Hannah McGill: Teletubbies delight or drive to distraction

Teletubbies Tinky-winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are returning to grace our TV screens. Picture: BBC
Teletubbies Tinky-winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are returning to grace our TV screens. Picture: BBC
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NEXT week will mark the return to our small screens of Teletubbies, the most recent children’s television programme to spread its fame throughout the generations, at least as long as people keep pretending that Doctor Who is for grown-ups.

I was a student when Teletubbies first aired, and although my friends and I were disdainful of it (for we were that one thing more annoying than studenty students: students who think they are above all things studenty), I do recall the cult. One friend who came from Kirriemuir used to particularly enjoy telling people that the abnormally large rabbits used on the show were bred in his home town. (This is true; I’ve just checked.)

These days, of course, students have social media to fill the yawning displacement-activity gap once occupied by kids’ TV, and so the programmes forming the minds of our youngest citizens exist in a bubble, seen only by children and their addled parents. If you have small children, and you allow television into their lives, you will know that such programming can be a lifesaving giver of calm and distraction, offering the opportunity to prepare food, maintain basic personal hygiene, or just step outside for a bit of a cry. It can also, however, snarl up the cogs of your brain, filling up all the space that used to be occupied by important stuff like where your shoes are and what you think about fracking.

Many’s the parent who has been driven to madness not by the incessant demands of their offspring, but by the theme song from Swashbuckle playing on a constant loop inside their head. Or plunged into a spiral of despair not by the monotony of the daily routine, but by the very existence of the Tweenies – hideous, galumphing, man-sized child-puppets whose remit is to scream nursery rhymes at you and make you want to die.

As a trade-off to these poor parents, kids’ TV does offer up a couple of delightfully-crafted programmes full of gorgeous images and dry hipster wit (Sarah and Duck; Hey Duggee), about which small children do not care at all, being indifferent to gorgeous images and dry hipster wit and preferring to see people fart and fall off things.

There’s also the odd illicit sex symbol, to remind parents of when they used to have time for a libido. “She makes my twirly woo,” a dad of my acquaintance once confessed of a CBeebies anchorwoman (a joke which is only comprehensible if you know that the Twirly Woos are a primary-coloured family of beakless birds who live on a boat and come ashore to meddle in the affairs of men).

For those of us currently experiencing the intellectual twilight that is pre-school parenting, the Teletubbies are more than just the reboot of a 90s pop culture. They possess the potential to soothe our souls, or compound our miseries. Let’s hope it’s the former, because I think I last saw the remote some time in 2012.

Street canvassers hack me off

I LIKE to think I’m a broadly tolerant human, if only because cynicism renders me indifferent to a lot of the stuff about which other people get worked up. One thing that reliably brings out my inner Victor Meldrew, however, is being approached on the street by salespeople. I HATE THIS. Life is so fraught with interruption and distraction and demands for money, couldn’t a measure of sanctity be attached to walking along the street minding one’s own business? Possibly having a bad day; possibly just having a bit of quiet time?

It used to be largely charities that employed people to assail passers-by, in which scenario my irritability did battle with my guilty social conscience. Now that mobile phone and credit card companies do it, however, curmudgeonliness gets free rein. “Who’s your internet service provider, my love?” shouted a TalkTalk rep at me recently as I passed the Omni Centre in Edinburgh. My love! If there’s one thing more annoying than fake friendliness in the pursuit of money, it’s fake affection. “None of your BUSINESS,” I witlessly retorted. I should, of course, have said, “Why don’t you ask a 15-year-old hacker to find out for you?” – but you only ever think of these things afterwards, don’t you?

Scotland’s best reads?

GOOD times for Scottish books, with Aberdeen-born Kerry Hudson taking home France’s prestigious Prix Femina for her excellent novel Thirst. Meanwhile, a new list from the Scottish Book Trust has proposed the five most influential Scottish books of all time: the King James Bible; The Complete Sherlock Holmes; the Waverley novels; Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature; and the Harry Potter series. If claiming a translation of the Bible as Scottish is possibly tenuous, the list emphasises the sheer reach of Scottish thought, expertise and ideas. But what would be your No 6? Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, or Rankin’s Rebus? Treasure Island or Trainspotting? «