Children’s TV? I’m a bit of an expert.

Children’s TV has been part of my life for over a year now.

I should rephrase. Modern day children’s TV has been part of my life for over a year now and I am on a journey of rediscovery.

I loved it as a kid… Play School, Words and Pictures, Moon Cat, Ivor the Engine, Chocablock, Pigeon Street, Sesame Street, Friday Film Special, the Broom Cupboard, Going Live. Anyone? For someone who grew up in a little village in the middle of the North Yorkshire countryside, there wasn’t much else to do. Apart from feeding grass to the chickens who seemed to live in a caravan up the road, playing out on our bikes and the fortnightly visit of the mobile library van… TV was our favourite form of entertainment and our only country-bumpkin-connection to the outside world where, evidently, big yellow birds roller-skated, Trevor and Simon swung their pants and Jemima was always favoured over poor old Hamble.

Play School

The Play School toys: Little Ted, Jemima, Humpty, Big Ted and Hamble.


But, as many will remember, there wasn’t much of it in those days, just a few hours in the day dedicated to kids and spread sparingly over the four existing channels. My sister and I treasured it so that we’d race inside, dumping bikes and even friends as we rushed to the sofa to see which letters and number Big Bird and Mr Snuffleupagus would bring to us today.

To say I was an early telly addict would be an accurate deduction. In fact, it would also be accurate to say that this was the reason why I went to work in the TV industry. TV was such a beacon of light in my little life that it seemed natural to go in search of the wonder, the smoke and the mirrors the minute my world got a little bigger. In fact, I remember saying, very arrogantly, to my sister as we watched an intrepid Blue Peter presenter abseil down the face of BBC TV Centre, “I can’t wait to work there”. She rolled her eyes and said, “How do you know that’s where you’ll end up?” She hated Blue Peter. So when I went to my first pitching meeting there I couldn’t help but call her from reception. “Guess where I am?” I said. It was a grown-up sisterly ner-ner-neh-ner-ner.

Cut to a few years later and I’m having a career break from TV, concentrating on looking after our little girl and loving every minute of it. And do you know what? The world of children’s TV these days is even more of a wonder, not only because I now know how bloomin’ hard the people behind the scenes work but because of the variety and just how engaging and non-patronising it is. And I learn as a parent… I have to confess, I do actually watch most of it. It’s not just something that’s on in the background for the little lady’s benefit only – I genuinely enjoy it. And it’s not just me; I even caught 14 year-old step-daughter, Sunflower, alone in the living room rewinding Rastamouse so she could learn the words to the theme tune. And Justin and Mr Tumble have taught me more Makaton sign language than I can shake a spotty bag at. It even helped me communicate to a deaf shop assistant in Marks and Spencer the other day. I felt very pleased with myself for signing ‘thank you’ – although, disappointingly, I didn’t manage to work ‘giraffe’ into the conversation.

Now, after a year of Cbeebies and a spattering of Milkshake, the repeats are starting to kick in, but we’re still entertained and, like Daddy Pig, I’m starting to be a bit of an expert. I say things like, ‘Oh, this is the episode where Sarah and Duck go bobsledding with Scarf Lady…’ and no-one in the house bats an eyelid.

Other favourites have to be Old Jack’s Boat with the lulling story-telling cosiness of cuddly Wombly Bernard Cribbins; Charlie and Lola with their fabulous episode titles such as, “I am Extremely Absolutely Boiling” and “I Slightly Want to go Home”; even Topsy and Tim have a certain annoying charm as they take me back to the books I used to read as a kid.

Topsy and Tim

And my all time favourite character? Scarf lady’s sarcastic Mancunian bag in the wonderful Sarah and Duck.

Scarf Lady's Bag

I also have massive respect for the continuity presenters. I think our favourites have to be the ever-smiley Cat, Andy and Alex. The new arrival of Aneta had us all wondering to start with (what’s her accent?) but it turns out she’s popped across from the Cbeebies Poland channel – I didn’t even know there was one!

