All because I love Milk Tray

th

There’s a commonly-held belief that, once you become a parent, you have to make certain sacrifices and that time spent on your hobbies and chasing your goals tends to get scaled back somewhat – the sad sight of my golf clubs gathering dust and spider-webs in my garage is testament to this.  Yet, although I’m a father of two, my dreams were – if anything –reignited recently with the news that Cadburys are searching for a new ‘Milk Tray’ Man.

That’s right – like many forgotten heroes, our favourite black-clad purple box-wielding delivery boy is getting a reboot – andI’ve applied for the role.

Yes, I’m only 5 foot 7 (5 foot 8 if I don’t slouch), look permanently exhausted and am getting increasingly squidgy round the edges.  But, if you look closely, aren’t many screen heroes really just flawed human beings rather than perfect specimens?  After all, take off the mask and Spider-man is really a gawky teenager, Batman is a recluse in desperate need of a Strepsil and don’t get me started on how many hours of therapy James Bond clearly needs.

So, with that in mind, here are some reasons why I believe that I should get the part:

  • I’m adventurous and daring. For instance, I once used a fake name in Starbucks and I sometimes stay in a supermarket car-park for longer than my allocated time.
  • As long as it’s not 100% acrylic, I’m almost certain that the black polo neck jumper won’t make me itch.
  • I can almost guarantee that the box of Milk Tray would be delivered to the lady in question with at least half of the chocolates still present and correct.
  • Ok, so I’ve never dodged sharks, jumped bridges or flown a helicopter (the latter two because I’m scared of heights, the former because I’d prefer not be torn limb from limb). However, I have safely carried a bunch of flowers for my wife from central London to Surrey via two tube lines and the 17:54 from Waterloo to Dorking – which is pretty much the same when you think about it.
  • Rather than terrify the lady who loves Milk Tray by abseiling into her bedroom window (and running the risk of a restraining order and pepper spray ruining the chocolates), I would be very British and knock politely yet apologetically.
  • I’m REAL (didn’t that whole ‘real’ schtick work for Zoella and her YouTube channel..?
  • I’m mature and yet still down with the kids (see above point).
  • Just like ridiculously skinny female models, I don’t think we should be giving young men an impossible vision of masculinity to live up to. Be more like me, an alternative and easily obtainable style of man without too much effort.
  • I believe in the product (especially the caramel fudge ones).
  • Modern cameras and lighting can hide your blocked pores these days.
  • My dodgy knee doesn’t give me grief ALL the time.
  • I’m happy to be paid in Milk Tray.

So, I want to do this. I want to strike a blow for short, mousey and tired over tall, dark and handsome. I want to show the world that modern heroes need not be hopeless visions of enhanced masculinity. I want to claim a victory for the simple man . Because, dear readers of this blog, I am a simple man. A simple man who just wants the chance to hold a box of chocolates whilst being filmed doing so.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to visit asos.com for some black trousers with that stretchy material…

Advertisements

The magic of downstairs

Up until fairly recently, M had always been a pretty good sleeper, more often than not sleeping through the night. My wife and I realise how fortunate we have been compared to a lot of parents with young children, to the extent that it has often felt a bit awkward speaking to fellow parents whose offspring are not necessarily as peaceful during the precious wee hours. We’ve tried to downplay it, worried about inadvertently appearing smug or somehow boastful.

Either way, the peaceful nights have recently come to an abrupt halt as M has, more often than not, decided to wake up around 1am/2am and called out for one or both us. We’ve awoken, rummaged around for our glasses and found her arms aloft – ‘Shawshank Redemption’ style – with her mouse in hand, pleading for us to take her away from the warmth of her bed to the dark, slight drafty land of downstairs.

Downstairs!

“Downstairs!”

