On the Queen’s Knickers.

The Queen’s Knickers is an excellent name for a play, or, in fact, a book (by Nicholas Allan), which is where it all started originally. You know that it is an excellent name, because when you told the Star that’s what he was going to the theatre to see, he repeated it a few times to himself and went off to translate it for Babushka. And then every now and again would pop up out of the blue with the name, having presumably found something else to amuse himself with about it.

The Queen’s Knickers is actually part of the Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre this half term. You were offered free tickets for it, which you were delighted to accept. The Southbank Centre is, after all, fabulous even when you aren’t going inside. It looks like a multi-storey car park, all grey concrete and levels, but it’s amazing how much fun can be had going up and down the steps to see what’s round this or that corner, playing on the street furniture and the concrete, astrograssed and whitewashed play equipment, watching the skateboarders down by the river and so on, and that’s when the place isn’t swarming with under tens. You always get a bit lost when you go there, and you always come across something that’s worth the ten extra minutes trying to figure out which way Waterloo is. They outdid themselves during the Olympics, with an entire beach full of coloured sand down by the Thames. But even now you were quite convinced that the Star wouldn’t want to disappear inside to see something as tame as a play.

Imagine Festival

You needn’t have worried. That name sucked him in.

The Queen’s Knickers is a two-woman play about the national crisis that occurs when the Queen’s entire collection of specially designed underwear goes missing. There is much business with pants large and small, frilly and plain, patterned, multicoloured and the frankly weird. There are songs (about knickers). There is dancing (with knickers). There is dressing up (in knickers). There are quick changes and a vast array of characters. There is an amusing riff on Chinese whispers, which even made B crack a smile, and which the Star was quoting on the way home. There are puppets, there is audience interaction, there are puns, and best of all there is a special appearance from a very important personage indeed (go on, guess who), which the Star was very impressed by. There is a message, and one which not only justifies what could otherwise be seen as a truly impressive amount of genuflecting towards the monarchy, but which is also a slightly more interesting insight into the human condition than you usually get in improving entertainments aimed at kids (or perhaps it is just one you approve of).  And for the four year olds, who don’t care about that, there is more risqué knicker action to finish off with.

Some of the less exciting knickers.

Some of the less exciting knickers.

There was also more concrete inside the auditorium. You took a photo.

I love concrete.

I love concrete.

Anyway. It was fun. The Star, who was decidedly squirmy before you started, got into the story and his wiggling became shifts to get a better view. And when it was over you asked him if he liked it.

‘It was so funny my head nearly fell off,’ he said.

This, you feel, is about as high praise as any play is going to get.

You didn’t get to many of the other events at the Festival because you and B were distracted by the Real Food Market. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. However, as they have some live baby animals for the children to pet there, this was not a problem for the animal obsessed Star, who spent a happy half hour trying to feed straw to the lambs, piglets and calves.

Good. Now you have an excuse to go back later in the week.

Disclaimer: So I didn’t get paid for this, but I did get complementary tickets to the play from the Southbank Centre.


On doggeral.

The Star didn’t show much interest in books at first.

That would have required lieing or sitting still for more than thirty seconds.

When he achieved the independence dragging himself around on his tummy gave him, he was too interested in investigating the dust build-ups on obscure parts of your furniture to bother with something Mama didn’t scream ‘No!’ at whenever he got close.

You would like to say that it was your persistence in dragging the Star off to the library every week that finally paid off, but you know the Star just went there on the off chance that he could make a break for the shelves and pull all the books onto the floor while all the other under fives were singing ‘… with a baa baa here…’.

In fact, the Star got hooked on books because your Mother in Law brought over a whole suitcase full of very brightly coloured, very ethnic volumes and spent hours pinning the Star down and pointing out the rabbits! The cows! The snow! The wolves! The silver birch trees! The bears! The geese! The porridge! The foxes! The squirrels! The cute red-headed children! The roosters! The samovars! The babushkas cooking! The dedushkas relaxing on the top of  the stove! The complete absence of any mother or father figures!

The Star’s repertoire of animal noises also came on apace, but he had a distinct preference for books which had a more encyclopedic bent over story books.

