Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Wednesday 27th December 2017

IT was the sort of look that says “you’ve finally lost it, gone gaga, about to spend your remaining days dribbling in front of children’s TV programs”.

A friend asked if I’d been busy. Been trying to get in touch with you all day, she remarked. “Ah, yes I was busy watching half a dozen episodes of Peppa Pig, back to back,” I responded.

Unless it’s something shared with the grandchildren, I don’t imagine the average Herald reader enjoys familiarity with the day to day activities of Peppa and her multitudinous family and friends.

For the uninitiated, it’s an animated cartoon supposedly aimed at pre-school children, a TV series originally aired in 2004 which made a comeback in 2015 with a series of five-minute episodes featuring the anthropomorphic female pig and her associates.

The characters wear clothes, drive cars and live in houses, and Peppa and her mum and dad and brother George snort quite a lot. Oddly the rabbits in the series still reside in burrows, albeit furnished.

Of late the world of Peppa Pig has attracted notice far beyond the scope of your average three-year-old and his or her infinitely patient granddad. No less an authority than the General Medical Council stated that the program’s general practitioner, Dr. Brown Bear, was raising the expectations of the British public about the services a family GP can deliver.

Remember when family doctors actually made home visits and you had no trouble getting a surgery appointment? I’m actually named after our family doctor. Thomas, my middle name, was Dr. Kirkpatrick’s first name. When I was born — at home — my mother struggled to come up with a suitable name. My dad suggested Herbert after his late brother. No way, said mum. The doctor was asked for his opinion. “Ross, a grand Scottish name,” he said. So Ross it was.

Dr. Brown Bear has a lot of Dr. Kirkpatrick about his persona. First sign of a porcine sniffle and he’s round with his bag of tricks and some medicine which invariably works the oracle. I’m not sure I would welcome a big brown bear’s bedside manner if I was unwell, but kids can suspend belief pretty well I find when it comes to television.

Dr. Catherine Bell, herself a GP, wrote an article in the latest edition of the BMJ, suggesting that Dr. Brown Bear’s assiduous attention to his patients “encourages inappropriate use of primary care services” at a time when general practice is under severe pressure and a chronic shortage of GPs means waiting times are rising.

The doctor, whose article was penned in a light-hearted vein, nevertheless had an important point to make. She fell short of holding Dr. Brown Bear personally responsible for the ills of primary medical care, but the publicity her words subsequently received in the newspapers was indicative of the influence an apparently simple kids’ TV cartoon program might possess in disseminating ideas.

I don’t suppose pre-school children are too concerned about the problems of the NHS and general practice in England, but those five-minute bursts of unchallenging entertainment might just be packing a more effective subliminal message than we grown-ups think.

For my sins I’ve been doing a bit of research into Peppa Pig and this is not the first time there’s been a morality message hidden within its apparently harmless tales of trips to the museum, the swimming pool and the playground.

A while back it was spotted that the characters weren’t wearing seat belts when riding in cars. After several complaints it was announced that, in future animations, Peppa and pals would belt up. Cycle helmets were also added and Peppa Pig has not escaped the attentions of the politicians, either. One former government minister — a Liberal at the time of the coalition — called for the inclusion of gay characters to promote inclusion.

It’s also been claimed that gender politics take another form in the program and that it’s womenfolk in this porcine saga who are really smart while daddy pig is seen as a rather hapless individual who gets things wrong.

And all this just because, on an idle morning and in the interests of research for the column, I spent an hour delving into the weird world of Peppa Pig. To think I used to find the Teletubbies strange, that Tinky-Winky and his handbag, yet here I was watching five quick fire tales that felt like Twitter for TV, seeking out subliminal messages everywhere.

Peppa is already worrying the medical profession, getting MPs hot under the collar about gender issues, stressing family relationships and analysing male role models, oh and getting mentioned on Have I Got News For You. Whatever next? What does she think about Brexit? And there was me starting off thinking it was just a cartoon for kids. If you’ve got young kids, or you are a grandparent, or you’ve got them Peppa Pig for Christmas, you’d better get on message and fast, that’s all I’m saying. Snort, snort.

IT’S SNOW JOKE

ALTHOUGH I’m not a regular follower of the wit and wisdom that appears on Twitter, sometimes a posting just says it all.

Take the tweeter with an account for Cumbria Weather who, commenting on the recent chaos that a single day’s snowfall caused for our friends down south, put it succinctly in these terms: “Weather warning: Southerners are urged not to travel unless absolutely necessary. Northerners, you will need your big coat.”

On the same theme, another Twitter messager asked how we can hope for our children to be world-beaters … “when their teachers can’t brave a bit of snow?”

Snowflakes cause chaos for the snowflake generation, one might say.

FACT AND FICTION MERGE

I WAS explaining W1A, one of my most favourite TV programs of 2017, to a friend who had never watched the brilliant self-parody of managerial life at the BBC. All those meetings that go nowhere, all those job titles that mean nothing. “But it all sounds rather far-fetched,” was the reply.

The Beeb has just appointed its former on-line editor to the role of “Children’s head of curation and discovery”. Life inside the BBC imitates the comedy series. Exactly. Very strong.

NATIVITY PLAY RULES

A READER sends me a printout of a weighty document which was presented to parents at a pre-Christmas Nativity play, detailing all the dos and don’ts and legalities of taking pictures of the children. Really a long list of don’ts. It’s a wonder they don’t strip search mums and dads before they leave the school hall just in case they are carrying an illicit snap of young Johnnie making his stage bow as third sheep from the left, or Angela, as Mary, wearing that old tea towel.

It’s a long time since my kids appeared in Nativity plays. I don’t remember any of this nonsense about banning photos. There was no Internet in those days, but it really does seem overkill. It’s like spreading fear that there’s a paedophile lurking round every corner. We’ve experienced issues with some schools reticent to allow pictures for newspapers and yet I’ve never come across an example of a paedophile rushing out to spend a quid on a copy of the local rag to further his nefarious intentions.

It makes me shudder at times, not in fear of a proud mother posting a picture on her laptop, but of the kind of frightened of its own shadow world we appear to be bequeathing to the next generation.

A “HAPPY” CHRISTMAS

I WISH all readers a Happy Christmas, although I sometimes wonder why some folk have Christmas at all, such is the stress it occasions.

My weekend paper printed a two page spread — “How to get through Christmas” — with advice from relationship counsellors, psychologists and GPs. It covered every eventuality, from what do with elderly relatives to managing the in-laws, relationship problems and loneliness.

Obviously it’s a special time for those with Christian beliefs, and it’s great with young kids. But when I listen to all the moaning and groaning about shopping, the dinner, the rotten telly, the inevitable fall outs with the family and the sadness of those who are alone at the festive season, I think we’ve made so much of an issue of having a “merry” Christmas that anything which falls even a fraction short is turned into a disaster of unmitigated proportions.

Why do we choose this way when we know madness lies somewhere between the oven and the Queen’s Christmas message?