Most middle class parents worry about the pernicious influence of the media on the developing minds of their offspring, something we gave up on years ago.
Actually Lawrence is immune from almost all incoming propaganda as he has given up TV for the computer game Monster Hunter. Lydia however is somewhat of an open vessel, subsisting currently on repeats of ‘My Super Sweet Sixteen’, about the ludicrous birthday celebrations of rich American teenagers. Lately she has added to this line?up ‘True Beauty,’ in which model types compete to show that they are also ‘beautiful inside’. I manage to stick about four minutes of it, in which the contestants have to try and display sympathy when one of them gets chocolate on their gold shoes.
“The rich aren’t like us,” I tell her. “They have shinier clothes.”
“Yeah, but can you go now?” she says, clearly missing the reference to Scott Fitzgerald. What do they teach them at school these days?
Her generation is being indoctrinated all right, to aim for fame by television. Luckily she has so far resisted the lure of ‘The X?Factor’ and co but then last term things took a worrying turn.
She was widely praised for her nuanced and dryly humorous portrayal of Polly the Maid in the end of year school play, ‘The Rocky Monster Show’. Other parents stopped us in the car park and the drama teacher uttered the words every self?employed parent dreads:
‘She could be an actor.’
As a cure, I made her sit through ‘A Chorus Line’, the film of the hit show which caused a sensation thirty years ago with the revelation that every high?kicking row of nobodies who dreamt of stardom was a mass of heart?rending internal struggles and some of them were even gay. Who would have thought it?
In the middle of it, Peter came in, said:
“On behalf of my generation, I’d like to apologies for the hair in this film,” and went out again.
Sadly the hair was the most startling bit. Seen in the harsh light of 2010 sensibilities, the story is now dreary. Also, Michael Douglas had to play the choreographer as a non-dancer, and even then struggled to act the part of a man who spends a lot of time sitting down.
Luckily there was another hit from the past whose themes of insecure minorities and group survival versus individual self?expression had withstood the temporal tides. It was also far stronger on both character development and narrative tension: the Clangers.
I took her to see the Cartoon Museum’s exhibition of models and drawings from British animation as a holiday diversion not a career move. But as soon as we were home, it was clear that Lydia’s dream of immortality will be achieved not through song or dance but by knitting. She dug out the BBC4 documentary I had saved about Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, and their creations Clangers, Noggin the Nog, Ivor the Engine and co, and we bought the boxed set which she devoured with a dedication and concentration we’d rarely seen in an academic setting.
For the rest of the holidays she was never without her needles and a downloaded picture of Tiny Clanger, which when we ate, got on a bus or went into see Toy Story, I had to stow in my bag before it came out again for the duration. From the documentary she also learned that they made the armatures out of Meccano.
‘Aha!’ said Peter.
He still had his, hundreds and hundreds of pieces, stored in the compact but shockingly heavy chest of drawers his father made for it in the Fifties, when the evenings stretched out endlessly in the time before You Tube.
‘Actually, Daddy,’ she said. ‘I’m going to use pipe?cleaners.’
And like Michael Douglas, he reacted hardly at all. So we are looking forward with relief to a future with no twisted ankles or backstage histrionics, just peaceful clicking and the occasional dropped stitch.
To paraphrase Wilde, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at Postgate and Firmin’s stars.