It’s too early for this…

‘Daddy, daddy, I can see willies!’

What?

‘Outside, there are two men with willies!’

I leapt out of bed and ran to my daughters’ room, to find them sitting on the windowsill staring up the street.

‘Where?’ I said. ‘Show me!’

And they pointed at two men walking up the road.

Wellies,‘ I said. ‘They’re called wellies.

‘That’s what I said.’

‘It really isn’t.’

A few minutes later I was in the toilet, standing up, ready to do my business when I heard a noise behind me. Glancing over my shoulder, there were my two daughters standing about a foot behind me, peering between my legs with big grins on their faces like it was present time on Christmas morning.

What the hell are you doing?

‘We’re going to watch you wee.’

‘Why on earth would you do that?’

‘Because it’s fun,’ they said, giggling.

‘That’s just so creepy.’

‘Go on, wee. Be a good boy.’

‘For crying out loud, get out of here and leave me alone!’

Then at breakfast, I asked what they’d dreamed about.

‘I dreamed that I went for a walk through the woods to my Granny’s house,’ said my eldest. ‘I met a wolf and told him I was going to Granny’s and he went there and he gobbled Granny up into his belly.’

‘Don’t just tell me Little Red Riding Hood.’

‘No, this is what I dreamed.’

‘This is Little Red Riding Hood.’

‘But it ends different.’

‘So skip to the end.’

‘Okay. I had to get into the house, so the woodpecker -‘

-cutter.

‘The woodpecker-cutter chopped a hole in the roof and then he cut the wolf open and cut off his head and cut up his tummy and cut off his arms and then Granny came out and she was all covered in poo.’

It’s not even nine o’clock yet.

My kids have broken the Naughty Step!

A while back, I wrote a three-part guide to disciplining your children. In the first part, Understanding your toddler, I explained a child’s understanding of the world. In the second, The Fundamentals, I explained the theories underpinning different forms of discipline. And in the third, The Naughty Step; or, How smug am I?, I explained why I’m the king of infant behaviour modification.

Actually, not quite. I wrote the first two thinking I was doing really well at this parenting thing and I could share these techniques with other people. And then life happened, and the nice, obedient little girl I was looking after turned into a massive arsehole that I was incapable of controlling, and I didn’t really feel like finishing a series that would make me a fraud.

The Naughty Step has remained my principal means of disciplining my kids, however, and I stand by it’s utility, even if at times it doesn’t feel like it’s working.

The theory is pretty simple – the best form of discipline is a combination of love withdrawal (punishment) and induction (guilt), and the Naughty Step fulfils both criteria. You first get down on their level, get their attention, and warn them that if a particular behaviour continues, you’ll put them on the Naughty Step. If they then do the behaviour, for example hitting their sister, you put them on the Naughty Step and say, ‘I am putting you on the Naughty Step for X-number of minutes [equal to their age] because you hit your sister.’ Then you turn around and walk away.

You ignore all the crying, shouting and screaming. Every time they get off the Naughty Step, you put them back on it without a word or eye-contact, and restart the timer. This is very difficult at first – when I started it with my eldest, I had to put her back more than sixty times. After a few days, she no longer got off that step.

After the allotted time has elapsed, you get back down to their level and repeat the reason they’re there: ‘I put you on the Naughty Step because you hit your sister. We don’t hit people. Okay?’

Then you get them to say sorry, hug and kiss, draw a line under the incident and move on. No lingering nastiness, no lasting discomfort – crime, punishment, atonement, forgiveness, restoration, all in the space of a few minutes. It’s a remarkably effective tool and just the threat of the Naughty Step is normally enough to prevent behaviour escalating to inappropriate levels.

At least, it was an effective tool, until today, when my children broke it.

‘You really need to go and tidy your playroom,’ I said.

‘No.’

‘Girls, I’ve asked you three times already to tidy your playroom.’

‘No.’

‘Right. If you don’t tidy your playroom, you’ll both go on the Naughty Step.’

With lots of sighs and moody hand gestures, they turned and left the room.

After a few minutes I thought it was suspiciously quiet, so I went to see what they were doing and found them both sitting on the Naughty Step.

‘Why aren’t you tidying your room?’ I asked.

‘We’ve decided we’d rather sit on the Naughty Step,’ said my four-year-old.

‘Oh,’ I replied. ‘Well, go and tidy your room.’

‘No, we’ll just stay on the Naughty Step.’

