‘Off she went with a trum­pety trump, trump, trump, Trump’

I thought the oldies, on tv and in books, would bring joy – but they just left me glum

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Lifestyle - Genevieve Car­bery

Al­low­ing my­self to be a kid again is one of the great joys of be­ing a par­ent. Guilt-free 99 cones by the sea, mak­ing sharp-nosed pa­per planes (al­beit with the help of a YouTube video) and string­ing up conkers and mak­ing holes in them (and then re­al­is­ing you’ve handed your kid a mini wreck­ing-ball).

Lately, I quiv­ered with glee when I stum­bled on clas­sic kids shows in my TV stream­ing ser­vice. The next day I rave about my great dis­cov­ery to my preschooler and we snug­gle up to watch Tom and Jerry.

A cou­ple of min­utes in and it all seems a bit weird. My child char­i­ta­bly sits wait­ing for it to be funny. When the sec­ond episode opens with a graph­i­cally sui­ci­dal, bro­ken­hearted Tom, I quickly turn it off mid-show. My boy doesn’t ob­ject (and he al­ways does).

I held high hopes for the 1984 episodes of Thomas and Friends, with its sim­ple rail­way mod­els nar­rated by the soothing voice of Bea­tle Ringo Starr. I left my pre-schooler en­grossed and snuck out of the room to en­joy a guilt-free cup of cof­fee.

I re­turn to an episode called the Sad Story of Henry. It’s about an en­gine who re­fused to come out of a tun­nel be­cause the rain would ruin his paint. So, Ringo ex­plains, they took away his rails and built a wall. “Henry couldn’t get out of the tun­nel any more” . . . “I think he de­served his pun­ish­ment don’t you?”, he piped be­fore the chirpy credit mu­sic rolls and the episode ends. I was left numb. The golden rule of young kids’ tele­vi­sion smashed – the end­ing is al­ways happy.

My at­tempts at in­tro­duc­ing lit­er­a­ture of my in­fancy was sim­i­larly dis­mal. I ex­pected the clas­sic fairy sto­ries to be a bit sex­ist but planned to counter this by adding the words in­tel­li­gent or funny, ev­ery time a princess was de­scribed as beau­ti­ful. Again, Mammy made the mis­take of build­ing up the sto­ries as her favourite child­hood books.

My pa­tient boy smiled his way through bizarre plot de­tails I seem to have erased from my mem­ory: Chicken Licken and all his friends get­ting eaten by the fox, Puss in Boots and his mas­ter get­ting rich and trick­ing a princess into mar­riage by ly­ing to the king and killing an ogre, Ra­pun­zel’s mother be­ing forced to give her baby away be­cause she stole from the witch’s salad gar­den, not to men­tion count­less dead par­ents and evil step­moth­ers.

As for singing nurs­ery rhymes . . . well we’ve got 24 black­birds be­ing cooked in a pie, es­cap­ing (ob­vi­ously not a very well­pre­pared dish) and get­ting re­venge on the maid by peck­ing off her nose, and the farmer’s wife who cuts off the tails of the three blind mice with a carv­ing knife (where to start).

It all left me feel­ing glum. My nos­tal­gia bub­ble burst. But there were no tears from my three-year-old, who didn’t even seem to reg­is­ter the hor­ror but in­sisted we fin­ish the whole fairy­tale set of books.


Per­haps it’s me who is is an over­anx­ious Gen­er­a­tion Snowflake par­ent try­ing to pro­tect my chil­dren from the harsh re­al­i­ties of the world. I don’t want them to worry about death and pun­ish­ment and poverty and greed. And yet there’s some­thing that makes me reach for the past. A sac­cha­rine sweet un­re­al­ity in much of young chil­dren’s cul­ture that makes the sup­posed use of Bar­ney the Di­nosaur theme for tor­ture un­sur­pris­ing.

The wicked and of­ten dark sense of hu­mour that made Roald Dahl my child­hood hero still stands the test of time. And thank­fully, my old­est has cho­sen a 1980s’ punk song over the mind-numb­ing vi­ral hit Baby Shark as his favourite, on re­peat.

As we jump around our kitchen to the stac­cato beat of Nelly the Ele­phant by Toy Dolls, not even a mod­ern-day re­minder of the twit­ter­ing pres­i­dent can spoil the pure hap­pi­ness as we shout, “Off she went with a trum­pety trump, trump, trump, Trump”.

Louis and Arthur

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