But I do worry that Andy’s going to get found out with all his moonlighting. How much longer can he hold down a job in the safari park, one at the national museum and a career singing, dancing and rapping badly in the Cbeebies studio? And if Hatti and Mr Pickles only knew what he got up to when they’re not looking I think his adventure days would be numbered.

I could go on about Cbeebies for so much more but, as my friend said to me the other day, ‘You watch faaaaaaar too much TV’. She’s right. But I’d like to think it’d help with my career when I return. ‘Think of it as research’, I tell myself. The prospect of working in Children’s TV is looking more and more attractive.

It’s not all sweetness and light mind you: the squeaky, farty Pontpines; Mr Maker’s manic manner and obsession with googly eyes; Tofu Tom, as I call him; and Peter Rabbit’s mid-episode power ballads that would have Beatrix Potter turning in her grave… But all in all our kids have got it good. So in order to leave on a high, fellow parents, I leave you with a few interesting gems, ponderings and queries about the wonders of children’s TV. Please feel free to bring any answers or add any factoids that will have me reaching for my IMDB app. Baby Girl and I haven’t graduated to CBBC or CITV yet, but I’m sure there will be more to discover on our journey through telly wonder. Now if I can only find the remote, we really ought to go out for a walk to feed the ducks and splash in some muddy puddles. 

Did you know…

  • Mrs Patmore from Downton Abbey does the voice for Scarf Lady in Sarah and Duck.
  • In the Peter Rabbit credits there is the role of ‘Fur Groomer’. Anybody?!
  • Pui from Show Me Show Me used to be Po in Teletubbies.
  • Jason Donovan provides the voice for Pops and sings the title music for Boj.
  • The wonderful blogger, writer and science communicator, Aunty Emily, writes for Nina and the Neurons – you should follow her.

Nina and the Neurons

  • As well as Gigglebiz, Justin’s House, Something Special and Tiny Tumble (have I missed any?) Justin Fletcher does voices in Timmy Time and The Tweenies (Jake and Doodles, apparently).
  • The real name of Old Jack’s dog, Salty, is Scuzz (poor thing) and is owned by the guy who plays Ernie the fisherman in Old Jack’s Boat.
  • Driver Dan on The Story Train is voiced by vocal genius Peter Serafinowicz. Although, I can’t watch an episode without picturing him as a zombie in Shaun of the Dead.

Have you noticed…

  • I Can Cook’s Katy never does the washing up herself? She just sings about it as the kids do all the hard work. My kids are indignant about that. I think she’s quite clever.
  • …Rastamouse and all the boy mice look like they’ve forgotten their trousers? All the girls wear skirts and dresses, but even President Wensleydale sticks with just a hat and shirt. Must be hot in Mouseland.RastamousePresident Wensleydale

Can you tell me…

  • Has anyone actually been able to fathom the names of the Numtums? The names are so obscure, I can’t make them out in the title sequence song. Why don’t they just call them by the numbers that are emblazoned on their tummies?
  • In Nina and The Neurons, I get why Felix, Luke, Belle and Bud have their names – they are relevant to the senses they represent – but what does Olly have to do with the sense of hearing? Maybe Aunty Emily can help me on that one.
  • Why are Mrs Duck, Tiddles the Tortoise, Stephen the Stick Insect, Goldie the Goldfish and Polly Parrot pets and not anthropomorphic characters like Peppa Pig, Pedro Pony etc? And how does the Doctor Hamster the Vet tell the difference?

Well that’s all we’ve got time for today. It’s time to go. We hope you had fun. Come back and play another day.

Ten worms wriggling, waving, goodbye!

Baby Massage: Chilled Baby, Frazzled Mum

I’m not one to jump at every single service, club and group out there for Baby. For one thing I find it hard to get dressed in time for most of them. But now that the Scottish summer holidays are finished and Big Sisters 1 and 2 are back at school, Baby and I are venturing into the wonderful world of maternity leave fun to see what we can find.

