For your viewing pleasure

How and when should my baby become acquainted with Television?

Few questions are likely to provoke such debate amongst a group of parents as this one.

In my admittedly limited experience, there are always some aspects of child-rearing that a person can’t get too excited about. Although it differs from individual to individual, you can usually assume that not everyone will get really worried about the precise temperature of baby’s bedroom, or how long they should stay, uninterrupted, in their car-seat.

But everyone, everyone, has a position on Television.

Unscientific as it is, my own process of holding numerous conversations about the topic has led me to believe that there is an approximately 80-20 split amongst prospective and new parents about their offspring’s desired viewing habits.

  • 80% feel that television is the devil. It will rot the tiny, perfect brain they’ve spent 9 months gestating so carefully. They visualise a life in which junior watches at most 30 minutes of TV, with exclusively educational or cultural content, per day.
  • 20% feel that television can be fun for kids and useful for parents. They don’t feel that modern TVs will damage their children’s eyes, like the clunky models of the ’80s, or their brains. They visualise a life in which junior watches TV as a leisure pursuit, with no hard and fast limits on the time spent viewing.

It pains me to admit that, for all I like to consider myself a laid back liberal, I fall instinctively into the first category. I imagine David slumped in his chair, pumping a vast, sludgy river of ‘Dancing on Ice’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’ down his optic nerve and into his vulnerable young consciousness; then, white with terror, I use this nightmare endgame to justify asking pointed questions of my partner about whether he should really be watching an episode of  Waybuloo every couple of days.

While this kind of thinking is popular, I’m beginning to accept that it’s also pretty daft. There are a couple of big problems with the puritanical anti-TV approach:

  • For my own generation, TV formed a huge part of our shared experience. Starting at primary school, where an in-depth knowledge of He-Man and the A-Team was a prerequisite for social interaction, and reaching into adulthood, which in my case has been utterly immersed in pop-culture references, a good chunk of our ability to relate to each other has been defined by the TV we’ve mutually watched. In my experience, this connection has largely been a force for good, building bridges between those who might otherwise have little in common.
  • It’s not terribly pragmatic. Do we, the new-parent TV puritans, really believe that all those mums and dads who allow their kids to watch the box are irresponsible and weak? Do we really think that, as our kids become more demanding, we won’t crave a few minutes of peace to get things done or collect our thoughts? Do we look forward, eagerly, to the clashes that will ensue when our offspring start to compare their privileges with those of their friends? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d find it difficult to say ‘yes’ to any of these questions, never mind the full triumverate.

These considerations have started to turn my opinion, like some vast and stubborn supertanker, onto a new course.

Of course, the small matter of my own hypocrisy has lent a rather large helping hand.  Allow me to explain…

This weekend, my partner finally agreed to go on a well-deserved night out and leave David in my sole care until the next day. Presented with an opportunity for us to spend 24 hours uninterrupted together, I realised there was only one appropriate way to spend our time: absorbing the ultimate exploration of Father and Son relationships, Star Wars.

Armed with this tenuous premise, I proceeded to share the original trilogy with my first-born in its entirety – albeit liberally broken up by spells of eating, sleeping, singing, dancing, funny faces and any other device I could think of to make him laugh.

It was everything I thought it could be.

David was wide-eyed as the iconic opening scenes of Episode IV brought an imperial Star Destroyer rumbling over his head; his face spilt into a joyous, gaping smile as I sang along to the theme tune and incidental music; he laughed out loud, unprompted, when he saw his first Ewok in Episode VI. I knew that he was far too young to follow the narrative – he struggles with Goodnight Moon at present – but I wanted him to start absorbing the sheer mythological grandeur of a narrative which, I hope, will become a shared passion of ours in the years ahead.

As I bounced the boy on my knee to the closing score of Return of the Jedi, a little voice asked me why the hell it was OK to watch 6 hours of classic space fantasy in a day, but suspect to catch the occasional 30 minutes of children’s programming?

Hands up, dear reader: I couldn’t give any justification stronger than a sheet of wet tissue paper.

Having accepted that I was operating a chronic double standard, I decided to take a fresh look at one of the iconic points of TV concern in our house: Waybuloo.

I should state upfront that, when I was tutting, shaking my head and worrying about the effect Waybuloo might be having on my child, I hadn’t seen a single episode. In this respect, I’m much like a procession of Tory MPs and Daily Mail headline writers, who have understood for many years that it’s unnecessary to be familiar with material before condemning it as morally abhorrent. I am not reassured by this comparison.