At first, this seemed to be a curious request but I guess I can see her point – downstairs is so much more fun. After all, it holds all the milk, food and biscuits, the play kitchen and the inhabitants of Happy Land (none of whom – going by the contented, carefree grins on their faces – appear to have experienced the trials of being woken up at 2am). Downstairs also holds the television – gateway to the magical worlds of ‘In the Night Garden’, ‘Peter Rabbit’ and ‘Show Me, Show Me’ plus, for a brief but glorious period of time, the football that M would request after only the tiniest piece of encouragement from me.

Gina Ford would probably berate Mrs.D and I to within an inch of our lives because our response to this plea hasn’t always been consistent. Our first attempt at a solution was to go into her room and attempt to soothe her back to sleep, either via a cuddle, a reassuring hand on the tummy, a quick story or a couple of verses of ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star’ – although quite how soothing that last option is remains highly debatable, given that the only thing that could make my singing voice even worse is the grumpy, half-conscious croak that comes with being woken up abruptly.

Given the basic desire to try and get back to sleep as soon as possible, the soothing often gets bypassed in favour of bringing her and mouse in to sleep with us (whilst telling her that downstairs itself is ‘asleep’) in the hope that the comforting presence of Mummy and Daddy will send her gently back to the land of nod. Very infrequently, this works. More often than not, none of us end up sleeping as M thrashes around and manages to take up most of the space, leaving her mum and I with our pillows resting on our bedside tables and dangling from the sides of the bed like a doomed Wile E. Coyote.

On the occasions we have managed to reclaim some territory, the flailing limbs and mouse-based facial flogging inevitably force us back out to the sides again.

So, the third solution is to adhere to her request and take M, her mouse and her pillow downstairs. Being too sleepy to sit and wait for her to fall asleep again, attempt to take her back up before she awakes again and discovers the ruse, it’s easier to set up camp for both of us in the living room. Our sofa is L-shaped so, without saying a word, we place her gently on the smaller section, with her head towards the corner, before quietly picking up the spare duvet now permanently parked by the side and hoping for some shut-eye. It doesn’t always work like that, of course. One particular night, I placed her in the usual place but, in the time it took me to gather the duvet, she had wriggled towards the centre of the sofa, leaving me with no option but to adopt a foetal position on the end.

Having not helped ourselves with our lack of a stable approach, we’ve tried to fathom what might be the cause of this change in pattern. Separation anxiety, maybe? Bad dreams? Fear of the dark? Just a normal stage in the growing-up process? We’ve tried other, more preventative methods based on these theories. For instance, I’ve placed some of her cuddly toys in her cot-bed to make it seem less like a wooden prison. Unfortunately, you could argue that this makes it instead seem like a particularly over-zealous job interview.

"Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team"

“Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team”

We’ve tried putting more of her toys upstairs as well – although this hasn’t been enough of a distraction to prevent her from occasionally walking around with her potty on her head just before bath-time.

On the off-chance that a new-found fear of the dark was the cause, I bought one of those gentle night lights – the light from which turned out to be not that gentle, unless your idea of ‘gentle’ light is more akin to the blinding death of a star.

Some forums I’ve looked at have suggested removing the cot bars altogether, so that her bed is more like, well, a bed. However, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of her getting up and wandering around on her own at night. Plus, removing the bars on this particular cot would seemingly require more pairs of hands than a Formula 1 pit crew and a Master’s degree in engineering.

So, with no steady return to the good old times of sleeping through, we just have to assume that this is just part of her being a toddler. Another phase – albeit one that seems to be lasting longer than other phases. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and hope, whilst pulling over the spare duvet and saying “Goodnight” to the magical land of downstairs.

No escape from the garden

Night Terrors...

Sadly, the time has come to admit defeat. I fought long and hard against the overwhelming inevitability of it all, but to no avail. My daughter has become besotted with ‘In the Night Garden’. Iggle Piggle has won.

As per many a story about a classic struggle, this all started in a branch of Homebase one Sunday afternoon. The three of us had finally arrived at the checkout after probably the most protracted discussion in history about a new bathroom mirror, when M suddenly pointed at the obligatory stack of discounted DVDs placed nearby and excitedly exclaimed “Piggle!” in reference to the ubiquitous blanket-carrying creature whose features adorned one of the disc covers.

