There are - of course - many pleasures to be had from fatherhood. There is that first smile, and that first moment when you can convince yourself that your cherished offspring is actually saying your name. The latter came about after an Ipcress File style interrogation, where I sat in front of little Isla for an hour going “da da, da da, da da...” over and over until she eventually buckled. Glassy eyed and fatigued, she finally mumbled “da da” just to get me to stop, which gave me proper bragging rights over Tam. Unfortunate Isla had to do it all again as I had forgotten to video it. I imagine it’ll require several years of counseling for the poor wee mite to recover from the stress.
But aside from all these land-mark moments on the journey for any new parent, there is one pleasure that over-rides them all. This is the fact that you are now allowed - in fact obliged - to watch children’s tv programmes.
I dimly recall these from my own childhood of course. It’s a roll call of innocence, of a time lost that will never be reclaimed. Trumpton, The Clangers, Mr Ben, and Andy Pandy (mind you, for the latter even my four year old brain was thinking “This is garbage, I wonder what’s on the other side - ah yes, Vision On.”). It might just be the passage of time, but a lot of the kids stuff that I’m watching now makes The Magic Roundabout look like Panorama - plot lines are scant, and the animation lazily compiled on computers that don’t require painstaking manipulation of bits of plasticine. There is, however, one notable exception.
I was introduced to this by Tam, who’s giggles made it all the way to where I was attempting to work / staring out of the window idly wondering when the rain would stop. Curious, I walked into the front room to find the ladies of the house both hooting with laughter at the tv. One of them was dribbling uncontrollably too whilst periodically trying to eat the remote control although fortunately this was Isla, so I could turn my attention to what was on the screen.
It’s was a programme called “In the Night Garden”, and quite frankly after watching it for ten minutes I was dribbling and trying to eat the remote too. It’s barking mad, properly insane, utterly deranged, and quite, quite brilliant.
I’m struggling to think of the production meeting where it was devised. Of course something mildly hallucinogenic would have been discreetly piped into the room beforehand. And everyone has to be equipped with a spliff the size of a baseball bat. How else would you explain the subsequent conversation?
“Right, we’ve got a forest as a setting, now we need a star, a strong central character around who it all revolves. A role model for kids watching. Any suggestions?”
“How about a blue half man half teddy called Igglepiggle who passes out every time something unusual happens?”
“Brilliant. Any more ideas?”
“Well - and bear with me on this - how about a train that climbs trees called the Ninky Nonk?”
Vigorous nods all round.
“And I thought three weird creatures - let’s call them the Tombliboos - whose trousers keep falling down. Oh, and a small thing called a Makka Pakka who essentially has OCD and relentlessly cleans stuff.”
“This is tv gold I tell you! Keep it coming....”
“Right, well we’ll obviously need five massive, billowy things called Haahoos that basically get in the way all the time and are just a bit sinister in a starey wide eyed way - the sort of things that would give Andy MacNab screaming nightmares.”
“Stop right there - I can smell the awards. All we need now is a narrator - someone who is down with the yoof, trendy and very much of the moment?”
“How about 73 year old classic Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi?
“Of course, silly of me not to think of him sooner.”
And there we have it. The result is once-in-a-lifetime tv that’ll make you laugh so hard you’ll almost certainly rupture something. Or - depending on your viewpoint - a disturbingly insane set of images that means your kids will never want to go near a forest as long as they live. Isla finds it mesmerising and baffling all at the same time, as I think the attached image illustrates. What you can’t see is that Tam and I had precisely the same expressions as we watched it too. Even the dog looked bewlidered.
I’m hoping the rain stops soon I can get back to exploring the coast, but for now “In the Night Garden” is doing a very good job at keeping us all vaguely sane. It deserves every gong it gets.