CBeebies has a wealth of entertainment for the bleary-eyed parent; foremost among its output is the bizarre and nearly-disturbing Grandpa In My Pocket, starring a former Likely Lad...
When you have children many things begin to change in your life. The hair goes grey, sleep becomes a friend you merely see occasionally, but you hear from others that it is doing well, and your weekend is now just another two days in seven. Whereas before you would spend every Saturday morning in bed until at least eleven o’clock, you are now checking your watch, noticing that it is only half past ten and feeling like you have been up since the beginning of time itself.
Obviously there are pros to being a parent too. One of the pros is definitely having prolonged exposure to Children’s TV. CBeebies has some of the best and most bizarre programmes out there. One that immediately caught my eye and has affected me greatly is Grandpa in my Pocket.
A more disturbing and unprofitable fifteen minutes you are unlikely to find. Any programme in which James Bolam spends the majority of the running time smiling and giving thumbs ups and high fives like a happy idiot at a jam sale, can only serve to unnerve you psychologically. Bolam to me is the very-modern-model of a miserable bastard. His weathered, curmudgeonly face is a constant leveller and reminds you that life is a load of old shit after all and that puppies are boring and the sunshine is annoying. Give me a wet weekend in Scarborough anytime, eh James?
However prolonged exposure to Bolam running around the place grinning like a pimp at a Japanese business convention seems rather Lynchian. This is nightmare stuff. You have seen Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, but he is nothing compared to James Bolam smiling and giving you the thumbs up. Haunting visuals I trust you agree.
The plot of Grandpa in my Pocket is fairly complex. Grandpa (James Bolam) has a “shrinking cap” that allows him to shrink to the size of a mouse and bestows him with magical powers. He is able to drive a toy car (as if it had an engine), fly a toy plane or fly a plastic seagull. Invariably Grandpa does this to try and help, but usually he just creates more problems. Luckily his grandson (Jason Mason) is able to bail him out of trouble and at the end Grandpa has the brass balls to proclaim that they used “teamwork” to save the day, which would be like me having my appendix out and then proclaiming to the doctor that performed the operation that it was all “teamwork” and asking for a high five.
I learnt fairly early on to take everything Jason says with a pinch of salt.
The programme is based in a seaside town called Sunnysands. “Why is it called Sunnysands?” you may ask yourself. Well it’s called “Sunnysands” because it’s always sunny and by the sea. Don’t worry if you ever forget why it’s called that, Jason will tell us in every episode and make wild boasts such as, “you can see the lighthouse from my bedroom window,” and that Miss Smiley’s cafe in town, “makes the best ice-cream sundaes in the world”. I would like to see what evidence Jason is presenting to back such a claim. I learnt fairly early on to take everything Jason says with a pinch of salt.
You do have to feel sorry for Jason though. His Grandpa is clearly out of control, and on some shrinking “missions” is compelled to remove his clothes, for which Jason will of course cover up and not tell his parents. This boy certainly has the world on his shoulders. I would get depressed if my Grandpa was able to shrink and run around in the nude and expect me to keep his frankly bizarre behaviour secret. Sometimes a Grandpa can go too far.
There are many colourful characters in Sunnysands. As well as Jason’s happy-clappy sister and parents (who seem to be constantly high on an advanced form of crack), there is Mr Whoops, who runs the local toy shop. Mr Whoops is accident prone and a borderline manic depressive. Each time Mr Whoops does anything, he either falls over or breaks something. It is as if he has angered a particularly malevolent gypsy and is living a cursed existence. I can imagine one day Mr Whoops being found at the back of the toy shop slumped over a double barrelled shot gun with the back of his head missing.
The aforementioned Miss Smiley runs the local cafe and makes the best food in the world (apparently). She is called Miss Smiley because she is always smiling – again, not because it’s her name or anything. Mr Liker Biker is another town oddity. He is called that (again, not because it’s his name) because he says, “oooh – I like a bike with a saddle”. I feel they missed a trick here. Why not make someone with a name “Mr Liker Biker” Italian? He would then be able to say, “Oooh – I lika this bika”. If anyone from the programme is reading this, you owe me ten quid.
I can imagine Loretta and Swampy up a tree flicking V signs at him while he stood in the woods in a high viz jacket and hard-hat, shaking his head and nodding a few policemen armed with batons towards them.
Great Aunt Loretta is one of the enemies of the piece. She dresses like a lesbian traveller from the early 1990s – all knitted cardigans, spiky dyed hair and Doctor Martin boots, but is not nearly as progressive in her thinking. Great Aunt Loretta is basically out to ruin Grandpa’s fun. The reasons why Grandpa and his own sister do not get on are unclear. Perhaps Grandpa was once a road planner before he retired? I can imagine Loretta and Swampy up a tree flicking V signs at him while he stood in the woods in a high viz jacket and hard-hat, shaking his head and nodding a few policemen armed with batons towards them. After all, this road needs to be built. Another disturbing element is the fact that Great Aunt Loretta (Susan Jameson) is in fact married to James Bolam in real life. Upon learning this fact my mind was figuratively blown. Just how could Grandpa be married to his own sister? What kind of a lesson is this for our children? Won’t someone think of the children?
Jason’s main enemy is the boy next door “Troy”. Troy is a massive arsehole who is spoilt and always gets his own way. This makes Jason’s life a misery as Troy will always try to steal his things. Rather than strangling him and pinning the murder on Mr Liker Biker, Grandpa will always attempt to shrink and teach Troy some manners by disguising himself as a robot, a Scotsman or a sandcastle-based Action Man. Once in this disguise Grandpa will talk to Troy and make him think the toy has come to life. Once Troy is under his spell Grandpa will attempt to talk Troy into being polite (and who knows what else when the cameras aren’t running). While this approach seems to work in the short term, I can’t imagine it being a sensible long term plan, unless of course you are planning to drive Troy insane.
The real problem with Grandpa in my Pocket is that I find myself constantly giggling and thinking of the excellent Viz cartoon, “Mickey’s Miniature Grandpa”. The only difference being that Mickey’s grandpa was in fact unable to shrink, but thought he could.
So if you are ever feeling brave and the thought of James Bolam smiling, high fiving and sleeping with his own sister sounds like something you would like, why not give Grandpa in my Pocket a try?
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