I only want to do one or two things a week so I settled on what I thought would be an easy one to start with: Baby Massage. That sounds nice and relaxing for both of us, I thought, it’s just up the road and it doesn’t start at the crack of dawn. Let’s give it a go.

Before the Baby Massage was an option I’d been popping along to the ‘Baby Club’, which provided taster sessions for various clubs and services available in our area like cooking for baby, language development, safety in the home. We’d even attended a First Aid session where the mature, male Glaswegian tutor kept giggling when he said the word ‘latex’ (referring to his Resusci Annie doll, thankfully) and then had me in tears (and I don’t think it was the hormones) when he told us the story about the day he saved the life of his neighbours’ baby daughter.

Anyway, at these sessions were two very capable mums with older babies who made me feel a little intimidated and welcome all at the same time. They really seemed to have it together and at the end of each session would swing their babies into a sling and were down the road before I’d even bundled mine into her pram. Each week they’d invite me along to the new café I’d been so desperately trying to check out, but with big sisters still on holiday and on a trial run in the house by themselves for an hour, I always wanted to get home sooner rather than later, just to be on the safe side. I was sure these mums thought I was making excuses.

So… when the option of baby massage came along, just before the beginning of term, I decided Baby Club would have to take a back seat.

Monday morning arrived, we got up, dressed, fed and out, across the park to the venue. We arrived bang on time, I parked the pram next to the many others already lined up in the lobby, took Baby out of the pram and went to the door – the windows of which were covered in posters…

You know that moment when you take a deep breath and go into an unknown room and all eyes turn to you and you wonder if you’re really late or whether you’ve got the wrong room? Well, that.

I was pretty certain I had the right room. There were about 12 other women all sitting on the floor with their babies lying in front of them on changing mats and towels.

“Sorry, am I late for the baby massage?” I said, knowing I wasn’t. “The letter said 11:45.”

“Well we like to be ready and start at 11:45” [Heavy sigh… baby mat thrown my way].

Gulp. I was in trouble and had the job of reassuring the other two mums who came in after me, receiving similar treatment.

We eventually settled into the class and before you knew it, Baby Girl was farting with sonorous prowess. She was definitely relaxing. I was just keeping my head down, swearing to make it on time… no, early next time.

Cut to next time and isn’t it always the case that the nappy needs changing just before you leave the house? As we finally left, clean bum-and-all, I picked up the pace. There was no way I was going to be late.

I slalomed through the dog muck – I’m not catching anything else on the buggy wheels again; zoomed past our wonderful library; saw the dog walker with seven crazy dogs, or was it eight – she always seems to have lost one? And I waved frantically to the confident sling mums on the other side of the road who were leaving the Baby Club.

“Hello!” I squeaked as my voice cracked, you know the way it does when you’re trying to be cool, but your voice box lets you down, “Off to massage class!”

I parked up the buggy – more space this time. Yessss! And entered a room with a choice of mats and just a few mums. I feel very smug, but can hardly breathe. Baby’s smiling and cooing, but I can feel my heart in my ears. The scary lady isn’t so scary this time and brings us all a cup of cold water. Phew!

The massage began and Baby Girl was loving it. We got as far as the legs and she wanted a feed. Fair enough. She ate as her eyes rolled and I watched as the other babies and the demonstration-dolly got their tummy and arms smoothed and soothed.

The walk home across the park was less of a power walk, more a relaxing stroll and when we got home I crashed on the sofa, wondering if I could ever keep this up. Then it struck me. This is when I get to relax. Baby Girl had dropped off in her pram and boy did she sleep and sleep after we got in. She was away in the land of nod for a good 3 hours and I had a very chilled afternoon. It was utter bliss and I felt the tiredness ebb away. I even got a cup of tea at the right temperature and as I sipped I thought… maybe I will go back next week after all.