‘Go and tidy your room or I’ll, I’ll -‘

‘You’ll put us on the Naughty Step?’

Bugger, I thought, they’ve outsmarted me!

What do you do when your kids aren’t afraid of the Naughty Step anymore!?

Day One of Home-Schooling: cosmic yoga, maths and biology

I was cooking dinner today while my wife was ‘teaching’ my four-year-old in the lounge. The teacher has given us homework to do, one of which involves watching the yoga videos they use in class.

Seems okay, I said. Helps you stretch and tone your body, teaches you how to breathe. Daddy used to do yoga.

‘It’s cosmic yoga,’ said my daughter.

Oh. You don’t sing Kumbaya and sit in a circle knitting beanie hats, do you?

‘What?’

Never mind, I’m sure it’s all fine.

Back in the kitchen cooking, a few minutes later I heard something on the TV and stuck my head round the door.

Did I hear that right? Did she really just say, ‘Be the pond’?

‘It’s wonderful being the pond,’ said the TV, ‘because you can watch all of your different feelings just swimming by.’

What the shit is this?!

‘Every feeling is welcome. You be the pond and let the fish be the fish.’

I couldn’t help bursting out laughing at the seriousness with which this was being said.

This isn’t like any yoga I’ve ever done.

‘Shhh,’ said my daughter.

‘Except sometimes,’ the TV continued, ‘we might stop being the pond and find we’ve become a fish, like the angry fish, and when that happens we might find ourselves saying or doing something that hurts other people.’

Ah, I see. It all makes sense now. I’m an angry fish when I should be the pond!

‘Be the pond.’

‘Be the pond,’ said my daughter roboticly.

Kill the Malaysian Prime Minister.

‘What?’

Never mind. I had no idea this is the kind of stuff you do at school.

‘Just say to yourself: be the pond.’

‘Be the pond,’ my daughter chanted again.

Wow. This is some Manchurian Candidate level bullshit right here.

‘Go and cook,’ said my wife, and I left them to it.

Okay. I’m all for mindfulness – live in the moment, notice what’s going on around you, try and detach from your thoughts and feelings, if that’s even possible – but is this really the kind of stuff they foist on our kids in mainstream education? This isn’t yoga, a westernized form of exercise mostly stripped of its esoteric underpinnings, this is mindfulness meditation, an esoteric eastern religious philosophy inseparable from Buddhist tradition. She even talks about the Zen Den, for crying out loud. What next? Ending every sentence with ‘namaste’?

I’m not sure how I feel about this. As someone who isn’t religious, if I discovered the school was making my kids go to confession, I’d have something to say on the matter; same as if they were practising Wudu (Muslim ablutions), or Transcendental Meditation; so why does Buddhism get a free pass?

Maybe I’m just a rube, out of step with modern cosmopolitanism. Or maybe I’d prefer more scientifically-minded programming like the proper way to wash your hands over airy-fairy feelgood fads. Watch it and judge for yourself by clicking this link.

Of course, a few minutes later my wife pushed it out of my mind when she shouted through to kitchen, ‘We’re doing maths and I’m having a mind blank. What’s 0 + 1?’

Are you sure it’s a mind blank and not a stroke? I replied. They tend to present the same.

And then my two-year-old burst into the kitchen, pointed an accusatory finger at me, and said, ‘You got a belly-button!’ before storming out.

How many more months of this do we have?

Explaining coronavirus isolation to my kids (and wife)

My two-year-old is too young to understand what’s going on in the world, but my four-year-old is definitely switched-on enough to know that something’s up, and since her response to not being able to go to gymnastics was a tantrum, I figured it was time to put on my dad hat and level with her.

‘Lots of people are getting ill,’ I said. ‘Most of them will get better; many of them won’t even realise they were ever even ill; but some of them won’t get better. It’s very bad for old people, and people who are already ill. But you don’t have to worry about it – it doesn’t really affect children.’

‘Why not?’ she asked, sharp as a tack.

‘Nobody really knows,’ I replied. ‘Trouble is, while you might not get ill from it, you can carry the virus and pass it on to others and make them ill. And we don’t want to do that. The government – the people in charge of the country – they’ve said that we shouldn’t go and see people unless we absolutely have to. That includes gymnastics.’

‘But I want to go to gymnastics.’

