Years ago, when Alice was a toddler, I picked her up from nursery one day. She talked about playing with a little boy called Alfie. In response, I sang the Bacharach/David refrain “What’s it all about, Alfie?”, and she gurgled with delight. So I sang it again and again, on request. When I tired of it, she took over, and kept singing “Wassit aw abaaat? Awfeeee?”. And thus, at the age of two, she was singing Bacharach. I was somewhat chuffed.
Invariably, I have those dreams. You know those ones, where you dream not of yourself standing on a glittering stage, but of your own child performing in front of a crowd. In his excellent Live at the Met stand-up video, Robin Williams did a skit on the dreams parents have for their kids.
“And you have dreams about your kid! You have dreams that maybe, one day, he’ll be up there going: [noble voice] “I want to thank the Nobel Committee for this award”. Then you have this other dream where your kid’s going: [idiot voice] “You want fries with that?”.”
It’s the worst kind of vicarious dream, living your own hopes and ambitions through your kids. I know this. Simon Cowell and his ilk have ruthlessly exploited it with X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. You see these parents, shoving their kids out onto massive stages, and see them blinking in the spotlight, and we – passive viewers that are not only witness to this, but actually through our acceptance of such programmes, actually encouraging parents to do this – are all hoping the kids will perform to fulfil the parents’ own failed dreams from their youth.
The pushy parent, waiting at the side of the stage, making “Bright Smile!” faces, and castigating the kids on the way home for a limp performance is something of a stereotype. The same goes for the aggressive Dad on the side of the football pitch bellowing at his son, and offering to display his manly fighting prowess if the ref chooses to penalise his lad.
I thought that sort of parent was a myth. And then I took Alice to a tiny-tots-friendly theatre school on Saturday mornings when she was three years old. On her first morning, I was sat in the cafe area, and was joined by a jolly, but very intense, mother. Mother engaged me in conversation whether I wanted it or not. She told me how she loved acting, and had done some TV work in the past, and that her little girl had already been signed up to a modelling agency at the age of two. We conversed, her telling me of her various bit-parts and her expectations for her daughter, me with the slowly-dawning feeling I was in the presence of a sociopath.
We were interrupted by a high-pitch scream. Expecting it to be Alice, I prepared myself to take her home, but to my surprise and a certain amount of schaudenfreude, I saw it was the luvvie-mother’s own child, screeching her fucking head off. Ashen-faced, the mother, her dreams dissolving in her child’s tears, got up from the table where we were sitting, muttered a “hope to see you next week” at me, and made a very swift exit. I didn’t see her again. When Alice, six weeks later, decided that drama club wasn’t for her (because, in her own and rather awesome words: “I missed you, Daddy”) we let our membership of the school lapse.
I find those parents baffling and scary. That horrid laser-focus turned on their kids at the expense of love and family harmony. And yet, it’s no worse than the parent who charges into school at any given opportunity to berate the teacher for the most petty of reasons. And we all know parents like that.
Of course I still have the dreams. Alice starts learning the piano in a few weeks. I will be helping her to practice. However, determined as I am to ensure that Alice puts the work in, I am also determined to make sure Alice’s enjoyment is paramount, and that she gets a say in whether or not she continues with lessons. It’s actually a delicate balancing act, and until we start doing this together, I won’t know how much of a prick I’m going to be about it if it all goes wrong. That said, we’re still committed buying a piano, although this has more to do with me wanting a piano in our house than anything else (so that I can play Wichita Lineman to an increasingly unimpressed Sarah).
It would be great if Alice, as a teenager, did as she is currently threatening to do, forms her own band. It’s a family tradition, both Sarah and I have done our stints in bands of various sorts throughout our lives (in fact, my stint has been going for about 25 years now). However, Alice keeps suggesting that I be in the band with her, and frankly I don’t think that’s a great idea.
For one thing, bands are where I go to get away from the family. It’s my equivalent of going to t’pub and drinking loads of beery-beer with my manfriends, away from all that woman stuff. For another, band stories between myself and my bandmates are more ribald then I would like her to hear, and I don’t want her to see me as uncouth, loutish, sexist, bragging, childish, bitchy, drug-addled, sweary, and obnoxious. At least, not yet. Some of my proudest moments stem from being in a band, and also some of my most embarrassing and reprehensible (sometimes all at the same time). And finally, I’m a dictatorial bastard in any band I have a say in. Frank Zappa has nothing on me. I do not discriminate between band member and beloved family, and I do not hold back. This is why Sarah (who is very musical, an excellent singer and performer) and I almost never do music together.
Anyway, the dream goes that Alice walks on stage, in her prettiest dress and a bow in her hair (although if she had her way, she’d be dressed as Hermione Granger, with an additional green beret on her tousled head, and her glasses askew). Anyway, she nervously looks at the judges and the place falls silent. The band strikes up, and in a clear, slightly wavering tone, she sings “What’s it allll aboooouuuutt… Allllllfiiiiiieeeee?”, and the entire place melts. Simon Cowell’s botox slips off his face in astonishment and greed at the cash potential; Amanda Whatserfuckingname gasps, and the remaining tiny bit of her damaged soul escapes through her open mouth. Piers Morgan’s stupid face snarls in defeat and bursts into flame at such innocence and joy, and the last thing we hear from him is “You win this time, Power of Good!“. The entire audience cries so hard they actually shit tears out of their bums; and my little girl, her tiny voice spiralling into the rafters, finishes her song.
Deafening applause. Three people are reported to have exploded with happiness. The nation is entranced. The judges decide on the spot that the search for the nations’ newest star is pretty much a done deal, that tonight’s show was essentially the final, and that Alice Phnut has won everything. As there is little point doing such a Saturday Night TV Programme anymore, now that the perfect talent has been found, the show is cancelled for all eternity. The nation erupts into a Golden Age of unfettered joy that lasts for decades. The countries of the world agree to end all war, put all this religion nonsense behind us, and thus humankind is saved. I turn to Sarah, and she clasps her proud hands to her magnificent and shapely bosom, and she tells me I was right to insist on music lessons in the first place, and that we should leave for a second, and this time much more filthy, honeymoon that very instant.
And then Alice turns to the audience and says, “And now I’d like to do a song I wrote in the car on the way over. It’s called Bums Poo, Willies Wee“. She then sings a tuneless 13-minute song all about bodily functions, listing all the different types of poo from the Bristol Stool Chart, and their different smells, and a big chorus about wee.
*sobs* That’s my girl. That’s my girl up there, you know!!