Monthly Archives: October 2013

LEO SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED

Week 12

I’m sitting patiently in semi-darkness with Leo bottle-fed and tucked into the nook of my left arm, into which he still snugly  fits.  I’m not sure why this particular state of partial illumination is always referred to as ‘semi-darkness’ and never ‘semi-light’ – seems a little ‘glass half-empty’ to me.  Everything is most satisfactory with Leo, though I’m definitely still waiting to enjoy myself.  And, truth be told, I’d prefer at this moment to hunker down with child in a cosy blanket of darkness.

I’m trying to escape into a movie and Leo is, in fits and starts, and probably wisely, flirting with an escape from row F into sleep.  Without the prerequisite level of cinema gloaming it’s tricky, however.  I like my movie theatre dark as a sackful of black kittens, with the silver screen the only source of light, but the ambience here is set halfway and it’ll be staying that way for the duration – the eye doesn’t know where it is.

Roughly half the audience need to see exactly what they’re doing  and who they’re doing it to when they’re not focused on the screen.  More visual confusion.  But there’ll be no speculative arms around shoulders today, certainly not on my part, no back-row groping.  More’s the pity.  No, this is not Friday evening, this is Friday morning.  This is watch-with-baby at the Ritzy.

Whilst this is not Leo’s first taste of movie heaven – he has already visited a well-known galaxy far, far away, albeit with his mum and from the comfort of his own sofa – this is his first  taste of the silver screen proper, and courtesy of pater, who’s been seized by a spirit of mild adventure.

This is, to be a little more precise, watch-Bond-with-baby.  It is, just to nail it, watch-Bond-with-baby-on-the-first-showing-on-the-opening-day of his most eagerly anticipated outing in years.  With Sam Mendes the helmsman and a promise of biographical backdrop for a stripped-back, stay-at-home, austerity take on the nation’s favourite psychopathic defender of the realm, record box-office beckons. (Yes, that’s right – he’s a psycho.  He needs to be, but more on that later).  This means guaranteed carnage in the foyer, and a crush of buggies that might occasion 007 an obstruction almost as insurmountable as the double-decker load of VW Beetles he encounters in the first reel.

Were Bond to find himself holding the baby – admittedly an outcome as likely as a penguin at the North Pole, though his offspring are surely legion – I’d like to think he might eschew even a buggy customised by Q in favour of the carrier.  Enhanced mobility counts when you’re the quarry in the bazaar, I’d have thought.  It certainly counts when you’re slipping through a crowd of babies on a minimum of three wheels escorted by vexed parents, and my seat is found with ease.

The distractions and obstacles within are multifarious.  Nappies are being changed on any available floorspace, and the overhead projector cuts through a tangible fog of rising fumes.  The Ritzy’s main space has the feel of a giant living room.  Once a full house of nascent families have ushered themselves in and negotiated their way along aisle and down row and A-Z is chocker, screen number one sounds not unlike a barnful of sheep, or at least lambs, a chorus of scattered babies keeping up what will clearly be a constant accompaniment.  A happy scene for sure, though already I’m realising that keeping up with the finer points of the next two and a half hours might well become an exercise in obstinately wishful thinking.

It appears I’ve been hopelessly over-optimistic on all counts.  Of course I have.  Today’s watch-with-progeny screening coincides neatly with Leo’s mid-morning nap, leaving him (and me) between a rock and a hard place.  Agog at sight and sound on a scale unprecedented in his 83 days on Earth thus far, he simply doesn’t know what to do with his beautiful eyes.  Sleep tugs, but there’s no escape from the gravitational pull of the monumental wall of vision that looms before him, a tractor-beam on his beleaguered attention.  The outcome is preordained, and before long he’s contributing his considerable lung-power to the pervading chorus.  The noise is impressive in its way – like a choir maintaining a steady note, some babies fading while others take up the slack, and the overall refrain is unremitting.

So thus far this has been Bond in dumb show – the set pieces engage, but when they give way to talking heads, we’re treated to the sight of Craig, Dench, et al silently mouthing the hard details of the plot to no avail whatsoever, leaving dozens of parents to wonder whether subtitles might be of help.  Probably not – too much nodding of head from baby to screen in any case to manage reading on top of everything else.

A trip to the foyer then, stepping lightly around and over scenes more commonly seen at playgroup.  En route I pass a dad who’s opted to root himself at the back with carrier, an idea not shared by my feet but it’s working for him.  His eyes betray a determination to see this enterprise through that’s just the wrong side of admirable.  One minute back in the foyer-cum-buggy-park is all it takes.  Leo, released from the torment of distraction, is asleep, and deeply enough to warrant re-entry.  But one minute back with Bond is all it takes to undo the previous minute.  It’s talking heads again, 007 and friend discussing Turner’s Rain, Steam And Speed in the National Gallery.  I’ll never know why amid the quavering din, and with Leo reactivated it’s foyer time again.  This time we hit the street, and though Leo hits sleep it’s a long moment before I venture back.