“How on earth does she know that?” asked my wife.

Our surprise was because, at the time, M’s range of vocabulary was only just starting to take off, so it seemed amazing to us that she knew the name of a character from a TV show that we had proactively tried to avoid on the grounds that we thought it was, well, a bit weird.

And so the seeds of obsession had started. In all honesty, the finger of blame points squarely at my mother. She owns an Iggle Piggle doll from her teaching days and therefore must have introduced her granddaughter to the blue tyrant at some point.

We tried a number of diverting tactics and it seemed, for a short time at least, as though Peter Rabbit (albeit the new televised version of Peter Rabbit) had saved the day – despite it being aimed at children slightly older than 18 months. After each brief episode had finished, M would point at the TV and turn to us with a forlorn look on her face, exclaiming “Bunny…”. Truth be told though, I don’t think she had ever watched a full episode, instead she would get most excited about the cheesy, over-earnest theme tune which sounds like it is being sung by a man straining against the effects of a hernia:

Despite the adventures and hi-jinks of Peter and his friends, In the Night Garden eventually wormed its way to the forefront of M’s conscience by virtue of the fact that it is cleverly scheduled on the CBeebies channel just before she goes to sleep each weeknight. Much to my chagrin, its calming and otherworldly vibe seems to strike just the right tone before bedtime.

But it is this otherworldly feel that, frankly, creeps me out a bit. According to Wikipedia, In the Night Garden consists of ‘ a mix of actors in costume, puppetry and computer animation’. In print, this combination might sound perfectly normal for a children’s TV programme but, when you watch the show, it just doesn’t seem quite ‘right’.

Which comes to my – and my wife’s – main gripe about the show: The normal laws of the universe just don’t seem to apply in the garden.

For instance, let’s take the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk. The former is a living, breathing train seemingly without eyes and ears but which still needs to sleep at the end of the day and can travel up trees. The Pinky-Ponk is also without facial features and is an airship with various fins, propellers and which emits weird noises. But the most unsettling thing about these colourful contraptions is the fact that they seem to be able to bend the rules of physics. Usually, they appear smaller than the main characters – Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka. Yet, these three are still able to fit normally inside Ninky Nonk/Pinky Ponk, subsequently being dragged up trees and spun around in circles in the air, all the while appearing considerably more comfortable than any commuter travelling on South-West Trains.

In fact, Pinky Ponk’s tendency for manic spinning around actually made me feel slightly nauseous whilst watching one episode, so I’m amazed that Makka Pakka hasn’t yet pukey puked.

There is also the weirdness of the characters themselves. Aside from the random noises and whistles that make up the language of the night garden, each inhabitant displays some pretty odd characteristics:

Makka Pakka’s obsession with cleaning other people’s faces and collecting stones is, to put it mildly, a bit of a worry. Frankly, it’s the sort of behaviour you would expect to hear about in a news report covering a serial killer in the American midwest.

Upsy Daisy likes to sing loudly through a megaphone like some sort of crazy bag-lady and carries her bed around with her in what may be some sort of Tracey Emin-inspired piece of performance art.

The Pontipines and the Wottingers sound like something out of West Side Story and, unfortunately for them, are neighbours in a miniature semi-detached house at the foot of a tree. Despite the outward pleasantries that comes with them being tiny wooden toys, I fear that there might be a feud silently raging within those walls. The Haahoos, meanwhile, have this slow, creepy floating vibe that remind me of Reeves and Mortimer’s sketch about Masterchef in the Lloyd Grossman era (the friendlier days – before it got all arrogant and shouty).