‘I know, sweetheart. But – look.’ I got three books off the shelf and placed them on the floor, then got six teddy bears. ‘Most of us are going to get this. For most of us it’ll be no worse than a cold. But a lot of people will have to go to hospital. There are only a certain number of beds.’

I took the first teddy bear, and touched its hand to the second. ‘This one’s ill,’ I said, then put it on the first book. ‘He gets a bed in hospital. Now the second bear is ill.’

I touched the second bear’s hand to the third’s, then put it on the second book. ‘He gets a bed too. But now the third one’s ill too.’

I had the third bear touch the fourth and take up the last bed. ‘Now this fourth one’s ill, but there are no beds, so he can’t get better.’ I then showed the virus infecting the remaining two, but there were still no beds.

‘This is what happens if we all keep going to gymnastics and seeing our friends and going to cello lessons,’ I said. ‘There aren’t enough beds, so they can’t all get better. Now let’s see what happens if we don’t do those things.’

I reset the simulation and had the first bear get ill without touching the second bear, and take its bed, then the second, and then the third.

‘But this time,’ I said, making the first bear stand up and jauntily walk away, ‘this bear gets better and comes out of hospital. That means that when this bear gets ill’ (I picked up the fourth bear) ‘there’s a bed for him. And when the second bear gets better’ (I picked up the fifth bear) ‘there’s room for this one, too.’

I repeated it with the sixth bear and showed them all eventually leave the hospital. ‘You see?’ I said. ‘They all still get ill, but instead of all getting ill at the same time, and not having enough beds, they get ill over time, and have the best chance of getting better. That’s why we can’t go to gymnastics right now. We all have to look after the people who need hospital beds – all of us – and the best way of doing that is to do what we’ve been asked to do.’

She got really excited by that and wanted to do it herself, so she re-enacted what would happen if everyone got ill at the same time (not enough beds) versus what would happen if we flattened the curve. Success.

Explaining it to my wife, who is both autistic and has Emotionally Unstable (Impulsive) Personality Disorder, is altogether more difficult.

She’s adamant that she’s still going to see her friends because ‘it means, just hang out with people you know, not strangers.’

It doesn’t mean that at all. You’re just as likely to catch it from friends as strangers – more so, as you’ll be in closer proximity.

‘Everyone I’ve spoken to says they’re still going to go to swimming and gymnastics.’

Well they shouldn’t – what part of, ‘Now is the time to stop ALL non-essential social contact’ is so difficult to understand?

‘I don’t care what they say, they can’t tell us not to, they can’t tell us what to do.’

They can, and they have.

‘I think it’s stupid and pointless.’

I had no idea you know better than the Chief Medical Officer, the Science Advisor to the Government, and all the experts at the World Health Organisation.

‘But we’re not ill or over 70 or pregnant.’

No, but we could carry it to someone who is and they could die, or take the bed away from someone who needs it. Stop being so selfish and bloodyminded. They wouldn’t be asking us to do this without good reason. Our grandparents went to war, we’re being asked to stay home and watch Netflix.

‘I’m not cancelling anything. You can’t stop me.’

It’s not me telling you to do it, it’s the government. You know, the people who pay your benefits. It’s incumbent upon us to be informed, responsible and conscientious citizens, and that means avoiding ALL non-essential social contact, even if it inconveniences you.

‘But it doesn’t mean not to go to gymnastics or see your friends.’

That’s exactly what it means. Is gymnastics essential? Is seeing your friends essential? Is going swimming essential?

‘You just don’t understand it because you’re autistic and you take things literally.’

What’s not to understand? There’s no room for misinterpretation; there are no shades of grey here. It’s as black and white as it comes – avoid ALL non-essential social contact. Not some, not most, not the ones you don’t mind dropping, but ALL. Jesus Christ, we’re talking about people dying here.

I even made her watch tonight’s press conference on YouTube. She watched him say, ‘Now is the time to stop ALL non-essential social contact,’ and her response? ‘He doesn’t mean all.’

Dealing with a global health crisis is one thing; dealing with a stubborn, recalcitrant ass-hat who has no intention of abiding by the government’s instructions is another altogether. God forbid we get locked down for fourteen days together or I’m going to have to lock the doors and hide the keys.

Be responsible, goddamnit. There’s a time to rock the boat and a time to do as you’re told. It’s pretty damned clear which this is.

EDIT: this policy is projected to reduce the UK death toll from 260,000 to 20,000. It’s not a lot to ask for a thirteenfold saving of life.