Report Cards

The girls came home with their end of year school reports this week and I am so proud. They’ve both done so well! I’m understanding more and more about what it is to be a proud parent. It almost feels like the reports are a reflection on us as parents – time for the teachers to grade the parenting – How well have they been supported through the year, mentored, brought up, presented, dropped to school on time, how are their times tables… I’m so relieved! Times tables in the car on the way to school has paid off for all of us! But most of all I’m so chuffed that the girls have worked so hard this year and that their teachers have noticed a big difference.

Our first year together as a family is coming to a happy conclusion. We have so much more to learn about each other and about being a family. But I reckon we’re doing OK. All we need to do now is get through the summer holidays!

Oh and 7 x 7 is 49, by the way.

The Mom Song

This Sunday was UK Mothers’ Day or Mothering Sunday and this was the first time I could legitimately stand up in church with all the other mums to get some chocolate! Before I did though I looked down the row to the girls to confer. Did I count being a step-mum? Chocolate was at stake here so I was hoping for an affirmative answer. I got the thumbs up and stood – no, jumped up. Chocolate has never tasted so good!

They then played this on the big screen in the service. I cried with a bitter-sweet blend of laughter, a mini chocolate-high and utter shock as I heard my mother and now myself in these lyrics. I may not have the bingo wings yet, but after only 7 months of my step-mum crash course, I’ve been wheeling out most of these corkers already:

It’s not been the easiest past couple of months. We’re all getting a bit more used to each other as a family now and with that familiarity have come a few mood clouds (both in the kids and me – but probably more in me if I’m honest!). Forgotten gym kits, fathoming last-minute maths homework (again, them and me) and the morning scrambles for getting to school on time have all led to a few raised voices and the odd tear and sniff… And as Mothers’ Day has approached, I wasn’t putting to much weight on the day. I wasn’t sure where I stood as a step-mum. I didn’t want to stake a claim on something that was really the girls’ own mother’s day, right?

When we were at the supermarket a week ago I asked the girls if they wanted to choose a card for their mum. They did. Sunflower (10) chose in a flash, a card with a monkey on the front, but Sweet Pea (7) took what seemed like an eternity to choose hers as I made myself look busy and not-at-all a little uncomfortable, staring intently at some decorative secateurs across the aisle for a little longer than what might be considered normal. Eventually she made her choice and asked me what I thought. ‘Thank you for always being there’ it said inside. And for her mum, who isn’t allowed to see the girls without supervision right now, I tried sensitively to help her pick out more appropriate suggestions. In the end she settled on a pink, sparkly design which dazzled with love and affection… and I settled on the fact that they will always have their mum whom they love very much. She’ll never stop being their mum. But I would do my best to always be there… as their step-mum.

Soon afterwards I sat down to write my own mum’s Mother’s Day card and suddenly realised that this was the first non-sarcastic, non-arsy, non-jokey and somewhat sincere card I’d bought for my mum. And then it struck me, I think I was starting to understand this motherhood thing. Only the very beginnings of it. The very tip of the iceberg. But I could finally appreciate, after 31 years, what mums, step- or otherwise, are all about.

On Mothering Sunday morning, the girls were waiting for me outside the bedroom door. Before I could even engage my brain, the mum-esque words of, ‘What are you two up to?’ tumbled out of my mouth, only for them to count to three, stand up and declare in unison, ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’ I was then handed two beautiful hand-made cards complete with sparkly paint and screwed up tissue-paper flowers, ribbons and pictures of puppies and daffodils.

And inside the recently-not-so-sunny Sunflower’s card it read:

To the best Step-Mum in the World!

We have been through some hard times, laughing, crying and just being moody, but you get me and I thank you. Happy Mother’s Day.

I ate my chocolate at church with pride that night. My new life as a step-mum had definitely begun.