Finally, of course, there is Iggle Piggle himself. Looking like the product of an illicit relationship between the Pilsbury Doughboy and one of the Smurfs, Iggle Piggle magically arrives via boat in the garden every episode before leaving the same way at the end, sailing across the sea back to – well, who knows? It is safe to assume that his journey doesn’t take him across the English channel, as there is no P&O ferry in sight and barely a hint of an English celebrity doing a charity swim. Wherever he lives though, Iggle Piggle clearly has very poor healthcare coverage, as he unfortunately still has bells, squeakers and rattles embedded in his body. Ideally, he should also see someone about the loss of balance he also seems to frequently experience. I’ve had labyrinthitis before – it’s not fun.

But, before I get too carried away and in case you think I am alone in my mistrust of the programme, I received the following comments on Facebook when I posted the simple sentence:  “In the Night Garden freaks me out”:

“Don’t ever watch it!”

“Me too – weird as hell!”

“If you listen rather than just watch, Upsy Daisy sounds like she’s having a permanent orgasm!”

“Wildly inappropriate…Iggle Piggle trying to get into Upsy Daisy’s bed!”

And, more worryingly: “Just wait; Give it 6 months and you too could be booking ‘In the Night Garden Live’!”

The show’s popularity is there for all to see. Not just in the DVD stands by the tills at Homebase, but also in books, toys, puzzles, games and various other forms of merchandise. It’s quite surprising, considering that only 100 or so episodes were made before the BBC pulled the plug in 2010, possibly because it became too expensive to make.

These 100 episodes are seemingly played on a loop on CBeebies, much like the episodes of that other ubiquitous show, Peppa Pig, which always seems to be on every other children’s TV channel and somehow happens to be playing the same episode every time I happen to watch it (the one where Daddy Pig drops his keys down the drain at the beauty spot and they have to dig up the road – in case you were wondering).

Given this enduring popularity, maybe the issue is actually with me (and possibly the other people I’ve quoted in this post as well). Maybe I’m too cynical? Maybe the creative youthful imagination and acceptance of the weird and wonderful has simply deserted me over time? Maybe I’m simply old-fashioned and I like my television shows to generally make sense or at least have some kind of rational explanation for any weirdness? After all, this would explain why I was so annoyed by the endings of Lost and Quantum Leap.

Whatever the reason, In the Night Garden has become part of our daily lives and appears to be here to stay, despite my misgivings.

In fact, I’m sure that there will be times where I’ll actually welcome it’s catchy little theme tune as it diverts M’s attention away from trying to draw on the walls or pour her milk on the carpet. I’ll be thankful for its soothing presence as it calms her down in time for bed.

But I guess that’s how it wins over the parents as well – meaning that once it’s got you, there’s just no escape from the night garden.

Darn you, Iggle Piggle. Even though you always leave…we know that you’ll be back.

Tumbleweed and TV

I’ve been quiet, I know. I promise it’s not laziness, nor apathy, nor necessarily a lack of inspiration since I returned from taking terrible photos in Canada.

Truth be told, something is happening which may alter the direction (but not the tone or style) of this little blog. Mind you, that would indicate that I had a direction in the first place –  I didn’t really but, all going well, this turn of events should provide me with one and I hope to be able to come back refreshed and start talking about it in the next week or so.

But, in the meantime, I am going to do some utterly shameless plugging (sorry).

For the past few months, I’ve been doing some writing for a brilliant blog called TV Jam, a website that likes to think it’s the teenage offspring of the Guardian’s TV section and provides funny reviews, series blogs and news. If you like watching and reading about all things TV, then please do head over there as there are a load of very good posts by some very talented writers.

Links to some of my articles are as follows:

TV Review: The Big Bang Theory, Series 6 (and why the show has such enduring appeal)

Have You Been Watching…Revenge?

TV Review:  50 Years of Bond cars – a Top Gear Special

TV Review: Parade’s End

Five Things We Learnt From (the new) Hawaii Five-0

I’m also planning an article about the LA-based cop show Southland, which should hopefully also be up on TV Jam in the next week or so.

Anyway, as far as JD’s Thoughts is concerned and as mentioned above, I also hope to have a shiny new blog post up next week.