Sweet conversations with my kids

To offset some of the panic, negativity and fear consuming the world, and remind people of the joys to be had when they switch off their phones, I thought I’d share some cute and funny things my kids said yesterday.

I went swimming with my two-year-old, Rosie. At one point, she was sitting on my lap and we were comparing how big our thumbs are. She labelled one of my thumbs ‘mummy’ and one ‘daddy’, then pushed the tips together to make a triangle and said, ‘Mummy and daddy best friends.’

That’s right, I said. We are best friends.

She then labelled her own thumbs ‘Rosie’ and ‘Izzie’, and put them into the triangle of protection under ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’, making a little family of thumbs.

It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever experienced.

Of course, she ruined it a few minutes later when I took her to the toilet and, thinking it was a sink, she immediately stuck her hand in the nearest urinal.

She’s also started saying something really funny. It’s my fault, I have to admit. I told her not to let the dog lick her, and she asked me why.

Because dogs use their tongues as toilet paper.

So now she keeps saying, ‘No, Ozzy, don’t lick me with your toilet paper!’

But it’s just the latest in a string of weird idiosyncrasies – like the way every night when she gets into bed, she selects the teddy she wants to sleep with then shouts at the rest as though they’ve offended her, before angrily flinging them across the room – only to welcome them again in the morning. ‘You not sleep with me, no way Jose!’

My eldest, Izzie, is so far beyond her years, I often forget I’m talking to a four-year-old. She’s astonishingly switched-on for a child, and seems to understand human interaction better than I do. When my wife and I are at loggerheads, she often comes up with a fair and reasonable solution that neither of us had even considered. She even knows the alphabet, and can write all her letters in lower and upper case – I hadn’t even started school by her age.

But then, midway through a normal conversation, I’ll get a jarring reminder that she’s still just a child. Like yesterday evening when we went shopping.

While we were driving down a dark country lane, she turned to me and said, ‘I helped Gramps milk the cows. And there was a cow that had just been born, and Gramps had to go in the mud to help it and he got all dirty.’

You saw a cow being born?

‘Well, I am going to be a farmer,’ she said matter-of-factly.

You like getting muddy?

‘You have to when you’re a farmer.’

I guess so. Maybe Gramps will leave you the farm when you’re older.

‘No, we’re going to run it together.’

I glanced over at her. Sweetheart, Gramps is in his late sixties and you’re four. I don’t think you’re going to be able to run it together.

‘Why not?’

Because right now you’re too young and by the time you’re old enough, he’ll be too old.

‘Oh,’ she said, crestfallen.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t help him as you’re growing up, I said quickly. Make sure you learn as much as you can from him, so that one day, when you’re all grown up, you’ll be ready to run a farm all by yourself.

Okay. And then you can work on the farm too.’

Me?!

‘You can look after the cows when I’m being a superhero. I’m going to be very busy.’ She looked out the window and sighed, like it was all such a burden. ‘I’m going to have to learn to fly.’

The way she said it was so earnest and serious, that I couldn’t help laughing.

Oh. Where are you going to learn that?

‘Flying school,’ she said, as though I was stupid. ‘I have to go if I’m going to be a superhero.’

Yeah, I guess you do. You don’t want to pick one or the other – farmer or superhero?

‘No, I think I can do both, if you look after the cows.’

Well, study hard and we’ll have to see, won’t we?

Too cute!

What happened to my patience?

When I was younger, people marvelled at my patience; my perseverance; my ability to face down the impossible and keep going until I’d redefined the limits of what could be achieved.

I taught myself to play the guitar, painstaking hour after painstaking hour; I spent three years in a band with a girl so abusive she sent seventeen other band members running into the wilderness with their tails between their legs; and I tolerated decades of bullying without ever lifting a finger to defend myself.

Maybe that’s the problem, and the reason I no longer have any patience or perseverance or endurance. Maybe that’s why my fuse has become so short you might as well cut out the middle man and light the dynamite directly.

Or maybe it’s what happens to you when you have kids?

Throughout my life, people have often suggested I become a teacher, but trying to help my four-year-old daughter read her school books has well and truly made a mockery of that idea. This afternoon was a prime example.

‘Sound out the letters, come on, you can do it.’

Tuh – O – Mmm.

‘Yes, well done! And what does that spell?’

Mike.

‘No, don’t just guess – try again.’