You faced a future of  hours spent on the sofa pointing out a red car, a blue car, a yellow car with four doors, a green car with four doors and a roof rack, a white car, a black van, a grey Renault Megane Sport Tourer with

  • Air Conditioning
  • 4x 15W RDS radio CD
  • Height adjustable driver’s seat
  • Electric front and rear windows
  • Centre console with armrest
  • Longitudinal roof bars
  • 17″ ‘Sari’ alloy wheels
  • Parking proximity sensors – rear
  • Front fog lights
  • Multi-functional Tunepoint
  • Arkamys 3D Sound 4 x 30W RDS radio CD with Bluetooth
  • Brushed aluminium effect door mirrors

But then the Star discovered narrative. It seemed to help a lot that you got bored with the board books and boldly went for the more complex floppies. Of course, this means that when you use them as an incentive for keeping the Star at the table and eating, it is much harder to hose them down before you take them back to the library, but then you do pay large amounts in fines on your own account every year, so you figure that evens things out.

Unfortunately, as well as actual stories, the Star has an unfortunate liking for rhymes. Unfortunate because so many of the ones written for children are truly awful.

You have developed a particular hatred for anything written by Julia Donaldson, which is the most unfortunate thing of all as the Star thinks she is so good that you have accidentally and extremely reluctantly memorised the whole of Stick Man.

The poetry rolling around in your brain now consists of part of Romeo’s balcony speech, A Broken Appointment by Thomas Hardy, snatches of John Donne and…

Stick Man lived in the family tree with his stick lady love and his stick children three. One day he woke early and went for a jog. Stick Man, oh Stick Man, beware of the dog!*

This is not as bad as The Snail and the Whale which is a million stanzas all dedicated to finding every conceivable rhyme for ‘snail’ Or possibly ‘whale’. But your real ire is reserved for this bit:

Here are the children running from school, fetching the fireman, digging a pool, squirting and spraying to keep the whale cool.

Now as far as wordsmithery goes, it’s got a nice driving but slightly choppy rhythm you actually approve of. But the accompanying pictures show quite clearly that while the children do the running, the fetching and some of the digging, it’s the firemen who are doing the squirting and spraying and this utter mangling of grammar drags fingernails scraping across the chalkboard of your soul every time you get to it. And that’s really what annoys you, because in every book of hers you come across there’s something, one stanza that is so sloppy it makes you cross. You appreciate it isn’t Shakespeare, it’s just children’s light literature, but really. Could she not have spent another day or two trying to nail the best possible, grammatically correct, phrasing?

Russian children, on the other hand, get Pushkin. Who, in fact, is the Russian equivalent of Shakespeare, even down to a shared delight in the odd filthy couplet.

Specifically, the Star gets the prologue to Ruslan and Ludmilla an epic fairy tale which both Babushka and Papa learned off  by heart when they were kids, with the Star now hot on their heels. He joins in key words already.

You have fallen back on Roald Dahl and his Revolting Rhymes. Which you enjoy, but which suffer from having been written at a time when marketing was presumably not designed to squeeze every last kopeck out of this cash cow and therefore crams six poems into one volume, with the sparing use of only one illustration per story. This, sadly, does not hold the Star’s attention as you might like and somehow it isn’t quite something you feel like memorising to spout on the hoof.

But you are coming to the conclusion that the only way to keep up with the Jonsikovs is to find some great works of rhyming genius to declaim. So any suggestions of poems that are worth the effort and suitable for small people would be extremely welcome.

Preferably fairly short ones though.

*Stick Man, incidently, looks like a stick. In fact you would go so far as to say he is a stick, except with (stick-like) arms, legs and consciousness.  He spends the entire book getting mistaken for a stick, and being outraged about it. You find this surprise very very irritating.

On the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Victoria and Albert Museum doesn’t expect many visits from the Star.

I’m not sure why this is true, given that its sumptuous cafe – there are glittering chandeliers, high ceilings, domes, columns, impressive interior tiles on the walls and the floors and the ceiling, as well as stained glass windows – was full of families with young children yesterday.

But having sculptures of interestingly textured stone at floor height is an invitation to disaster.

Of course you are now so very into your toddler game that, as you saw the Star heading delightedly for a particularly inviting looking East Asian dragon, you reasoned that, as they had put these statues out on display within easy touching distance of all and two-year olds, they must expect, nay, perhaps encourage, a bit of tactile investigation. And having run a mental check on how sticky he was likely to be, you let him get on with it.