Eager to redeem myself, I decided to watch an episode of Waybuloo, so that I could make an informed judgement. I anticipated an entirely acceptable but tepid children’s programme, which I could grudgingly concede didn’t quite constitute the brain-rotting bollocks I had previously expected.

What I got was something altogether different: a genuinely magical 25 minutes, which dripped with colour, character and mystic wholesomeness.

If you are the parent of a young child, but haven’t already watched this show, do so as soon as possible. Populated by sunny, child-like, benevolent spirits which partake in a Jedi-esque Yoga session (amongst other pursuits) every episode, this programme is the poster child for the sort of TV I want my son to enjoy. There is enough in the way of socialisation and education to make it helpful in his development, but enough fun and wonder that he will also find his right-brain suitably enriched.

I have never felt such a comprehensive twat as I did when the end credits rolled. If this was what I had given my partner a grilling over… suffice to say, I had mastered the art of overreaction.

What I’ve learned, that I already knew, is not to make sweeping judgements.

What I’ve learned, for the first time, is that TV can actually bring something wonderful to my child – but that I’ll need to do the spadework and assess each programme or film on its own merits, rather than lazily giving everything the thumbs up or thumbs down.

If a little bit of donkey work is all that stands between me and a Father/Son trip to the lightsaber ballet, I guess I can live with that.

Follow @daveshed

Strong men also cry

The immortal words of Jeffrey Lebowski give me at least some comfort.

It’s a much-needed sort of comfort, to be honest. At least, with the support of a character from one of the most beloved cult films of all time, I can partially come to terms with what I am: a great, soft blubberer.

Don’t take this to mean that I spend my days and nights weeping without pause; for the most part, I can live a normal life.

But I have triggers.

My partner received an early warning of what was to come mere months into our relationship, when she stumbled into a room to find me inconsolable and awash with tears. This was no dignified, silent crying – rather, this was the kind wherein:

  • The cryer’s face is pulled uncontrollably into a horrific, pantomime expression most commonly associated with very small children.
  • The cryer is struggling not to allow any sounds to escape their body, despite racking sobs, but is completely unable to form words without roaring in sorrow.
  • The cryer knows that they should be in better control of themselves, admonishes themselves internally over their childlike conduct and feels a sense of cringing shame when they are discovered.
  • The cryer is capable only of hiding their face and desperately shoo-ing the interloper away to mitigate said shame.

She was, I recall, genuinely taken aback, even worried. It was an understandable reaction – no sane human being would be behaving in this way unless heartbroken, recently bereaved, or caught in the grip of despair. She needn’t have been concerned. I had simply fallen victim to one of my triggers: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a ‘sad book’.

I’m really not sure how I managed to keep the poor woman around after that, but stay she did. Some years later, I’m revisiting the same territory with her and our son.

You see, it’s not just sad books that will set me off: when I’m holding David, even mawkishly sentimental stories aimed at the very young will make my eyes grow misty.

My vulnerability was quickly exposed when my partner began reading Guess how much I love you to David, as I fed him his last bottle before bed. As the pages turned and her narration followed the ever-increasing spiral of two hares, presumably father and son, trying to quantify their love for one another, I felt the familiar wave of sentimentality rise up to submerge me. Of course, I couldn’t say anything… to do so would have been to invite red-faced, voice-cracking humiliation. I prayed silently that she would fail to notice.

Of course, there was never any hope of such a face-saving outcome; by the time she had finished, I was dripping big, daft tears from my eyeleashes onto David’s pyjamas. Looking up, my partner gaped.

“Seriously?” she asked, wide eyed and shaking her head. “SERIOUSLY?”

I could only bob my head and sob silently in response. Somewhere in my subconscious, a wise-cracking, hard-drinking, skirt-chasing 25 year-old was holding his head in his hands, wondering what on earth he had become.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Since I’m in the business of finally, cathartically exposing my grand shame, I might as well give you some of the big ticket trigger items – if nothing else, you’ll enjoy a laugh at some of these howlers.

Perhaps, when David is a little older, he’ll also find the time to express his astonishment at the things which set his old man off. Perhaps he’ll weep alongside me, afflicted by cruel genetics with my irrational peaks of emotion. Frankly, as long as he still speaks to me after he’s seen one of my performances, it’ll be one in the win column.