Tuh – O – Mmm. Mike.

‘No, it’s not Mike. Say the letters quickly. Tuh – O – Mmm, T – OMmm, Tom.’

Tuh – O – Mmm, T-OMmm, Mike.

‘How can it be Mike? It starts with Tuh, not Mmm. You can say the sounds, just put the sounds together to make the word.’

Mike.

‘I’ve already told you it’s not Mike! How can it be Mike when the M is at the end of the word, not the beginning. It’s Tom. Tuh – O – Mmm. Tom.’

Tom.

‘Yes, Tom. Now the next word. You don’t need to sound it out because you’ve already said it twenty times.’

A – Nnn – Duh.

‘Okay, spell it out, then. What does it say?’

I don’t know.

‘But you just spelled it out and it’s one of the words you already know.’

Cat.

‘What do you mean, cat? No, it’s not cat! A – Nnn – Duh. Just put the sounds together and you get…?’

Dog.

‘And. You get and. Tom and. Now, what’s this word? Sound it out.’

L – I – Nnn.

‘Very good. And that word is…?’

Phil.

‘Phil?! It starts with L. You said yourself it starts with L, so how could it be Phil?’

Lif.

‘Why do you think there’s a Fuh in it? You sounded out the letters, L – I – Nnn. L – INnn. Lin. Say it, L – INnn. L – INnn. Tom and…?’

Lilf.

‘Go to your room!’

I’m sure she does it on purpose. That’s got to be on purpose, right?

But then, my wife does the same, like this afternoon.

Wow, I only need to roast this beef for fifty minutes.

‘I don’t think that’s right.’

Yeah, it says 25 minutes for every 500 grams.

‘How much does it weigh?’

1.3 kilograms.

‘Then that’s not 50 minutes, is it?’

It’s 25 minutes per 500 grams.

‘So that’s about 65 minutes, then.’

Why?

‘Because the kilogram takes 50 minutes, and the remaining 300 grams take another 15. Plus you need to put it in for 20 minutes first.’

Now you’re just making it complicated.

‘You have an NVQ in catering, how is this difficult? 20 minutes, plus 25 for every 500 grams. Put it in at 230 for 20 minutes, then turn it down and time 65 minutes. Total time, 85 minutes. Got it?’

That’s ages.

‘Well, do you want it cooked properly or do you want it raw in the middle like it usually is?’

Cooked properly.

‘Then put it in for 20 minutes followed by 65. Simple.’

Half an hour later and she says to me, It’s had 20 minutes, so I’ve set the timer for 50 minutes, okay?

’65.’

Why 65?

‘Because you’re not cooking a kilogram of beef! You’re cooking 1.3 kilograms. You have to cook the extra 300 grams! What about this are you not getting?’

I’m going to cook it the way I always do, and if it’s not right, it’s not right.

‘Honey, it’s not right, and the vegetables are going to be cold by the time the meat’s done. Are you leaving any time for resting?’

Fine, you cook it if you think you’re so perfect.

How can I not have a short fuse when this is my daily life?

Not to mention that my four-year-old keeps writing on her bedframe, but she makes sure to sign it with her sister’s name.

I didn’t do it, it was Rosie. See? It says Rosie.

‘Don’t lie to me.’

It was Rosie. Look!

‘Tell me the truth.’

I am telling the truth! Rosie did it! See, she wrote her name.

It’s a diabolical scheme with just a couple of flaws: Rosie is two. Rosie can’t write.

Not that Rosie is any more compliant. I gave her a bath this evening.

‘Put your head back or the shampoo will go in your eyes. Put your head back. Your head back. Do you want shampoo in your eyes? Put. Your. Head. Back.

Oohh, daddy! Uh-huh, uh-huh. I got shampoo in my eyes! Wahh! Mummy! Daddy got shampoo in my eyes!

And then:

I want get out. I want get out.

So I got her out.

Wahh! I not want get out!

So I dried her off and took her downstairs.

I not want nappy.

‘I really think you should have a nappy.’

I big girl.

‘You’ll use your potty if you want a wee-wee?’

I use potty.

‘You’ll tell me if you need to go?’

Yes.

‘Do you need a wee-wee now?’

No.

‘Are you sure you don’t need a wee-wee?’

I not need wee-wee.

‘Okay. Whuh – why are you weeing on the floor? Quick, get on the potty! Get on the potty! Oh God, it’s everywhere!’