But as the Star gave the priceless piece of work a few energetic pats, out of the corner of your eye you saw two museum workers give identical jerks of involuntary horror, came to your senses and dragged your boy away. And thereafter spent an energetic, although by and large succesful, half hour chasing the Star through the galleries, heading him off whenever he looked like he was getting too close to something irreplaceable.

You did have a slightly anxious moment when the Star started playing peekaboo around the bases of some busts. You were leisurely strolling towards him, having ascertained that none of the sculptures were in reaching height, when you distinctly saw George Wyndham* wobble. Surprisingly flimsy, those plinths.

George Wyndham

George Wyndham, before his nose was mysteriously broken off.

With nightmarish visions of a Rodin masterpiece in pieces at your feet, you sprinted the last few feet and attempted to grab your son.

Who thought this was great fun and commenced playing hard to get.

The bust wobbled again, and I swear time stopped for a second or two.

However, the Star was retrieved without further incident in the end and escorted from the building, tucked firmly under one arm.

You will be going again, but perhaps you will stick to the collections behind glass.

The problem with that is just as your heart swells with pride as the Star lets our a howl of obvious delight and sprints towards a display case is what he is actually interested in is the little placard describing what’s on show. And the one in the case next to that. And the one next to that.

That Star, in fact, remained distinctly underwhelmed by the art and design masterworks, being far more interested in the fire extinguishers, the way his voice echoed when he shrieked, the marble steps in the Raphael gallery, the slipperiness of the floor and the pull out rope barrier dispensers on the walls.


*Although it could have been Honore de Balzac. Adrenaline surges really interfere with your ability to read plaques.

On giant shagging bunny rabbits.

You really should have been paying more attention, but when someone said, ‘Proms‘, you said ‘How high?’ without really enquiring too much further into the matter.

You did manage to glean that it was a Purcell concert, but you failed even to find out what was being played.

Which was probably a good thing. You have recently decided that you don’t go to enough classical concerts to waste one by repeating yourself too often and as it turned out you’d already seen this particular piece at at the Proms.

You took note of the start time. 6.30pm. This seemed a little early, but almost as if to prove your brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, you made nothing of this, not even when your more clued up companion pointed out that you weren’t going to be going home until gone ten. This did, however, seem to explain why, sold out though the performance was, your fellow promenaders were really rather thin on the ground.

Even the words ‘semi-staged’ didn’t clue you in. You had, by this point, worked out you were attending an opera, and so you just assumed you were getting some costumes and a bit of hand waving. Opera isn’t much more energetic plotwise than that anyway in your opinion.

It came as a bit of a shock, then, when, after an introductory parp from the orchestra, what the bunch of people standing behind them launched into was not anything to do with music but something which sounded suspiciously like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And finally you realised this was the full version of Purcell’s Fairy Queen. With the bastardised Shakespeare script, but minus the scenery and some of the bigger props.

The Fairy Queen is the best kind of opera. The singing bits are almost entirely overshadowed by the talking bits. 

There was also a lot of dancing. Which was interesting. Obviously this production had decided to use up its equal opportunities budget all in one go and so had employed all the male dancers who are too short to get parts in a conventional company, but have the advantage of being easy to lift for the women who are too tall to get parts in a conventional company. Good though.

 As for the play, having got most of the plot out of the way in the first half, the singing did rather take over in the second. It also rapidly lost any tenuous connection to the storyline. I mean the entire final act is supposed to be a Chinese extravaganza for no better reason, you assume, than it was even more exotic and had the potential to really send the staging budget through the roof, which you rather think was the sort of thing that constituted a good night out back in Purcell’s day. The costumes! The slitty eyes! The fantastical mechanical gadgets powering Phoebus’ chariot and the flying swans!

But it wasn’t a Chinese extravaganza in this modern production. That wouldn’t be very PC. Of course, you aren’t sure how receptive Purcell’s audience would have been to them relocating the whole scene to the garden of Eden and having innocent Eve turning into a gum chewing burbury wearing mobile phone toting Essex girl slut. But then the right thinking churchmen of the time would probably largely approve such an interpretation of the ur-woman figure.

If there were any right thinking churchmen left after the overthrow of the Puritans and the Restoration of Charles II.

Anyway, safe to say that in the cut price Proms version of the Glyndebourne production of The Fairy Queen they didn’t just play it for laughs, they milked it for vulgarity. Hopefully, Charles II would have approved of that, at least.

You don’t know whether it’s something about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or something about you that this meant the play part made a lot more sense than usual.