Follow @daveshed

And so it ends: not with a bang…

…but with an administration.

Before I spend any time discussing the plight of Rangers FC, a disclosure: I am a Celtic supporter. One of the more rational stripe, but nonetheless someone who might be considered to have a viewpoint not entirely sympathetic to the troubled club. If, dear reader, you wish to dismiss my musings on this basis, please feel free to do so.

The Scottish public is accustomed to the idea that businesses, even industries, can overextend and ultimately fail. Our press reports that a painful number of Scots go bust every day. But when it came to Rangers, it seemed that an enduring blind spot existed in this country’s perception of the club’s activities, particularly over the sustainability of its spending policy.

I won’t rehash at length the famous David Murray quote about outspending Celtic 2-to-1. What I will say is that, in the vast majority of cases, if the individual controlling a public company made such a statement their shareholders and other stakeholders (such as employees) would be rightly concerned. That’s because a healthy business must remain profitable, balancing its income and outgoings in favour of consistent gain, in order to guarantee its continued existence. Placing the cost base of your business outwith your own control, at the mercy of your competitors’ investment decisions is lunacy, plain and simple.

It’s tempting then to explain away Mr Murray’s bold proclamation as hyperbole, simply an indication of his intent to pursue success with total commitment. But the facts don’t support that more rational interpretation. It’s now clear that Rangers did vastly overspend in their efforts to remain ahead of Celtic, whatever the club might have blustered at the height of their excesses.  They trod a path which implies that they had either forgotten that Rangers FC was a business, without a god-given right to exist, or that they believed the normal rules did not apply to them.

If, of these two delusions, it was the latter that gripped the Rangers board, the myth has now been comprehensively shattered.

Rangers FC is not, never was, too big to fail.

So, returning to my initial point: why, for so long, has the Rangers support and the wider population of Scotland acted as if the problems of the club did not exist, or were conventionally manageable?

Ultimately, I put this down to one mental stumbling block above all others: the perception of Rangers FC as ‘a Scottish institution’.

I’ve heard and read repeated references to the club in these terms over the last several days. It’s a dangerous fallacy for anyone to think about a commercial enterprise in these terms. Ask any businessman, from the bottom rung entrepreneur to the FTSE 100 Chief Exec and they will tell you the same thing: it doesn’t matter if you have a classic brand, if you are a household name, if large swathes of the population find it difficult to imagine today what life would be like if you didn’t exist tomorrow. All that matters is whether you have run your business in such a way that you can afford to pay your bills and continue trading.

Being ‘an institution’ didn’t save Woolworths, or Kodak – and it won’t save Rangers.

Neither, it should be noted, did such a status in the public consciousness save Celtic when we were hours from going to the wall in March 1994. Instead, a hard-headed businessman named Fergus McCann saved Celtic, taking the club on and refusing to bow to the clamouring demands of our fanbase for success at any cost during the Rangers 9-in-a-row era. McCann focussed instead on running the club in a sustainable and businesslike fashion, on ingraining such a philosophy within the substance in the club. For the most part, he succeeded and today history has certainly vindicated him.

The plight of Rangers FC is a warning to all of us not to lose sight of what truly matters. Doubtless, some within Rangers believed that they were building a glorious era in the club’s history as they flushed good money after bad and indulged in – at best – questionable practices around the payment of players. In the cold light of Valentines Day 2012, it is apparent that they may instead have consigned the club to history.

Boys on Tour

At first I felt like Batman, donning his utility belt, as I clipped each section into place. Then, as the more robust safety catches and bolts were locked down, I mentally promoted myself to Iron Man. Tooled up, baby. Ready to go.

Of course, I was neither: I was a relatively new dad, attaching my son securely to my chest with a Baby Bjorn, which was even better.

David, for his part, gurned a little as we found the right position. Once he realised that he was being plastered to my manly bosoms, all the fight went out of him – this was essentially a prolonged and artificially reinforced cuddle. What was not to like?

Slightly frosty ground crunched under the soles of my trainers as we took to the road, the boy wrapped up like an arctic explorer and dozing serenely while I alternated between grinning stupidly and awkwardly squinting downward to ensure that I wasn’t somehow smothering him.

This was going to be great.

Ever since the little man was born, I have been looking forward to the experience of carrying him about in a papoose. We were big on hugs in my family and I’m an almost offensively tactile person; I literally can’t think of a nicer way to move him around.