Why I wee-wee?

‘That’s a bloody good question, a bloody good question!’

I not want go on potty.

I’m surprised I’m not shooting blood out of my eye-sockets by now!

Tell me they get less annoying as they grow older. Please, tell me that! (Except my wife – I guess I’m stuck with her the way she is…!)

The theory that explains Peppa Pig (and Mr Potato is the key!)

I’m going to be honest – I watch far more Peppa Pig than an adult should. Of course, this is because my four-year-old and my two-year-old are obsessed with the little porker, but I have to admit it’s not actually that bad. It’s not as twee as Our Family, not as whiny as Bing, and the less said about Wallybuloo, the better. It’s got plenty of subtle jokes for adults, like when the kids dress up as different UN member states and all end up fighting (‘Is this how you think the countries of the world behave?’), and Brian Blessed as an incompetent sailor-cum-astronaut is comedy gold.

But of course, as an adult, you ask questions of the material that children wouldn’t, and when you do, you start to realise that a lot of it makes no sense. And then, like most people with too much time on their hands, you see if you can come up with a theory that explains all the seeming errors and inconsistencies. And I have.

Don’t worry, it’s not a particularly original or ground-breaking theory, but given that the show was created by adults, I think it provides a coherent cosmology that ties together all the following headscratchers.

1. What exactly are they cooking on those barbecues? Pigs are people in their world. So are cows, and sheep, and goats, and rabbits. Are they all cannibals?

2. Why is there only one set of grandparents? I don’t know about you, but everyone I know has four grandparents. In the Peppa Pig world, everyone seems to have two. Taken to its logical conclusion, that might explain why everyone’s nose is on the side of their head. And speaking of irreparably corrupting the gene pool…

3. Are there laws preventing interspecies coupling? Every adult character in Peppa Pig is either single or married to a member of their own species. Why? Would Miss Rabbit getting it on with Grandad Dog result in stigma and ostracism? Is that why she’s still single and works every single job in town – to distract her from the love that dare not speak its name?

4. Why doesn’t George fit the alliterative-species naming scheme? All the children are named things like Peppa Pig, Danny Dog, Suzy Sheep and Rebecca Rabbit. So why is George just George? They never even refer to him as George Pig. Was he adopted? Is his fixation on dinosaurs because he actually hatched from an egg?

5. Why is Peppa the only one to have a unique name? Given the rest are called things like Edmund, Freddy and Zoe, did the writers invent one name and then get lazy? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to call her Poppy or Pippa?

6. Why do Mummy and Daddy Pig’s friends call them Mummy and Daddy Pig, and not their real names? Did they lose their names when they became parents? Were their identities wiped out at the same time?

7. What the hell is Mr Potato? Talking animals? I don’t have a problem with that. Everyone living on their own hilltop? Unlikely topography, but okay, it’s a fantasy. But a sentient root vegetable? It’s starch and water. How did it grow a brain?

8. How come they have a doctor and a vet? They’re all animals. The job of a doctor and the job of a vet should be interchangeable. (And as a side note, why is the GP called Dr Brown Bear? There’s no Mummy Pink Pig or Grampy White Rabbit, is there?).

9. Why are all the animals the same size? Irrespective of species, everyone in Peppa Pig is one of five sizes: baby, toddler, young child, older child, adult. There is no distinction between an adult elephant and an adult hamster. That’s pretty messed up. Was there some kind of atomic event that mutated these animals even as it wiped out every human being except the Queen?

10. Why are people’s jobs so unrealistic? Mummy Pig simply types on a computer from time to time. The extent of Daddy Pig’s architectural expertise is drawing houses on pieces of paper and occasionally mentioning concrete. Meanwhile, Miss Rabbit does a hundred different jobs, while Mr Bull seems to juggle work for the council with private contracts, ranging from digging up the road to building houses and fixing roofs. You couldn’t possibly run an economy like this. It makes no sense.

 

So how do you tie all these disparate threads together? What’s the theory that explains it all? (Don’t get your hopes up). Here it is:

All the characters are human, and everything that happens is happening in Peppa’s head. It’s not reality but her perception of reality.

Told you it wasn’t very original. In this case, however, it seems to fit.

Peppa is an infant playing a game of make-believe involving the people and situations around her. But it’s not a very sophisticated game, because she’s a kid – she includes barbecues, and doctors and vets, because she doesn’t have the capacity to think through the full ramifications of her fantasy.