For the time being though, please enjoy this picture of a puppy…

Talk to you soon,

Jonny

10 things: I learned from watching ‘Location, Location, Location’

Ah, ‘Location, Location, Location’ (plus its upstart younger sibling, ‘Relocation, Relocation’). A show that suddenly becomes addictive for people on (or hoping to get on) the ‘property ladder’ – that fabled area where irritating phrases such as ‘kerb appeal’, ‘character features’ and ‘adding value’ suddenly become VERY important. Whilst the housing market itself may be predictable – you can put your mortgage on these things happening in the show:

1) If a couple have the sheer nerve to dislike the houses that Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer put forward, then Kirstie will barely disguise her contempt and tell the camera that ‘they don’t know what they want’. Phil, meanwhile, will endeavour to be diplomatic whilst looking as if he is crying on the inside.

2) If these asides to camera take place in a garden with a trampoline, Kirstie will always sit on it.

3) Over-the-phone negotiations with estate agents must always take place in the pub, whilst surrounded by half-empty drinks and the strong whiff of desperation.

4) Estate agents must never give a positive answer immediately – because the dramatic wait before the delight (or crushing disappointment) also needs to be present, albeit shorter than the ‘X-Factor’ standard length.

5) If anyone under the age of 35 can afford a house worth over £400,000 then I will automatically assume that a) their parents are rich and have helped them out or b) someone has died and left them a lot of money – anything to disguise the fact that they more successful than me. I also resent any couple that brazenly go on the show looking for a ‘crash-pad in the city’ as well as this expensive house. Why are these second properties always ‘crash-pads’? Just once I would like to see someone go on the show looking for a squalid bed-sit that is only marginally better than sleeping on a park bench during the week.

6) If anyone on the show is described as a  ‘professional’ – they must be filmed walking down a busy street with a look of intense purpose in their eyes.

7) Kirstie has a huge destructive streak. If she were to visit the Taj Mahal, Sistine Chapel or the Leaning Tower of Pisa – she would undoubtedly suggest that two walls are knocked down in order to put in an extra bathroom.

8) Phil should not wear polo-neck jumpers. They make him look like a PEZ dispenser or, even worse, that bloke from Grand Designs.

9) Going on the show is the most powerful aid to fertility in the UK. Even if Kirstie herself is not pregnant, a baby or two will have inevitably appeared on the scene for any couple that she and Phil revisit a few months later.

10) By this time of a revisit, the female in the couple must look slightly different (usually a new hairstyle will do the trick). However, the man will still be wearing the same jumper he had on when they looked round the house in the first place.

10 Things: American imports I wish we had in the UK

Following the news that Britain has successfully *cough* exported the singing embryos of ‘One Direction’ over to the US (you’re welcome, America), I thought I would kick off a semi-regular ‘lists’ feature – starting with a look at some things that our friends across the Atlantic have in their midst that I wish we had over here…

1)     More M&M’s flavours.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the chocolate ones. Mrs.D prefers the peanut ones and I think we both agree that the ‘crispy’ ones are vile. Yet in America, they also have peanut butter, almond, coconut, pretzel, wild cherry, orange chocolate, mint chocolate etc. I know you can get them over here in selected shops but that invariably involves having to pay £1.99 for the smallest bag and then needing to re-mortgage your house for the bigger sizes. Ok, ‘wild cherry’ sounds disgusting but the others (peanut butter and pretzel are my favourites) are damn tasty. But why stop at M&M’s? In the newsagent opposite my old office, there was a period of about a month when they stocked ‘peanut butter and cookie’ flavour Twix bars, direct from the US. I am not ashamed to admit that it made my week when I found that out.

2)     Good TV shows with more than 6 episodes a season. I love that, when it comes to the start of a new season of a US TV show, there are at least 13 episodes to look forward to – often even more than 20. In the UK, we get 6. It’s barely even worth it. Why is this, TV executives, why??