This time I linger near the exit with Determined Dad, Standing.  With Leo looking like he’s property of Sleep for now, I turn my attention back to events in James’ evermore complex world.  Big chap strapped to chair, imprisoned in glass cell, vaguely Hannibal-esque scene, clearly a wrong ‘un and a threat to all England holds dear.  I have no idea how we got here and it’s at this point I wish my fellow parents, if any of them have any clue as to how we got thus far, good afternoon and good luck with sticking with what’s clearly going to be one big slice of movie served with any number of diversions.  It seems most have roped their partners in as plot advisers, to the continual rhubarb…

At least I don’t feel I’m missing out.  Threading nimbly through the bazaar of buggies and out into lunchtime, I’m pleased at least that my feelings for the Bond canon have always been conflicted at best.  Even in the three-channel days of yore when ITV lured a nation bloated on Christmas dinner and beached on the sofa with a box of Milk Tray perched on its belly with box office Bond, I would turn to my toys and my own imagination.  Bond was dispiritingly Earthbound somehow, with the honourable exception of his attempts at re-entry in Moonraker, and as a boy I could detect no spirit of adventure, no sense that he was a hero.  There’s a savagery, a casual brutality to Bond that no amount of dressing with clipped accents, gadgets, fast cars and pat one-liners could ever quite conceal.  He’s a soldier, a murderer in black tie.

My heroes then were more likely to wear red capes and fly, wield lightsabers or pilot battered Corellian freightships, or travel through time and space in a battered police box – forces for good, not agents of Her Majesty’s Government and some already anachronistic notions of Empire.  And no emails about Superman and the American Way, please…  There were myriad reasons to follow Bond into and throughout adolescence and they were all, without exception, beautiful, but now, with a boy strapped tight, the boy in me is back for a second outing.

For me there’ll be another night and a second chance, even if I didn’t make it this Friday morning to the finale that’s more Buchan than Fleming in his Barbour-clad Highland hinterland.  I’ll snigger at his high-end-perfume-advert entry into the casino, the camp core at the heart of it all, grudgingly admire the stab at an origin story, and appreciate the departure from the familiar track.  For Leo, Bond can wait.  For now.  I’ll hope, in the meantime, that The Force may be with him…

THE BOX IN THE CORNER, or WHY DON’T YOU? GO AND DO SOMETHING LESS BORING INSTEAD LIKE RAISE A BABY BOY ON YOUR OWN (PART TIME)

With the nesting process now in full flow, a significant decision with far reaching implications is taken – and none too lightly.

There is to be no TV.  No cathode ray flicker shall cast the ghost of its lambency upon the walls of this basement flat, at least not until Leo is of an age, or of a stage, when he might truly benefit, if benefit is the word, from the box in the corner (or the flat screen on the wall).  Or at least not until his father is driven to a sufficient level of distraction to warrant plonking him on his arse before the screen, willing the firstborn to a state of hypnosis and himself back to sanity.  Whichever comes first.

There is nothing lofty in this refusal of our ubiquitous companion; the telly is to be shunned on practical grounds alone.  Who, after all, could possibly be impressed by, or even believe, the self-righteous claim tossed down from the battlements of the ivory tower that “I don’t watch TV?”  Such an outlandish profession could only be matched by the life-deniers who would have us believe they don’t like The Beatles.  And they nearly always do.  Besides, an entire medium is not to be breezily dismissed, particularly not one that’s brought us The Sullivans and The Sopranos and the entire spectrum in-between.  And that’s just the drama.

Perhaps I’m impressionable.  Perhaps I was too easily influenced by the lawyer I met in a bar in Copenhagen while taking time out during Ellie’s pregnancy.  Coming up for air, as it were, before Leo surfaced to stay.  She “didn’t watch telly”, and something in me stirred at that.  What a refreshing change, my ad-addled mind surmised.  She seemed far too busy living in the land of the living to be taken in by me, the viewer in the land of the living, and my evidently underwhelming telly-heavy patter, never mind actually lose valuable living-hours watching the stuff.  Far too passive.