The human Peppa whose perceptions we’re seeing is a typical kid, in that she thinks the world revolves around her. She thinks she’s special, she’s unique – that’s why she has an identity (a name) that is different from everyone around her. And, like most kids, she thinks she’s more special within her own family than her siblings, that she is her parent’s proper child (Peppa Pig) while her younger brother is nothing more than an adopted nobody (George without the surname).

As a typically egocentric child, she can’t conceive of her parents having a life outside looking after her. They don’t even have names other than mummy and daddy. And while they do jobs, her interpretation of them is that mummy is playing on the computer and daddy is just drawing pictures, when they should be paying attention to her.

Because she’s a child, her perceptions are black and white, without nuance or subtlety. If her house is on a slight slope, she tells people it’s on top of a massive hill. A muddy puddle is ‘the biggest in the whole world’, while all adults are exactly the same size because they’re all bigger than her. In fact, all adults look pretty much the same to her – every shop worker, bus driver, and ice-cream seller looks like Miss Rabbit, while every builder, handyman or road worker looks like Mr Bull.

Only being able to interpret the world from her own narrow perspective explains why she depicts each complete family unit as a separate species – as a child, the family is her way of structuring the world around her into discrete entities, and she is too young to understand that families can break down and the father from one family (a lion, say) can run off with the mother of another family (a gazelle).

It’s why everyone only has one set of grandparents. Peppa herself only has one set of grandparents, so she perceives everyone else as having one set too, ignoring any evidence to the contrary, as that is how she structures her reality.

And where are Daddy Pig’s parents? Possibly they’re dead, possibly they’re negligent, but possibly they’re simply unwelcome. Given Mummy Pig’s incessant, passive-aggressive belittling of her husband, we might infer that she married beneath her, particularly as her parents are depicted as somewhat posh. Possibly Daddy Pig’s parents were racist lowlifes. The evidence for this comes from the name Peppa chooses for her doctor in her fantasy – not Dr Bear, but Dr Brown Bear. Where did she get that from? Has she heard somebody, her daddy perhaps, referring to their ethnic minority medical practitioner as Dr Brown?

Which brings us at last to Mr Potato, who underscores the entire theory and shows that this is what the creators of Peppa Pig had in mind. Mr Potato has no reason to exist in the Peppa Pig universe at all. So why does he?

Because children can’t differentiate fantasy from reality. As I said, my kids love Peppa Pig, and when we go to Peppa Pig World, they seem to think that the person in the giant Peppa Pig costume actually is Peppa Pig. The same is true of the human Peppa. She watches TV shows depicting anthropomorphic versions of animals, and has met costumed versions in real life so thinks they’re real. In her fantasy, as she makes people into animals, she has to shift the animals one step down the ladder, turning them into anthropomorphic versions of vegetables. That’s why Mr Potato, the fictional TV character in the Peppa Pig universe also exists as a real character in the Peppa Pig universe. The scriptwriters are using Mr Potato to tell us, the audience, that this is not reality: it’s Peppa’s perception, a young child’s perception, of reality.

We could even go deeper. Why has Peppa had three voices during the series? Because the human Peppa is getting older, but still clinging to this comforting infantile make-believe. That’s why early episodes were centred on the town and playgroup, while later ones went to Italy and Australia –  not because the writers were running out of ideas, but because Peppa herself was becoming more knowledgeable about the world. And why is she so desperate to escape into this elaborate world of pretend innocence? How awful is the real Peppa’s life that this is her happy place?

I’m telling you, the creators of Peppa Pig are freaking geniuses. That’s why it’s so popular with kids – it’s their perspective, writ large. That’s why I bath my kids with Peppa Pig soap, dry them with Peppa Pig towels, brush their teeth with Peppa Pig toothbrushes, dress them in Peppa Pig pyjamas, tuck them into Peppa Pig bedsheets, and read them a Peppa Pig bedtime story. For breakfast they have Peppa Pig yoghurt, then they pack their Peppa Pig stationery into their Peppa Pig rucksacks so they have something to do on the way to the Peppa Pig theme park. When we forget to use Peppa Pig prophylactics we use a Peppa Pig pregnancy test. Actually, no, but there might be a day, sooner than you think, that there is no other world outside Peppa Pig.

I’ll say it again: the creators of Peppa Pig are freaking geniuses.

Or am I just overthinking this?