3)     Friendly customer service. Ok, so a huge generalisation and I am sure I will polarize opinion on this. But, despite being British, I like it when shop assistants and waiting staff in America ask me how I am and say ‘have a great day’ when our brief interaction has finished. The fact that they seem genuinely baffled when you ask how they are adds to the charm. Maybe it’s a bit cheesy or maybe I’m a bit needy (perhaps both), but I would happily choose this approach over the surly attitude that seems to prevail in the UK, where any question or attempt at conversation on my part is usually met with the same look of withering disdain as if I’d just farted.

4)     Sexy politics. Ok, so ‘sexy’ may be pushing it a bit but it’s arguably a lot more interesting than the stuffiness that runs through British politics. In the US, politicians are called Barack, Mitt and Newt. In the UK, we have David, Ed and Nick. They have rallies, banners and television debates. Hollywood makes movies around American politics.  They have primaries, senates, ‘super tuesday’ and something called a ‘tea party’. Now I have no idea what that is, but it sounds bizarrely fascinating. Even the more extreme personalities are not just eccentric but completely bat-shit crazy (yes, Sarah Palin, I’m looking at you). Even the bad guys are more emphatic. There are a number of British politicians I would quite like to punch, but if I had to choose between any one of them and Rick Santorum, I would land one on Santorum every single time.

5)     HUGE landmarks. Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall are all impressive; I’m not denying that. But compare them to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, and there is really no contest. Times Square in New York is brilliantly crazy too. It’s like Piccadilly Circus on steroids.

6)     Augusta National Golf Club. Every year, I get misty-eyed as I watch the best golfers in the world head to Augusta, Georgia for the US Masters tournament.  If I had a ‘bucket list’ then playing Augusta National would be right at the top, but realistically it would be impossible due to the exclusive membership criteria. Even if that weren’t an issue, I would never be allowed anywhere near the gorgeous flower-laden surroundings and beautiful fairways for fear of hacking around and leaving massive divots in my wake like some sort of uncoordinated British tornado. So, it shall remain a dream.

7)     The legacy of Americana/Alt.Country Music. A genre I love, from all the way back to the sixties when there was Gram Parsons and the Byrds, via the Eagles in the seventies, through to the nineties revival lead by the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo – who were then followed by bands such as Whiskeytown and Drive-by Truckers. I know I sound like a music snob but, if these bands were from Blackpool or Milton Keynes, the music would not have been quite the same.

8)     Trail Mix and Diet Mountain Dew. Yes, I’m going down the sugar route again, although I’m pretty sure Diet Mountain Dew doesn’t have much, if any of it. Anyhow, the combination of this drink and a factory-sized packet of Trail Mix (a combination of peanuts, raisins, chocolate, cashew nuts plus whatever else they decide to throw in at the time) got Mrs.D and I through some very long, and occasionally scary, drives through California, Nevada and Arizona. Whether it was through the searing heat of Death Valley, down narrow roads next to some vertigo-inducing drops in Yosemite, or almost driving the wrong way down the Las Vegas strip (don’t ask), these snacks were always close to hand and mouth.

9)     Sirius Satellite Radio. I perhaps should have included this above as this was also a constant companion during our two-week stint in the west of the US.  There were a number of great stations, but my two favourites were ‘E-Street Radio’ – which was devoted entirely to the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band – and ‘Spectrum Radio’ – which played album tracks from the likes of Whiskeytown, The Wallflowers, The Black Crowes, REM, Counting Crows, Fleet Foxes, Neil Young, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam.  Coming back to Absolute Radio was something of a disappointment.

10)  The city vibe. This is another potentially contentious one. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in New York last April and it was magnificent. Such a vibrant, diverse city that had a vibe where anything could happen and anything could be achieved. In comparison, London feels grey and tired, with a sense of disillusionment hanging over it. New Yorkers have great pride in their city whereas Londoners seemingly walk around with apathy. Maybe it’s a generalisation and comes from the fact that New York was new and exciting to me, whilst I commute to London most days, which I guess makes me one of the apathetic.