Belfast Telegraph

Let's keep the dreams of childhood alive for old time's sake

By Jane Graham

I have done everything in my power to protect my children from the latest assault on their youthful idealism, their still existing, but slowly dissolving, notions about the benign universe they believe they occupy. Though my son took another step towards adulthood this week - he was anxious to be asleep by midnight on Monday night, afraid he'd be "a bit sick" at the moment he was transformed from a seven to an eight-year-old - he still lives in a richly colourful, anything goes world populated by tooth fairies, superheroes and the bug-eyed friendly aliens who live at the bottom of his bed.

I have endeavoured to keep his faith in this world intact for as long as possible. But this week real life got the better of me and magic was broken.

You probably know what I'm going to say. He saw the Anchor Spreadable ad.

I was in the kitchen when it came on, so I couldn't leap for the remote control, as I've done a number of times previously. For the benefit of the blessedly uninitiated: the ad is a golden-hued montage of a rosy-cheeked family doing rosy-cheeked things like jumping on sofas and looking lovingly at their cats. The smiling voiceover delights in "those wonderfully empty calendar days", "those nothing better to do than doss in our PJs all day days". And, ultimately, recommends spending some of your "do nothing" day putting Anchor Spreadable on some toast.

It is a nauseating, clawing, phoney piece of claptrap which attempts to fasten a low-rent product onto a mood of family feelgood, a mood it fails to conjure up in the first place. And the chap whose voice is urging us to sign up for this faux glow buttery experience? Peter Capaldi. Or, as my baffled son, would have it, The Doctor.

Doctor Who is such an established part of so many kids' cherished, magical universe that I strongly feel the BBC should ban the actor currently playing the double-hearted superheroic unearthly time-traveller from making mediocre prosaic television adverts for the duration of his influential tenure.

Ideally I'd like to see the same for all past actors - watching David Tennant leaping around like a popper-sniffing jester espousing the wonders of "our" fantastic products on the Virgin ads has thrown a wet blanket over those once treasured Doctor Who episodes when he symbolised all that was wise, dignified and compassionate about the solar system.

It's amazing, actually, how easy it is to kill years of pleasure or passion or deeply felt honest emotion with a misstep. This happens not because an advert is a public admission of wanting more money - that's another argument - but because the role, or mood, conveyed is at odds with the persona we have come to value.

George Clooney can get away with those smooth coffee ads because they present him as we imagine him; sexy, welcoming, cool. But when we see a hard-a** like Harvey Keitel, beloved icon of cult movies like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Bad Lieutenant, winking at an anxious housewife as he advises her to get a burglar alarm - rather than call her local Tony Soprano - if she has any more trouble, it feels sad and bad down in our souls. We realise how much we invested in a beautifully-crafted fantasy; to see it exposed makes us feel cheated and stupid.

It's even crueller to stomp all over the dreams of children, who still rely on dreams so much. So come on, Doctor, remember your proud Timelord breeding and turn your back on the spreadables.

Intimidation not in Christian spirit

I was interested to read about the conviction of anti-abortion campaigner Bernadette Smyth for harassing Marie Stopes clinic director Dawn Purvis this week. I was buoyed by the good sense of the judge, who was clued up on the intimidating atmosphere pro-life campaigners create around the clinic, and described Smyth’s intimidation of Purvis as “vicious and malicious”.

One thing did confuse me — Smyth’s solicitor described the verdict as “a disappointment for Christians everywhere”.

I’d guess there will be more than a handful of Christians who wouldn’t support “vicious” harassment and threats, and I don’t remember Jesus employing these tactics either.

Vote has restored faith in equality

Though the Synod greeted the news with more of a whimper than a bang, the official acceptance of women bishops by the Church of England is a great step forward.

The forces of conservatism inside the Church may shrivel, but three quarters of its more enlightened flock embrace the idea, which is heartening.

I dream that within a generation, the idea of any Church suggesting women aren’t up to a job in which empathy and listening skills are primary assets will be a laughing stock.

Whether it’s the democratic process, a forward-thinking leader, or pressure from worshippers that changes things, I pray a change is going to come.

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