“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”

Roald Dahl, Matilda

For those that don’t know, children’s TV personality Rod Hull’s ‘thing’ was to place his arm inside the puppet of an emu, an emu called ‘Emu’ that couldn’t speak, and instead expressed itself by snarling, or cowing when stroked. Invariably, the inevitable crescendo to his act would see Emu attack children, chat show hosts and anyone else near to him by grabbing them round the neck and the top of the head.

Rod had a false arm slung over the side of the bird to imply Emu was a sentient being and Rod his inept owner, incapable of controlling this mute menace. It always looked overly painful as a viewer, and once the realisation dawns on you and the suspension of disbelief fades, you see that Rod was in fact grabbing people roughly with his own hand.

For years people have been enacting a version of this ‘turn’ with their dogs, as the mutt on too long a lead would jump up, ruin someone’s skirt, slobber on their trousers, eat their picnic, while the owner says something like, ‘Oh do stop it Fido!’ false laughing with an eye roll, instead of thinking to shorten the lead. Maybe it’s an accident. Maybe.

“These parents aren’t watching their child; they’re watching us”.

The expectation is you are meant to love their dog as much as the owner does. And supposedly, the stroking of the dog gives its owner the feeling they are being stroked too.

This seems to have now graduated to children, and all without the need for a false arm.

“Hello!”

How many of us have been quietly enjoying a drink in a pub or a coffee shop only to realise that a small Omen child is staring intently at you? A half-smile later and it’s still there, while the mum and dad, either oblivious to it walking off or looking on like the proud parents they are, do nothing. One presumes that their pride stems from their child being able to be weird or annoying to complete strangers. Hooray! A real asset to society you’ve created. Thank you so very much. The addition of another thousand-yard-staring-potential-menace is just what we need.

Often the parent will say something like “Miles, do leave those people alone!” — all jokey and resigned to being unable to control this seemingly unstoppable three-foot-high juggernaut of eerie.

These parents aren’t watching their child; they’re watching us. They’re watching for our reaction rather than whether their kid picks up a fork and stabs it into its eye.

We know what they’re expecting of us at this point, we’re meant to stop our conversation, our meal or whatever it is, and smile at the little thing. Smile and perhaps mouth the word ‘hello’. Or actually say hello. Invariably the little wretch will just continue to stare.

A few more ‘hellos’ will follow, and yet nothing. This miniature Easter Island statue just waits for something. We don’t know what and we don’t care. We just want it to go away.

Following this impasse we’ll look over its head at the parent, we’ll give them a fake smile and one of those eye rolls that says, ‘Kids! Aren’t they a wonder?!’ We might even try one of those ‘beatific’ smiles. The one that says, ‘Lovely child, please leave it staring at us for as long as you want, we absolutely love it!’

Of course, what very few of us do is what we really want. The simplest and most instinctive reaction. To ignore it; usually resulting in the child wandering off and the parents being a little put out but really, who cares?

Other options might include getting up, walking past the child to the parents’ table, and just stare at them without saying a word. See how THAT goes down.

It might seem a little petty but you have to understand, this is happening all the time to any of us who dare to go to pubs or restaurants childfree. Virtually every single time we get this creepy, intrusive approach.

It must be that childfree people are like a magnet to these children. Perhaps they don’t like the fact that we are having a dialogue, or look like we’re enjoying ourselves. Perhaps they are bored with Mummy and Daddy and want to stare at someone with some life behind their eyes! That’s ok! It’s not so much the act itself, as the drawing out of the affair.

There are more radical solutions available to us of course. I take my lead from the way we’ve societally turned smokers into pariahs at pubs. Let’s create family areas in the pubs! Imagine, roped off areas out the back, covered in sick, where the tables are made of plastic rather than wood, soundproofed so we don’t have to listen to you loudly slow-talking, or the baby crying. Or you could just go to McDonalds, which is where the kids want to be anyway.

And that’s another thing; does anyone think these kids want to go to a pub? They’re not renowned for their rides and pits of plastic balls. But perhaps that’s just a matter of time. We’ll inevitably infantilise getting smashed like we seem intent on doing to everything else.

You want it all don’t you, your spoilt little brain thinks, ‘I’ve had a child, but that doesn’t mean I should modify my life. I still want pub, so baby come to pub!’ Kids should be, and probably are, bored out of their tiny minds at pubs. It’s where grown-ups go to bitch about their friends’ new kitchen or boyfriend / girlfriend, not a playground, that’s why they’re full of glass, fruit machines and sharp edges.

If we can be a little melodramatic though, you’re a virus. You’re ruining pubs like you ruined football and the cinema, colonising it like the most boring invading army in history armed with iPhones and Kleenex.

And these little Emus come in many forms, like the unsettling stares from the one in the seat in front of us on a bus. We can see that you’re busy. Your Facebook feed needs attention immediately and while you’re telling a ‘friend’ you literally never think of that you’re thinking of him or her, your kid gets to be bored and peer uninterrupted at me over the seat.

It’s hardly the worst thing in the world true, but this kid will probably grow up to have no idea about boundaries, other people’s personal space, or how rude it is to stare at people. He or she will think that it’s perfectly ok to ignore your own blood by burying your stupid head in your stupid phone.

So well done. It’s going to grow up friendless and get the shit kicked out of it.

‘Oh stop it Mr Misery Guts’ you say, ‘it’s just a little child!’ Yes, yes but you see, if I was in a playground, a school or even a park then sure, I’d expect this but, not at MY places. Keep your little Emus under control; I’m not Michael Parkinson.

Tom James


[This is a short excerpt from the new book, Your Children Are Boring: or How Modern Parents Ruin Everything by Tom James]
Buy Tom James’ new book Your Children Are Boring: Or How Modern Parents Ruin Everything out now on paperback and kindle (use this link please https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1712629972/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_.kYIEbH8QX3EH )

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