Certainly the rude mechanicals fitted in a lot better, although you did have another revelation about them. Shakespeare, you decided, had obviously spent a few too many rehearsals as the resident writer for the King’s Men being driven batshit by primadonnas trying to get all the best bits for themselves and insisting he add in nonsensical prologues.

Still, no matter how hard the actors, singers and dancers tried to shoehorn the maximum amount of knowingness into every given lyric, and believe me they tried hard, you just cannot imagine anyone ever thinking that a harpsichord could sound lewd.

But when ten giant pink bunnies bounded onto stage and proceeded to engage each other in energetic fucking motions in as many highly athletic positions as the music of the Haymakers’ Dance gave them time for you can’t say that you were actually displeased.

You really do get a bang for your buck at the Proms.

On Eurovision 2009.

About halfway through the results marathon for the Eurovision contest, Graham Norton, the UK’s new host for the event after Terry Wogan flounced off the show in disgust at the way that in 2008 the UK had come bottom again whilst the Eastern Europeans (and Finland) were having a run of good luck, mistily declared that this year, at least, political voting was dead, and people were just voting for the songs they liked.

The fact that Cyprus, as ever, voted for Greece, the Scandies voted for each other again, Ukraine gave another 12 points to Russia, Poland shunned Turkey, and nobody voted for Germany or France seemed to pass him by.

But then this year the UK came 5th instead of the more customary last.

Of course, our traditionally poor showing clearly had nothing at all to do with the fact that instead of sending someone famous or rapidly becoming so after heavy exposure on all the relevant airwaves of their own and all the neighbouring countries, with a song which someone had clearly taken some effort over, and preferably a few well known backing ice skaters thrown in for free, Britain would invariably turn up having studiously ignored the existance of Europe let alone Eurovision for the entirity of the previous year with either a complete unknown, someone who managed to sing off key for half the performance, a tongue in cheek song so bad it was not funny, or, mostly, all three.

Funnily enough, this year, the year we came 5th, Britain not only got Andrew Lloyd Webber to write the ditty but also to appear in the stage with the singer who, whilst still a complete nobody, was at least someone who could actually carry a tune. Quite well.

Shame that tune was all introduction and no resolution (and a bit of a dirge to boot). ‘It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here! It’s my time! I’m here! I’ve earned the right to be here!’

Ordinarily you are all for repetition in Eurovision tunes. But after the fifty first chorus with no discernable verse in sight you were starting to get a bit frustrated. You wanted to know what she might be considering doing now she was there, in her time, after having earned the right to be there.

More importantly, though, the British team had actually bothered to do some promotion beforehand. They had toured Eastern Europe. They had braved the Balkans. They had even touched base in Malta. People had heard the song in advance. They had admired the singing voice of the vocalist. They knew Andrew Lloyd Webber was coming. They had been told who he was.

What the UK got this year, then, was a pat on the head for finally agreeing to play the game like a good girl rather than stand in the corner and sulk because no one was letting her just win.

Although, damn, but the Norwegian entry was a good one. Perhaps people were simply bowled over by its sheer brilliance.

On the other hand, perhaps it is a good thing that Mr Norton didn’t seem to have twigged to the fact that the Norwegian singer is, originally, a Russian speaking Belarussian.

You are not sure you could have stomached another tantrum.

On bathtime gurgles.

So as well as sellotape and oneof the six rattley shapes that fit into the shape sorter, the other thing that makes the Star giggle is when you sing to the him after his bath.

Not just any song. You and B have been doing spirited renditions of the Russian version of the smash hit toddler version of the Fast Food Song.

The toddler version is ‘A big red bus, a big red bus, miniminiminimini, big red bus. A big red bus, a big red bus, miniminiminimini, big red bus. Ferrari, Ferrari, miniminiminimini, big red bus. Ferrari, Ferrari, miniminiminimini, big red bus’.

The Russian version goes ‘Chorni khleb, chorni khleb, kasha kasha kasha kasha, chorni khleb. Chorni khleb, chorni khleb, kasha kasha kasha kasha, chorni khleb. Sosiski, sosiski, kasha kasha kasha kasha, chorni khleb. Sosiski, sosiski, kasha kasha kasha kasha, chorni khleb’ (Black bread, black bread, buckwheat cereal, buckwheat cereal, buckwheat cereal, buckwheat cereal, buckwheat cereal, black bread. Frankfurter sausages, frankfurter sausages, etc).

