I’ve been thinking I should erect a sign outside our house in Tawhero saying: WARNING! PLAGUE HOUSE! ENTER AT OWN RISK.
I thought I’d caught my virus from Sausage as she was a bit off colour after we came back from Wellington. It turns out deciding not to become a virologist as a kid was a great idea because I’d have sucked at it. Chip caught my virus and spent last week feeling rather miserable, but I was thrown for a loop when Sausage came down with the virus at the weekend. To round it all off, D came down with laryngitis.
So yeah, you might not want to visit us anytime soon.
D spent pretty much all weekend getting his geek on at GovHack 2015, where he and others came up with an app using government-provided data. (You can see the fruit of their labours here.) Unfortunately it meant leaving a still-recovering-me with a sick toddler and a baby who just wanted to play.
We survived (just), partly in thanks to TV for Sausage. She had no energy for anything else. She didn’t even want to read her beloved books.
I normally limit Sausage’s TV viewing, but when you have a sick kid, I think it’s fine to let them zone out in front of the TV if it keeps them happy and rested. Normally Sausage doesn’t watch TV every day, and never watches anything that is not Mum-approved, because there are so many rubbishy, violent and just plain weird shows out there aimed at kids. And then there are the shows that are preachy, and so gosh-darned-saccharin that they are a visual version of nails raked down a chalkboard (The Care Bears, I’m looking at you. Actually I’m not, as your show makes me want to vomit…) I try to watch TV with Sausage whenever possible, as I can sportscast what’s happening; so I can say that the shows below should pass the ‘scream’ test – especially if you watch several episodes in a row.
I have to start off with the obvious. Peppa is Sausage’s favourite show. She talks about Peppa and her friends all the time. ‘Dr Brown Bear is sick Mummy! I must look after him. I will go get a plaster,’ and other such gems randomly pepper her conversation (pun intended), and Sausage certainly appears to have a soft spot for Peppa’s inept pal, Pedro Pony.
I like Peppa Pig. I think it’s a great show and here’s why: Although some episodes are a rather far-fetched, many episodes centre around normal, everyday toddler stuff, like going to play group, going to the library or the museum, going on holiday, having fun jumping in muddy puddles or accidentally turning Daddy’s white shirt pink in the wash. The show is British, and without meaning to offend any other nation, I don’t think anyone does TV better than the British. There are a wide range of accents on the show, including Welsh and Mancunian, which adds to its appeal.
Peppa and her little brother George are surrounded by loving and enthusiastic adults, who often defy stereotypes. Daddy Pig is a hands-on, modern father, and Mummy Pig is a sassy, smart, working-from-home Mama. Peppa lives in a fairly typical English house (if everyone living on top of a hill is typical) and shares a room with her brother. The many grandparents in the show are often very involved in their grandchildren’s lives and do cool stuff like sail boats, own garages, and run dinosaur theme parks. Peppa’s elderly play group teacher, Madame Gazelle used to be in a rock band. Peppa has a wide group of friends, who – talking animals aside – are wonderfully devoid of super powers, princesses, sporting prowess, heartwarming-pluck or any other special talent that many children’s tv shows and books like to advocate. These, err…kids… are normal. They squabble, fight and make up, have best friends, boss each other around, burst into tears, have secrets, and mess up like your tots and mine do.
Adults can enjoy Peppa too. The running gag of Miss Rabbit working absolutely everywhere in Peppa’s town is funny, and there are often moral lessons aimed at us, not the kids. One of my favourite episodes involves Peppa and her friends dressing up as different countries for the day. Squabbling over which countries can use the sandpit ensues, and Madame Gazelle admonishes the children with ‘Is this how you think the leaders of the world behave?’ Touche Madame Gazelle, touche.
I found this wee gem of a show simply because I loved its description of a girl who finds treasure in what other people cast away. And it comes from Northern Ireland, so there are more delicious accents for your tots to get exposed to. Lily lives with her Dad in a bijou hut on the beach. Each episode centres around Lily finding a piece of ‘sea treasure’ (i.e. junk that people have thrown away). As she ponders on what the treasure is, she and her friend Gull are taken to ‘Driftwood Bay’ which exists only in Lily’s imagination. Driftwood Bay is inhabited by a lovely group of friends, like Salty, a Scottish dog who takes Lily to Driftwood Bay in his boat; Nonna, who owns the Cockle Cafe, and Lord Stag (voiced by the wonderful Stephen Fry) who lives in Stag Castle. It is a bit same-samey at times, so you might not want to watch too many back-to-back episodes. There is some good stuff in this show – the episode that deals with the death of a character is a sensitive portrayal of loss and grief, and alludes to Lily’s own mother having died.
