Like those funny people who have changed their names on social media from, for instance, “Julian” to “GHOUL-ian”, we’re already looking forward to Halloween in our house. It can’t come soon enough. Only the other night we were sitting, my wife and I, kids at last in bed, trying to remember whether we’d already seen this season of Suits or not, and realised we’d nearly run out of sweets.
I rummaged in the orange plastic bucket on my lap. “I’m down to three of those horrid white chocolate eggs from the Easter before last, I think.” She poked in her purple bucket. “There’s a Tangfastic here, but it’s stuck to the bottom. And this bunny’s gone all furry on its ears.” “Wham Bar!” “Gimme!” “No! Mine! Eww… it’s all sort of melted to the wrapper.”
The Proustian Wham Bar. Gathered in remembered gladness, amid the shrieking of four-foot skeletons berserk on glucose, and stored with the rest of the haul atop the fridge until its owners forget it and their treacherous parents, over months, scoff the lot while watching telly. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel guilty. I’m middle-class: the fewer sweets I give my children, the better I feel about myself.
Still, winter is on the way. People talk about the magic of childhood. We see both sides. My six-year-old, Max, lost a tooth last week. You should have seen the excitement on his little face: the rapt care with which he parcelled it up, wrote a note to Dogsbody (my childhood tooth fairy; apparently you inherit them, like butlers) and slipped it under his pillow. That excitement was in exact proportion to the wail of desolation that woke me the following morning, when he discovered Dogsbody had neither removed his tooth, replied to his note nor left the traditional quid.
I did a lot of indignant and not strictly child-friendly swearing about that senile tooth fairy. If you can’t trust a tooth fairy to do her job, what can you trust in?
So we put the note back under the pillow for a second night. And the next morning: again. Zip. What’s WRONG with that damn fairy? This time even my ordinarily sweet-natured wife joined in the cursing.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel guilty. I’m middle-class: the fewer sweets I give my children, the better I feel
Just in time to save the morning, I discovered two misspelled notes in the cat bowl in the cellar, addressed to the cat, wondering why there was no tooth. So we left note and tooth amid the kibble and, bingo: next morning there was a quid in small change and a note reproaching the cat for leaving what looked like a human tooth and asking pointedly where it had learned to write.
Magic, of a sort: a rearguard action by magic. But there’s also the laws of thermodynamics. One day the Tooth Fairy, no longer endearingly batty, will cease to appear altogether. Halloween will cease to replenish the magic sweet stash on top of the fridge. After enchantment comes… disenchantment. We are all out-of-date Wham Bars: melted to the wrapper.
We condemn stars for being human
That excellent actor and singer Sheridan Smith is back on top of her game. Interviewed yesterday to promote a new album, she has talked about the crisis she went through around the death of her father last spring, and the vicious reaction on social media and in the papers. Her distress became entertainment: was she drunk? Was she having a breakdown? Was she — dripping with Dame Edna-style solicitousness — “troubled”?
The spite that people in the public eye attract — particularly women — offers inexhaustible fuel for amazement. Here’s someone who has given delight to millions ever since she alchemised the lead of Two Pints of Lager (And A Packet of Crisps) into gold.
We positively demand entertainers, particularly woman entertainers, perform their personal joy and distress for our amusement these days, in magazine features and newspapers. If — under extreme pressure — personal grief spills into public performance sympathy is appropriate, not censoriousness or glee. Why do we demand our stars be human and then condemn them for it?
Miss Smith — who has now packed in the drink, and good for her — says that she self-medicated but was never drunk on stage. That’s admirable but, in the end, why should she have to deny it? So what if once or twice she had been? Male performers — from Peter O’Toole and Michael Elphick to Dean Martin and Shane McGowan — have been positively lionised for performing drunk with no better excuse than a thirst. Sauce for the gander should be sauce for the goose.
* Harold Pinter’s best friend, the actor Henry Woolf, has written a memoir describing how he allowed the playwright to use his bedsit to conduct his affair with Joan Bakewell: “God knows what these two splendid creatures must have thought of my grotty place … The immediate effect of their visits was that I had to be out when they were in, so I took long bus rides to places like Plumstead.”
Aren’t those details touching? A love heedless of the “rank sweat of an enseamed bed”; and, more than that, a selfless friendship equal to sitting for three hours at a time staring out of the window of a 53 on an errandless errand to Plumstead. To the student of human nature, the thoughts of the man on the bus are, in their way, much richer to contemplate than those of the couple in the bedsit.