Yes, there are actions too. For both ditties.

This, however, doesn’t make the Star laugh. Mostly he lies there looking faintly horrified. He actually cries if you try to sing the Fast Food Song itself.

What makes the Star laugh is you chanting ‘I love my Mmmmmmmmmummy!’ over and over again.

Although he will occassionally giggle if you substitute ‘Ddddddddady’.

On the Royal Academy.

You are finding that certain things strike you in an entirely, and usually unanticipated light, now you have a child in tow.

Take the early darkening evenings, for example. You used to quite enjoy this. Coming home in the dark, twinkly lights, a chill in the air. It all gave you an excuse to eat hearty food and curl up under a blanket with your slipper socks on, a mug of tea at your elbow and a good book clamped firmly in your hand. Even if you don’t have a roaring fire to edge slowly away from.

You never noticed when it actually got dark either. Four, five. Doesn’t really matter when you rarely left before six.

Now, however, you are genuinely put out, not to say a little shocked to discover that even if you and the Star make it out by 3pm you’ve missed the best of the (quite impressive lately) sunshine, and dusk will be descending any minute. This is all wrong, particularly as your optimal routine calls for a walk between 3 and 4.30pm.

God forbid the facts of life should interfere with your routine.

You also failed to visualise what certain aspects of taking the Star along to an exhibition of Byzantium treasures at the Royal Academy would entail.

Not everything was a surprise. You are now totally familiar with the idea that for any trip out with the Star you need to start preparing well in advance. You have to check that the changing bag is well stocked. You need to make sure he’s slept fairly recently. You need to leave plenty of time to feed him before you go out. You need to remember to change him before you put his outside clothes on. You need to actually put his outside clothes on. Then you must dance around to calm him down after that a bit before pouring him into his bear suit. Then you need to take that off while you get dressed and then put it back on again, find the sling, put it on, add your coat, wrestle the Star into the sling, put his hat on and jiggle up and down in front of the mirror to stop him screaming, realise you left the keys upstairs, find the keys, unlock the door and make a break for the street.

And that’s just a regular trip. This time you also had to take bottle making accouterments as well.

However, all of that went quite well for once. The Star didn’t scream on public transport, despite your having to get two buses and you were early enough that you had time to find the cafe strip off all your outer wear, make up the Star’s bottle and be relaxing with a cup of tea for you and your Mother in Law and a cup of hot water for the Star’s bottle to stand in when your Mother and her friend arrived.

The Star, once fed, enjoyed being fussed over by your Mother, her friend, your Mother in Law and every single female patron of the gallery you met in the lobby. Who greeted his broad ‘people, bright lights, bustle, shiny Christmas decorations, wayhay’ smile with positive cries of delight and who all said how wonderful it was that you were introducing him to culture early.

That was before you stepped into the dim hushed interior of the exhibition rooms proper and the Star, now thoroughly overstimulated, let out a squeal of excitement.

Excellent acoustics, this particular antechamber, you thought. That sound really carried.

Luckily, you were carrying the complementary leaflet the entrance guard had thrust into your hand on the way in. The Star soon busied himself with holding it, crinkling it, scrunching it and putting it in his… oh no you don’t, son. Here look at this big plate. This big silver plate. Look Star, shiny shiny.

The Star, usually so interested in the contents of your china cabinet at home was uninterested in jewel encrusted communion plates. Still, you still had the bit of paper, so that was alright.

For three of the eight rooms, whereupon, the Star, concerned that there was no noise and no light and no one telling him how cute he was decided to do some energetic commentary to compensate.

It was at this point that you realised that you had never before really noticed how quiet and how dark exhibitions of old precious things are, or how diffficult they are to escape from. Particularly when you have to track down the rest of your party first to let them know you are abandoning ship. 

Still, you managed to get out eventually, rescued you coat, wrapped the Star firmly back up in his snowsuit, accepted more compliments about how wonderful it was that… and  made it onto the street. Where the Star promptly went to sleep.

Happy and, probably, replete.

Because despite the fact that today was scheduled as the First Day of Weaning, and in the face of your carefully chosen packet of organic baby rice, judging by the condition of the edges of your complimentary leaflet, the Star’s first meal seems after all to have been a (small) bit of chemical encrusted paper ingested at some point during your distracted dash for the exit.