities in the day, and both boys sparked out long before the hoard arrived.

But I was uneasy. I knew a prompt turn-in was probably part of a long game that they had concocted to ruin our fun. I’ve seen it before. They can sniff out when we’re planning some festivity that doesn’t involve them and they’ll sabotage it. It’s not just house parties.

I’ve had to live off scraps of football-watching since fatherhood, a bit like sleep. But there are some games which are sacrosanct. The boys know this and when mum is out and there’s an important evening kick-off, they will stage a bed-boycott. And I will miss out on most of watching England lose.

So I was up there for an hour until mum was obliged to return. I could hear the party escalating downstairs, perhaps a third person had hit the dancefloor. All three of us were in my bed, and for different reasons all of us were fighting off sleep. The boys because they wanted me to stay with them, and me because I wanted to leave them.

Eventually my wife came to tag me out so I could return to the fray, determined to carry on as before. But as I minced quietly along the landing children began to wake all over the house, cries spreading like a forest fire. In effect it was a call for last orders, as deflated parents accepted their fate and scooped them off into the night.

I was left to wait for dishwasher to finish while mainlining Nutella cheesecake straight from the dish it had been served on. And in the morning I woke suffering a fraction of the hangover that I might have done had the boys not intervened. And down the street, tales of similar relief came through. Perhaps all our children weren’t out to ruin our night. Perhaps they were looking after us.

Or perhaps they don’t think I should be listening to Olly Murs.

I Think I’ve Passed Down My Jiffle To My Son

 

Recently when I’ve watched my sons go about their business, I’ve wondered what aspects of their personality and behaviour I have foisted on them. Both through my genes but also the traits they’ve picked up from me hanging together over the last few years. I’m not interested enough to conduct any scholarly research, but what started me ruminating is a physical quirk that the Major exhibits that is an exact replica of something I regularly performed in my younger days.

This extravagant tic happens as a result of a sudden exhilaration, an onrush of adrenaline. It includes some relatively standard jumping on the spot, perhaps a slight bow forward and a furious waggle of both hands effected by a rapid breaking of the wrists. That doesn’t adequately describe the absurd scale of the manoeuvre, so here is some grainy CCTV footage of a little me at the start line of my school sports day.

My mum called it a ‘jiffle’. For a long time I thought that my mum had invented this term. It’s actually an old Norfolk dialect word that refers to rushes swaying in the breeze, but has evolved to a more general meaning of moving restlessly or fidgeting. I was disappointed when I found out that my mum couldn’t lay claim to its creation. A bit like when I discovered she made her sloe gin just by putting sloe berries in some gin. I’d previously thought she’d somehow distilled the gin herself using fermented sloes, perhaps in some secret gin-laboratory under the gazebo.

The sports day footage was from my golden age of jiffling. I was a keen jiffler in this period. I continued to jiffle even through to adulthood. I’ve managed to restrain the loopiest elements of the jiffle now, the excessive hand-waving and the frantic jumping. I can now direct my excited energy into a less conspicuous action: walking. I’ve had friends report their bewilderment as I’ve randomly sped off down the pavement during a stroll together.

So I don’t believe that the Major has inherited the jiffle from observing me. I can only think that I have bequeathed the jiffle biologically. I am aware that there are scores of children who jiggle and twiddle dementedly, but there is something so hauntingly reminiscent about the Major’s execution it sets me speculating.

Is the jiffle embedded in my genetic code? Are the actual strands of my DNA jiffling themselves? Or is the replica jiffle a product of the anatomical similarities between the Major and me? As with all my parenting quandaries, I don’t know the answer. But it’s making me want to jiffle just thinking about it.