Remember back when the Teletubbies were going to make the nation's children stupid, unable to speak properly and sexually confused? What with all the furore over the negative influences of computer games, no one's really grumbled about the educational content of TV programmes for pre-school children for a while. Is this really justified? Should we be more concerned? Is it time to write horrified letters to the tabloids?
In order to answer these questions, I decided to conduct a little experiment. I lived a day according to children's TV. What follows is an account of my findings. Be afraid...
The day started out as usual with the mad rush to get the kids ready for school and nursery. On this occasion, however, I insisted they were enthusiastic, courteous and smiling at all times. This seemed to involve me shouting a great deal more than TV had led me to believe. When they were gone, I tried singing to get some woodland creatures to do the washing up. This didn't work very well either.
Undeterred, I moved onto the other chores. First up was dealing with the nest of Flowerpot Men in the garden. (The little blighters have been stealing garden implements to play pranks on each other.) I'd constructed a cunning trap in preparation the night before. An invisible thread led from a seemingly abandoned trowel to a twig wedged into the mechanism of some scales. Pulling the thread yanked the twig out of position, tipping the scales and releasing a ball bearing into a marble run. After circling round and dropping through the maze, the bearing landed on the switch for a fan which blew a paper aeroplane into the first of five hundred and twelve neatly lined dominoes. The final domino pressed a button on a remote control.
This then napalmed the entire patio.
The soot covering the back door made me hopeful of success and I went outside to investigate. Unfortunately, although the trap had operated perfectly, it had failed to deal with Bill and Ben. There were just a couple of barbecued pigeons. The neighbour's black and white cat was giving me the evil eye from behind the shed. (It's normally orange.) The trowel was also somewhat the worse for wear.
I reset the trap and went round pulling up any little weeds I could find, just to make sure the miscreants got the message that I meant business.
The garden was looking a bit charred, so I called a builder and asked if he could fix it. He said he could. I tidied up, ready for his arrival, by putting some of the debris in the wheelie bin. A shaggy green monster with big eyebrows tried to come out and teach me about the letter 'R'. I battered it back with a stick.
Feeling that things weren't going that well, I decided to cook myself a hearty breakfast to cheer myself up. (Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all.) Sausages sounded good. I even knew a song about sausages. I imagined myself surrounded by beaming children, all of us eating and singing about sausages. Then I remembered the kids were at school but, you know, the sausage craving had already taken hold. I found a frying pan, performed a short slapstick routine and opened the fridge.
The sausages were gone.
I started hunting around for them but then I stopped. I contemplated how a typical children's TV character would react in this type of situation. I realised I was getting it all wrong. I stopped searching and immediately went round to all my friends and neighbours and accused them each in turn of stealing my sausages. They denied all knowledge. I didn't believe them. They refused to play with me any more. I made a toy car out of yogurt pots.
It was time to collect Marie from nursery. I headed along to the school and, as we were getting her coat on, I explained that we were going to pretend to be Fimbles for the rest of the day. She wasn't having any of it. She wanted to wear a pink wig and do a song and dance routine about the tastiness of vegetables. I shrugged and joined in, leaping about to the jaunty melody while the other nursery kids formed a chorus line. It was fantastic. Everyone gave each other high-fives and I finished things off by running up the wall and doing a double back flip.
After a quick trip to Accident & Emergency, we went to a cafe for lunch. When the waitress came to take my order, I insisted she choose something for me, preferably something related to my job. I did stipulate, however, that she ensure it was a recipe for which they did not have all the ingredients, thus forcing one of the kitchen staff to fly off on a spoon to procure the necessary resources. I told her this would make their cafe the best in the world, as long as they all jumped around while doing the washing up.
The waitress looked sceptical. She played along, though. At least until I tried to pay for my Used Nappy Curry with a cheerful note and an IOU for some babysitting. She made me do the washing up without the aid of woodland creatures or jumping. I accused her of stealing my sausages. It didn't go well...
I hobbled home with Marie in tow to discover that the builder hadn't finished. More to the point, he hadn't even arrived. I phoned him up and asked if he'd been delayed by any mischievous scarecrows. He said he'd come and take a look next week. I told him that right away would be better but I'd settle for a visit from a couple of his talking vehicles. He hung up. (I assumed it was in his haste to get to work.)
It got a bit windy, so I strapped a flatscreen TV to my tummy and headed outside. We watched England lose at cricket.
"Again! Again!" giggled my Scottish daughter.
And it was so.
After that, we had a while before the boys came out of school, so I took the girl for a trip on a bus. I gave the driver some money and then asked him to take us to a place where they made cheese.
He said he was only going as far as the castle.
He looked a little plump. On the basis of this, I accused him of stealing my sausages.
We ended up walking and settled for buying some cheese in Tesco. I did sing a song about it, though, so the trip wasn't an entire waste. We collected the boys on the way home. Disappointingly, they didn't want to be Fimbles either. We had to do another dance routine about vegetables. Some of my stitches burst and I barely made it back to our house.
After a short rest, I went out into the garden to check how the builder was getting on. He still wasn't there. A couple of Flowerpot Men and a squirrel were lying in wait for me, however. They pressed the button on the remote as I stepped outside and I was forced to dive backwards into the house, closely followed by tongues of flame which set the kitchen on fire. I dialled 999, detailed our predicament and then made myself a coffee, safe in the knowledge that Fireman Sam (or possibly the Mario Brothers) would come and rescue us promptly.
Sure enough, some of Sam's colleagues arrived and put out the blaze. They brought PC Plum with them. I got him to take a look at the pigeons and tell me about them. Then I accused him of stealing my sausages. He arrested me for arson.
As he was cuffing me, he discovered the missing sausages in my back pocket. They'd been there all along!
I gave everyone a heart-felt apology and PC Plum decided to let me off with a stern warning about not playing with highly flammable chemicals. He also told me to take some cookies to all my friends as a way of making up to them too.
How we laughed.
Then I woke up to discover it had all been a dream...
It was an eye-opening experience, nonetheless. Computer games are nothing compared with some of the nonsense out there. It's persuaded me that I should spend more time talking to the kids about what they watch. Then again, it's going to take a few weeks until I'm fully recovered from the trauma, so I might just take it easy for a while.
I wonder what's on TV...
Yours in a woman's world,
PS Coming soon: I move up an age bracket with my investigation. I turn my scientific analysis to the worrying influence of Harry Potter and spend a week approaching every situation with one simple question: 'What would Dumbledore do?'