Dear Dave

Wednesday 25 March 2009

I love it when a plan comes together

Dear Dave,

The other week, the kids were watching something on TV when the characters suddenly had a limited time to put a complicated plan into action. There ensued a lengthy montage of sawing, hammering, man-trap setting, high-fives and satisfied grins, all to the sound of the A-Team theme tune.

This was the second time in a couple of days that such a thing had happened in one of their programmes. It occurred to me, however, that the only encounter that most children their age have had with The A-Team is Mr T trying to sell them something in low quality adverts. The A-Team theme tune isn't the A-Team theme tune to them - it's simply the music which gets played when Basil Brush and his mates need to do some DIY in a hurry.

That said, I couldn't think of any modern alternative. Is there any trashy TV drama currently around which is likely to be so universal, iconic and enduring?

Back in our youth, it was possible to make jokes about Star Trek, The A-Team and Dr Who and everyone knew what you were talking about. With only three TV channels and no internet, there was never a problem finding someone to talk with about the best bits of The Muppets. The difficulty was more trying to find someone who hadn't seen it, so you could tell them the jokes.

These days, Fraser is so surprised when a classmate has watched the same episode of the same show as him, it's exciting news he has to tell me as soon as he gets out of school.

When the kids were younger, all their friends had at least heard of Teletubbies and Tweenies. There was a common bond - not just for them but for us. I could write to you about Bob the Builder and be confident you knew where I was coming from. Now there's less certainty. I've missed out on High School Musical so far and avoided much of the Strictly Celebrity Pop Factor on Ice phenomenon. Maybe you haven't seen the new Dr Who and have never heard of Ben 10. What's left to talk about apart from the funny things our kids have said recently and Harry Potter?

Ho well, perhaps popular culture isn't as popular as it used to be. Pretty soon, the only shared reference points that everyone will be able to rely on (besides the Teletubbies) will be hazy memories of primary school projects on dinosaurs and the Romans. Even the most basic cultural allusions are becoming corrupted:

"Come upstairs for my puppet show," said Marie yesterday, dragging me out of the kitchen and to the lounge. She'd got the little theatre set up on the floor and scattered the finger-puppets around it.

I sat down and waited expectantly, hopeful I was about to experience a special parenting moment as by four-year-old daughter put on an imaginative and creative extravaganza for me.

I was disappointed.

"You tell it," said Marie, handing me some puppets. "It's Goldilocks."

"I thought you were going to do the story. I'm sure you can do it better than me."

She shook her head. "No."

"OK," I sighed and wished I'd stayed downstairs and finished the washing-up. I stuck puppets of a blonde girl and a grey-haired lady on my fingers. "One day, Goldilocks' mum told her to go into the forest and pick some flowers..."

"That's not right," complained Marie, frowning deeply.

"That's Little Red Riding Hood," said Lewis, without taking his eyes off the DS he was playing on the sofa.

"No, it's not," I muttered.

Fraser shouted from another room. "Yes, it is."

"Goldilocks starts with the three bears making porridge," said Marie, as if I was stupid.

"Right, just testing," I conceded, changing puppets. That did sound kind of familiar. "Once upon a time in a cottage in the woods, three bears were making porridge..."

I'd barely started and the heckling had already begun. More than that, I was also beginning to realise the difficulties of putting on a finger-puppet show when the 'stage' is only five centimetres above the floor. I had to bend my hands in all kinds of unnatural ways. By the time the blonde-haired puppet was having breakfast, I was pretty uncomfortable.

"Goldilocks tasted the first bowl of porridge but it was too..." I paused for Marie to finish the sentence.

"Hot!" she shouted in delight.

"So Goldilocks tried the second bowl of porridge but it was too..."



"It was too spitty."

"O... K..." My hands were complaining and I didn't feel entirely in control of the narrative. As the story progressed, I began to lose it. "...After breaking Little Bear's chair, Goldilocks dropped all pretence of respect for the property of others and skipped upstairs to try the beds as if she owned the place. Breaking and entering, petty theft and vandalism had tired her out..."

In due course, the bears returned home and there were plenty of 'Who's been sitting in my chair?' type questions in various pitches and tones of distress. The Crime Scene Investigators turned up briefly but quickly disappeared off to run DNA analysis on the spitty porridge. Then it was finally discovered that the culprit had been sleeping in Baby Bear's bed and was, in fact, still there. It was time for the conclusion.

That was when my real difficulties set in.

"Er," I said. "How does it end?"

"At nursery," said Marie, "Goldilocks wakes up and sees that Baby Bear is the same size as her teddy bear at home and gives him a big hug."

Still continuing to shoot aliens, Lewis disagreed. "When we did it at school, Goldilocks screamed and the bears chased her away."

"There are three endings!" came a disembodied shout from elsewhere. "There's another one where she says sorry, helps clear up and they all make friends."

The first option was too twee, the second wasn't going to go down well with Marie and the third was too obvious and moralising. (Also, I couldn't help suspecting that the clearing up would need to have the A-Team theme tune as background music.) In an effort to keep the peace, I went for a fourth option - one where Baby Bear and Goldilocks run off together and get married in the Bahamas.

The children didn't really notice. They were too busy arguing amongst themselves and I left them to it.

As I rubbed circulation back into my fingers, and returned to the washing-up, I wondered about increasing the kids' exposure to trashy entertainment just to give them a hope of some common ground with the people they meet. I considered going and finding the most in-demand item on YouTube suitable for family viewing and then forcing them to watch it, before subjecting them to a dose of reality TV.

I couldn't face it, though. I'm sure popular culture is still around; I'm simply too old for it. It's certainly not something I can teach my children - they're far more likely to teach it to me. From now on, I'll be forced to blink in mild incomprehension as they bring home the latest craze of spangly knee-pads and wax-lyrical about alien robot vampire superheroes.


Resigned to my fate, I sat down with a coffee and flicked through the cable channels looking to see if Knight Rider was on...

Yours in a woman's world,


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