From the home of the BBC (you can find it on CBeebies), comes the live-action show Topsy and Tim. Based on the books by Jean and Gareth Adamson, the show follows twins Topsy and Tim navigating life. It’s a little bit like Seinfeld – if you were to ask me what happens in Topsy and Tim, I would say ‘nothing’. But this show is lovely, and I don’t know who likes it more – D or Sausage.
The twins live in a house which I swear must be a real house, given the level of detail like slightly battered furniture and touches of grime. It’s brilliant. The twins are perfectly ordinary, and live with Mum and Dad in a semi-detached house in an unspecified English village. They grapple with problems no bigger than first-day-of-school-nerves, or the fact that they have to sleep in the lounge because their bedroom has been painted. The show did court controversy with ‘thousands of parents labelling it sexist’ according to the Daily Mail (not exactly a reliable source of information). I think these complaints centre around one particular episode – which I have not seen, and certainly the episodes that I have seen are not sexist at all. I say give it a whirl. It’s a fun, gentle show that should keep your toddler occupied for ten minutes. It is extremely wholesome, and quite frankly, that is exactly what I want for my toddler.
BAFTA nominated Grandpa in My Pocket, is another great show courtesy of CBeebies. Jason lives with his Dad, Grandpa, and eccentric Great Aunt Loretta who dresses in Doc Martin boots and what looks like my family’s brown-and-orange couch from the 70s. In subsequent series we meet Jason’s cousins, Josh and Elsie, who live with Jason’s family in a windmill which the family run as a hotel. The kids know Grandpa’s crazy secret: when he puts his cap on, he shrinks until he is only a few inches tall, whereupon he can do magic and bring objects to life.
Narrated either by Jason or his cousins, general mayhem ensues once Grandpa puts on his ‘shrinking cap’, and the children and Grandpa must work together to get themselves out of various silly predicaments. There’s usually a song and dance or two, a few wacky characters (not including Great Aunt Loretta), and a good time is had by all.
Again what I love about this show is the defiance of stereotypes. On the surface, Grandpa (played by the wonderful actor, James Bolam) seems like your average Grandpa – getting a bit old and doddery. But he’s really a cheeky daredevil, who when shrunk, flies planes, climbs up trees, and challenges the children to ‘catch me if you can!’ Great Aunt Loretta (played by James Bolam’s wife, Susan Jameson) is wonderfully mad-cap, and makes ‘treats’ like sardine and strawberry tarts. No crocheting knee rugs for this old lady!
It’s also a lovely show about the important part that grandparents can play in children’s lives. Grandparents don’t have the same responsibility as parents, and can therefore be more indulgent, light-hearted, and cherished confederates in play.
I know quite a few parents who just don’t ‘get’ Ben and Holly. But as I watch it with Sausage, I know and love this show well. Made by the same people who do Peppa Pig, Ben and Holly is a delightfully subversive show with plenty of humour for adults and children.
Ben and Holly are best friends. Ben is an elf and Holly is a fairy princess. The Little Kingdom is presided over by Holly’s parents, King and Queen Thistle. King Thistle is hilariously slow-witted and rather inept. Holly and her sisters – the demonic Poppy and Daisy – are looked after the extremely silly Nanny Plum, who has a knack for getting herself (and everyone nearby) into trouble. The elves do all the work in the kingdom, and LOVE it. The elves are presided over by The Wise Old Elf who generally has to fix whatever mess the other characters have gotten themselves into.
Reusing several actors from Peppa, it is the supporting characters that will entertain the adults. Ben and Holly is full of running gags, deadpan humour, liberal use of Loren ipsum, and jelly floods. Stereotypes are once again turned on their heads. Kings and Queens are no match for elf-smarts; princesses mess up and turn their best friends into frogs by accident and when angry; smelly, warty old witches end up being rather nice; grandparents are mischevious and naughty; and children are often the ones who point out to the adults where they’ve gone wrong.
I dare anyone not to find the episodes ‘Big Bad Barry’ or ‘The Royal Golf Course’ (where you find out what gnomes are really like) funny. Go on, I double dare you.
Sausage of course, does not get the humour. She thinks fairies are great, fairy princesses even better, and turning people into frogs is the best. But I hope one day I can sit her down as a jaded teenager and give her a new appreciation for this childhood show.
So if you find yourself stuck to a sick toddler who only wants Mummy or Daddy cuddles, may this list get you through it.
What shows do you enjoy watching with your kids? Also, why are there so many TV shows and books where Mum or Dad is dead? What’s up with that?