Cbeebies is full of very strange programmes. Take Numberjacks for example. This appears to be a remake of spooky 70s show Sapphire & Steele albeit with the eponymous heroes replaced with CGI talking numbers that live inside a sofa. Then of course there’s Waybaloo a show about dwarfish Buddhists with speech and learning difficulties, which tries very hard to be representative and fill each episode with a group of children of every hue that means the production company is very likely to exhaust Canada’s supply of Chinese children pretty soon.
One of the oddest shows is Grandpa In My Pocket. Here James Bolam, slumming it from grown-ups’ telly, plays the titular Grandpa. Now don’t get worried – grandpa’s excursions into “my” pocket are not of the Daily Mail-baiting “I’ll give you a Werther’s original sonny if I can have a rummage” kind1. Oh no, instead it refers to Grandpa’s ability to shrink to a pocket size when wearing his “magical shrinking cap”.
Through this shrinking ability Grandpa solves many a problem for his grandson Jason Mason. The shrinking cap also confers on Grandpa the ability to make toy vehicles come alive – so when shrunken he can pilot model planes, spaceships and toy cars. But what makes this program odd – aside from the magical mcguffin – are the kind of problems Grandpa has to solve for himself and Jason, and these tell you more about what the show is really about.
More often than not Jason requires a babysitter in the form of great-aunt Loretta – a vile old battleaxe. She is Grandpa’s sister and is bossy, won’t listen to advice and tends to make pretty horrible food. But wait a minute. She’s around the same age as Grandpa. So why does she have to come round and look after Jason when Grandpa already lives with the boy and his parents? Things are fitting in to place now.
One of the major plot points the show comes back to is Loretta (and other characters) making decisions for Jason and Grandpa that they don’t like. Loretta never listens to Grandpa’s advice and instead carries on with her plans for Jason. The upshot is Grandpa puts his shrinking cap on to solve the problem by, for example, hiding in a teapot and telling Loretta what to do.
You’re probably way ahead of me here, but why wouldn’t Loretta listen to advice from Grandpa, why would she have to look after her brother as well as her great-nephew and why does everyone talk about Grandpa needing one of his lie-downs? Why does nearly every episode come down to a problem which Grandpa could solve just by speaking his mind as a grown-up – yet no-one takes a blind bit of notice what he says?
The answer is pretty clear. Grandpa has a pretty bad case of dementia. He lost his marbles and that’s why he’s living with his grandson’s family. And of course that’s why no-one listens to his advice or allow him to look after Jason on his own. The most serious manifestation of his dementia is his belief he has a magic cap which can give him the power to shrink to the size of a mouse.
Instead imagine what it must be like for his family. Every time Grandpa doesn’t get his own way he puts his hat on and runs around under the table and tries to drive Jason’s toy cars. Everyone has got so used to it they use the code phrase “Grandpa must have gone for a lie down” and they ignore the nonsense until Grandpa is ready to take the “magic” hat back off.
The final giveaway is the way Jason reacts to his Grandpa putting the shrinking cap on. Instead of saying “Great, let’s use your magic powers to solve this problem,” Jason usually responds “Not the shrinking cap Grandpa” in a scared tone. The poor lad must be waiting in fear for the day when the men in white coats rush in and shoot the old bastard full of horse tranquillisers and cart him off for a Bedlam diet of cold showers and beatings.
Just watch a bit of the show and imagine it as it really is, with a full size man running around with what he thinks is a “magic shrinking cap” on. Makes a lot more sense doesn’t it? How very sad.
1We’ll leave that kind of thing to the strange character of Mr Mentor the Inventor, who lives in a lighthouse and is channelling from the grave a creepy version of Charles Hawtrey.