Friday, 14 December 2012

The Mayor of Toytown

In addition to the frankly embarrassing lawnmower, I’m also now having to contend with the fact our entire house looks like a kids' ball pit in a shopping centre. We’re right next to a little park as well, so we’ve even  got a load of stressed-out mums regularly standing outside the door screaming at children who don’t want to go home. Fun times.

A while back I stuck a picture of my eldest up on facebook, the backdrop to which was the untrammelled chaos of the fusion of toy-box, toddler, and living room. One of my (childless, natch) friends posted a comment along the lines of, ‘Cool playroom!’

Ah, my friend, that’s not the playroom. That’s our main living space. The unavoidable corollary to this is that, if we’re being completely honest, they’re all the kids’ playrooms now, whatever hopelessly optimistic designation we may have given them when we first moved in.

Though in fairness to the little tyke, he’s not actually that bad when it comes to strewing his kit about the place. Unfortunately this is because he’s largely indifferent to just about everything he’s been given. Both the lovingly crafted traditional wooden toys we bought for him and the hideously tacky coloured plastic crap bestowed on him by everyone else* are treated with similar levels of disdain.

No, what Son Number One likes is playing outside, watching TV, and being read to. And what Son Number Two likes is tits and crying. It could be worse, I suppose. Getting the first outside is easy enough. Just wind him up and let him go. The TV thing is trickier though. I know as parents we’re meant to feel terribly guilty about letting him watch it at all, but I’m willing to bet the detrimental effects of a bit of time in front of the box every day are far milder than the detrimental effects of Mummy and Daddy losing their shit completely. It’s a compromise, as always.

'Twas ever thus.

And because the TV in Japan aimed at adults is, without exception, execrable, worthless crap, it means that 100% of the TV I’ve watched in the last few months has been aimed squarely at kids. NHK E isn’t actually that bad in that respect. I adore ピタゴラスイッチ (“Pythagoras Switch.” Seriously, it took me three years to realize that’s what it meant), and おかあさんといっしょ (“Watch with Mother,” I guess) is interesting as well. I’ve somehow managed to develop a frankly unhealthy attraction to one of the female presenters of the latter, to the point it verges on the disturbingly lecherous.

In other genres attractive but otherwise unnecessary female cast members are referred to as ‘fan service’. Is there a ‘dad-service’ equivalent? I remember Sarah Greene from the Saturday morning TV of my youth as a kind of genial big sister type; pleasant enough but just there to fill up airtime until Transformers came on. Looking back, I’m surprised that Dad didn’t spend more time watching with us.

My wife reliably informs me that, given the target audience (the clue’s in the programme’s name), the physical appearance of the male presenters is very far from accidental. It would seem that I just got lucky with the ladies then. Either that or they’re there to appease any deeply closeted lesbian mothers who may be watching (who’d still outnumber the dads, I’m guessing). It’s not even that I ‘got lucky’, given she’s of the chirpy, high-pitched, kawaii type I’d usually run a mile from. It’s all about environment and opportunity, clearly; if you’re going to have to spend time watching a girl interacting with felt puppets in order to explain the importance of shutting the fridge door promptly, you’ll take what you’re given and be glad of it.

Beggars can't be choosers.

The homegrown Watch with Mother is sandwiched by a few imports: Thomas the Tank Engine (きかんしゃトーマス), Shaun the Sheep (ひつじのショーン, now there’s a gag that really does get lost in translation), and Curious George (おさるのジョージ). Annoyingly, only the last of these is available bilingually. While that’s not such a huge loss for Shaun it does mean we have to deal with an annoying whitebread middle-American accent but lose out on the more homely charms of the broad scouse that usually accompanies Thomas.

On which note, I fucking hate Thomas the Tank Engine. I hate him and I hate his whining, moaning friends; brainwashed as they have been into being unthinking drones of a capitalist oppressor who seeks only to benefit from their labour whilst giving nothing back in return save for the meaningless baubles of a new coat of paint and being praised as ‘useful’, all the while operating a clear divide and rule policy designed to set the workers at each others’ throats in competition for ‘fun’ jobs whose execution still consists of pulling trucks the same as ever and will ultimately only benefit the fat cunt with the hat. Seriously, In terms of sly propaganda in children’s books, Orwell has nothing on The Reverend.

I speak on this from a position of authority because my folks have given us a boatload of retro kids shows from the UK on DVD. Thomas was, unfortunately, an element of that party pack, but it also included an Oliver Postgate box-set, whose programmes are charming, lovingly crafted, and trippy as fuck. Going further back we even have Trumpton, made in an era when everyone on television was white, upper-middle class, and spoke in perfect RP. You know exactly what you’re getting from the opening titles when you’re informed of the town clock telling the time ‘steadily, sensibly,’ as though these attributes are the acme of desirability not just in mechanical timepieces but also human life in general. A bygone age indeed.

I’ve also decided that the Trumpton firemen are the perfect example for the next time I need to demonstrate the difference between stress and syllable timing. I’m less sure whether this is a sign I’m still on the ball, intellect-wise, or if it’s the ultimate proof that my mind has finally, irrevocably gone. Flobadob.

*Snobbish and ungrateful? Moi?  


  1. Ha! Mitani-san. I have an indecent thing for the thighs of the onesan who introduces Domo-kun, whatever that show's called, but there's something dead in her eyes...

    Thanks for the translation of 'Pitagora Suichi'. I had no clue. Don't see what it has to do with levers that could move the Earth, but it has a better ring than 'Ruubu Gorudobaagu Suichi'.

    National broadcasters are out to do nothing but indoctrinate, of course. The 70s were different, but they were stoned, trading wives and shagging the secretaries too much to care. 'Shima Shima Tora no Shimajirō' is the bloody worst. That show is the most blatant hammering-down-the-nail, and I am always yelling at the wife to turn that crap off lest she traumatize the hybrid too much. Too late. He'll only finish dinner if the Shimajiro puppet tells him to...

    1. I don't know about 'nothing but'. I've always had a certain regard for public service broadcasting, because they are one of the few forms of media not beholden to the race to the lowest common denominator.

      Not that 'public service broadcaster' and 'national broadcasters' are exactly the same thing, of course. Clearly they overlap more often than not, but there are different shades of it. I remember that little spat over the QI episode a couple of years back, where they were 'disrespectful' towards the guy who survived both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the (many many) misunderstandings that made things worse was, I think, the assumption by the Japanese side that the BBC had a comparable level of official sanction as NHK.

      Either way, 'Pythagoras Switch'. I had no fucking idea either until my wife told me.

  2. OMG yes about Thomas the Tank Engine. And you forgot misogynistic! All the engines are male characters and the only female characters are carriage. Because a woman can't be in control, she can only be dragged along by the male.

    Also it's really fucking boring. I had to read those books every night for years. I'm going to punch my son the next time I see him.

    1. "I'm going to punch my son the next time I see him."

      Laughed aloud. Children have no taste (at least they have an excuse).

    2. Yep. LOL. He's what, twenty now? That's a level of petty grudge holding some of the Tank Engines would be proud of :)

  3. You know, a fiver a month buys a proxy IP and then all the BBC iplayer you and Kamo Jr can handle. CBeebies - great for bilingualism. Or so I excuse myself as the little ones start their second straight hour of viewing on a Saturday morning... ;)

    1. Yeah, I'v seriously considered it. I'm not sure any of us really need more reasons to spend more time sitting in front of a screen though :(

      That said, I'm continually trying to use the bilingualism line as justification for an ipad, so I can't really get on too much of a high horse about it.