Had she really never heard of The Bridge?  Copenhagen did seem the logical place to avoid the onslaught of Scandinavian noir.  Hiding in plain sight, as it were.  She did, however, note my conflicted frame of mind – brought on, it must be noted, by the impending arrival of a child I was expecting with a girlfriend I’d lost to someone else – comparing me, tellingly I felt, to the character of Mark in the estimable Peep Show.  See, we all watch telly really.

Down here in the den, it’s watching TV alone I can’t face.  Too easily maligned as an agent for passivity, TV has for longer than I can recall been, if anything, a shared activity – a true agent for cohesion.  Social glue, to be current and icky.  Far from being an isolator and a device for making people do nothing (with the honourable exception of Why Don’t You?), it succeeded for the best part of a decade throughout my childhood and early teens where all else failed – it unified my family.  For one hour in the week, the magic hour, (approximately 7.00pm, BBC1) All Creatures Great And Small served up old fashioned, no-nonsense dollops of comfort viewing to my well fed family in its entirety.  It must, I suppose, have had ‘something for everyone’ – manna for the TV exec.

On other nights, unlikely alliances were forged around the schedule.  Wednesday evenings, 9.00pm, BBC2, M*A*S*H.  Regular trips to the 4077 that were acerbic and humane in equal measure, draped gently in a mantel of martini-sodden despair never quite shrugged off by the machine gun patter and the wisecracks.  Or indeed by the machine guns.  My first intimation of the adult world beyond the suburban semi-detached one I was living in, even if it was the mud of ’50s Korea (or the foothills just outside LA) and shared with my father.  Other than the six episodes of the Beeb’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, those half-hour slots ring-fenced in the middle of the week were to prove our only real shared experience.  In life, never mind in front of the TV.  But as a child you take what you can get.

Friday nights were better yet.  The audience (me and my mother) warmed up with a double-header of Dynasty and The Cosby Show before the warmest hit of humanity you could hope for before the weekend started.  Central Television’s Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, an hour of true social cohesion (that’s living, alright) and in pre-video times, the best of reasons to stay in and watch with mother.

Fast forward to the box-set years and the hefty DVD tomes that marked the passage of ‘our’ relationship.  That’s the ‘us’ that now exists only in inverted commas.  Oh, and as co-parents.  When there was an ‘us’ free of inverted commas – us – , no richer a journey was taken in tandem on the sofa – steady – than the 86-hour odyssey of The SopranosPine Barrens, naturally, and Long Term Parking provided matchless comedic and dramatic pinnacles respectively.  An epic voyage that, along with the Dickensian sweep of The Wire, won’t be forgotten.  And we won’t either of us forget who we took the journey with.

Now it’s just me and the tablet – headphones on and face uplit in the darkness as Leo sleeps in the cot at the foot of the bed.  Match Of The Day and re-runs of The Crow Road, as he breathes in, breathes out.  This is the new TV – curation and collection, bespoke viewing tailored to the needs of the individual.

But my televisual needs remain simple for now, at least until such time as father and son can rack up some shared TV experience of their own on the sofa.  There’s going to be an awful lot of cbeebies before then.  Right now screen hypnosis can wait.  The most recent research emanating from the States into the influence of TV on very young children suggests much that doesn’t surprise with lower vocabulary, disturbed sleep, and disrupted playtime among the outcomes.  Indeed, in the States guidelines suggest keeping kids away from screens altogether for the first two years of their lives at least.

What intrigues, though, is that it may be that what a child is actually watching is key.  A child can be mesmerised or interact, depending on what’s being viewed – and who with.  The trippy day-glo costumed hypno-blobs who have hijacked the (very) early morning schedules are either proto-Paul McKennas (looking very much into our kids’ eyes, not around them), or kindred spirits in the minds of our progeny – I’m not sure any adult will ever know, barring those that created them.  Watching with mother, or father, meanwhile, can enhance viewing as a shared experience.  So we’re back full circle to the family round the box.  Even if only one member of the family gets it.

It’s the prospect of time siphoned off irretrievably that deters me, that and the screen’s true cohesive force – i.e. glueing you tight to it.  The net worth of time has rocketed and I can ill afford to lose any, so I’ll be declining the open-ended invitation to procrastination.  I already have the internet to contend with, thank you.  And in any given week, where time between work and Leo (and he’s not work but he takes time and I give it) has to be jemmied out of a locked down schedule, I’ll corral it and keep it and spend it on reading and writing.

In this brave new telly-free dawn the ministrations of a day with Leo are played out to the accompaniment of BBC Radio 6Music in any case, and that is precisely what’s required down here at lone-parenting central – the companionship of the wireless as opposed to the distraction of the TV.  Too busy living.  And judging by Leo’s high-chair dance routines, just the soundtrack is fine for now.  The visuals can wait…