Of course, there are some downsides:

  • It can be hard on the lower back, a region of my body which already absorbs a lot of punishment since the onset of fatherhood.
  • It’s not an all-in-one solution if you’re travelling by car, in the same way as the indispensablecar seat and wheels combo.
  • It’s ghastly to start walking somewhere with your child harnessed under your nose, only for them to shit themselves all but immediately.

Still, I think one would have to be particularly curmudgeonly to write off this fabulous bonding tool entirely on the basis of spinal trauma and vile odours.

David was slightly heavier than I had expected; evidently I had grown too used to thinking of him as a ‘wee baby’. At 9 weeks, his weight had almost doubled. This was cause for celebration in every area of my life except my lumbar curve.

As we reached the main street, heading toward the shopping arcade, a more steady stream of Broxburners passed us on their way. From some, I had nods or smiles, even some cooing. This, I felt, was understandable, given that David was dressed in an all-in-one Bear suit. What I couldn’t understand was the approach of those who strolled by without so much as a glance. I was a man with what looked like an Ewok strapped to his chest… such a thing is worth a double-take.

The Bear suit has become such an iconic part of David’s early life that I’m certain I’ll actively mourn once he outgrows it. It’s a veteran of his first trips out from home, at which point he was unable to fill the arms and legs and simply inhabited the abdomen of the thing, curled up into a fleshy ball like some baby/hedgehog hybrid.

It may well serve some other child in due course, but I’m loathe to part with it. Do not be surprised to hear tell of a madman in Broxburn, who has mounted a tiny bearskin on his wall.

Arriving at Greggs the bakers, I got my proud-papa moment in spades. The ladies behind the till fawned over David, while I used this distraction as cover to buy more iced buns than a man in my shape really should. Of course, this came after the gymnastic performance I put on in order to remove my wallet from my inner-jacket pocket without removing my son from his papoose. A brighter man would have transferred the wallet to his trouser pocket before setting off; but by the same token, a brighter man would not have identified the potential alternative career of strait-jacket escape artist as one for which he had a born talent.

As I made my way back toward the house, the definitive encounter of our trip was sprung upon me. An elderly lady accosted us mere steps from the bakers’ shopfront and, sporting kindly eyes and a manic grin, began to grill me on every detail of my partner’s labour and my heir’s early life.

No sooner had I begun answering than she stepped right in with #sickbrags: “The smallest baby I ever held was 1lb 2oz,” she informed me in response to my remark that, at 5lb 11oz, David had been a diminutive newborn. “It was one of triplets. It fitted right into the palm of my hand.”

Caught between the divergent approaches of engaging in some kind of Baby Top Trumps (“The midwives said David was the most alert newborn they’d ever seen! What’s the most alertness-related praise you’ve ever heard for a baby, EH??!”) or simply smiling and nodding, I chose the second and more cowardly option.

I was rewarded with a narrative covering every labour and birth which had ever occurred in the female line of the lady’s family. While, at times, I wondered if I would be able to get David home before we both perished of hunger, the experience did make me glad that I hadn’t gone the Top Trumps route – she had me beat on everything from shortest labour to hairiest head, I shit ye not.

A note to new fathers: it’s nice when old ladies take an interest in your bambino, if only because they are the only constituency outside your blood relatives who will unfailingly volunteer gushing praise about them. However, it doesn’t take terribly long for such experiences to start inspiring trepidation; I have been known to cross the street at the mere sight of a pensionable female, stuffing the wee man desperately beneath my jacket and affecting the kind of forced, nonchalant whistling one sees only in old cartoons.

There will only be a small window in which I can carry David around like this, strapped to my chest in an enduring hug. Once he has outgrown it, there will be only a few scant years before he decides that any kind of hug from his father is embarrassing and I’m restricted to stiff, formal handshakes with an awkward tween-to-teenager. For now though, he not only permits such hugging, he is visibly calmed and reassured by it.

I mean to enjoy every minute.

As I approached our driveway, I was flushed by cold air and success. We had done it – our first ‘Boys on Tour’ moment, out by ourselves away from our traditional female authority figures. We’d have many more such moments, I hoped, up to and including my eventual, ill-fated participation in David’s Stag weekend in Magaluf… but this one would take some beating. I allowed myself a brief stop on the doorstep to plant a kiss on the wee man’s head, before bustling inside to make a start on those iced buns.