News Analysis

Saturday 30 August 2014

Helen Moorhouse: Just like Tayto and hurling, our Toy Show is a national treasure

Published 30/11/2012 | 05:00

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SOME things are inherently Irish. Tayto. Hurling. Calling a ham and cheese pastry by the French word for ham.

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And then there's that one special night every year for all the boys and girls. The night when, if you're very good, and don't thump your sister, you can stay up to watch the Irish phenomenon that is The Toy Show.

In 2011, in a nation obsessed with sport, in a time of economic crisis, when both the queen of England and President of America visited, it was the most-watched TV programme of the year. Over 1.5 million tuned in to spend two hours with a skinny man in a terrible jumper, surrounded by dolls.

In my day, I propped my eyelids open to watch Gay Byrne pretend that he didn't like a minute of it, patronising his way through the chislers to get to Rosaleen Linehan for a bit of adult company.

I lost interest during the Pat Kenny era – he was too terrified, like he always expected the kids to gang up at any minute, one of them whipping out a conch shell. At least Ryan Tubridy looks like he's familiar with the concept of 'the child', even though he breaks the toys and lets out the odd bold word.

It's the same old ding dong every year. The owl on the credits wears a Santa hat, the presenter teeters in on a tiny bike shouting 'hey, hey, hey!' and then falls off. Comedy Gold.

Bring on the kids, some of whom will have picked their favourite toys, starting with Swotty Kid: "Oi love this scoience set, Brian, becawse....". You can picture him at home, homework done, settling in for a three-hour Spirograph marathon before getting an early night.

In contrast, there's always Comedy Kid, babbling incoherently about a game that they can't quite grasp, or the tub of slime or the talking baby that won't switch off – some poor, hyperactive youngster with a cute speech impediment, selected exclusively so that the audience can have a laugh. Which is really bullying at the hands of a mob – even if they're wearing comedy antlers.

There's Nurture-Girl, mature for her years, well-spoken, shiny, straight hair and a brand new dress, rubbing how caring she is toward Baby Blossom Bum-with-removable- soother-and-matching-carrycot into the faces of those of us who accidentally vandalised our Tiny Tears and scalped our Sindys.

Then it might be Sport Kid, challenging, say, Niall Quinn, to a thousand keepy-uppies or a game of Swingball; and a worried toddler steering a whining motorised vehicle into the audience, only to be wrangled back by an addled producer.

There's Talent Kid – 12 on the outside, 35-year-old mezzo soprano on the inside. And of course, Odd-Genius Child. In the 1980s they did a Rubik's Cube in 15 seconds. Nowadays it's John Joe, Boy Horologist.

The Toy Show doesn't do Irish kids any favours by selecting the best, the cleverest and the freakishly talented, leaving normal kids resigned to the fact that they'll never get on it and their parents looking to weary offspring wondering why, instead of Cora Venus Lunny, they've somehow got Martin Moone.

Only time left then for Jedward and the 'recorded-earlier-before-they-got-too-tired' montage where babies are released from holding pens and the producers pray that at least one will cry and two will kiss. Altogether now, aaaaahhhh!

I can't wait, really. They can take our sovereignty, buckle us with taxes, but we'll always have the Toy Show.

This year, I predict Doggy Doo, boxing for girls, One Direction and the Billy Barrys doing it Gagnam Style.

And 'Bah Humbug' to begrudgers who say it creates unreasonable expectations. So does Christmas and we're not cancelling that. To millions of us, The Toy Show is staying-up-past bedtime, sparkle and wonder and what-will-Santa bring. It's peering through a toy shop window.

And even if the actual kids conk out over the arm of the sofa – because watching the daytime repeat is for wimps – the grown-up ones will stick it out to the bitter end

Anyway, as Denise Royal said, Christmas isn't really a time for children, is it?

Irish Independent

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