I once saw an arthouse film called The Circle. It was an Iranian film that was loved by quite a lot of my friends, because it said something about the status of women in the Muslim world. My main memory is that it said it very slowly. There was one scene on a bus that lasted the entire ten minute ride, shot in real time, without any dialogue or action from the characters, save some earnest blinking. Admittedly, there was also background rain.
In The Night Garden, whilst being a less overtly political work than The Circle is similarly committed to allowing a scene ‘time to breathe’. Parents out there know what I mean. The Tombliboos see their pants on the clothesline. The narrator will say ‘The Tombliboos have seen their pants on the clothesline’. The Tombliboos will squeak at their pants on the clothesline. The narrator will say ‘Look at that Tombiboos, your pants are on the clothesline?’ The Tomblboos will do nothing about the fact their pants are on the clothesline. The narrator will say, ‘Oh dear, Tombliboos, how did your pants get on the clothesline.’ The Tombliboos will clap their hands on their knees and point at their pants. The narrator will say ‘It’s lucky the Tombliboos have more pants, their pants are on the clothesline.’
The pants are not a plot point, nor is the clothesline. Nor are the Tombliboos. After ten or so minutes of pointing and clapping for pants on the clothesline, we’ll move on to Upsy Daisy attempting to wake up a ball.
It’s excruciating, but if you sit down and take some deep breaths, and make yourself go sort of cross eyed and clear the section of your mind that is your inner one year old — you can actually see God.
Anyway, imagine my surprise when I’m watching the Pontipines (squeaking peg dolls who wear red coats and number off frantically at the slightest provocation) wait for the Wottingers, (squeaking peg dolls who wear blue coats and don’t get as much screen time as the Pontipines) for a peg doll picnic, and there’s some actual fucking conflict! The Pontipines wait and wait, and squeak and squeak, and I’m folding socks screaming at Mr and Mrs Pontipine to do something. Meanwhile the Wottingers are lost, so they’re squeaking too. I don’t get too excited, because I’ve seen these possible moments of dramatic action before, only to end up disappointed. The most likely development is that both parties will squeak madly and peg doll hop for a third of an episode, and then it will all be resolved with a hard cut to a fat singing parrot.
But suddenly, gloriously, the Pontipines get jack of waiting for the Wottingers and just eat the picnic. They squeak it down, every last crumb. I’m absolutely flabbergasted. I tell my one year old what he is witnessing. ‘This is a dramatic arc, Jack’ I say. ‘The Pontipines, in their red coats, have ruptured the fragile alliance with the Wottingers in their military blue. This could get interesting.’
And it does get interesting (sort of). The Wottingers arrive on a rock above the picnic site, and look down on the Pontipines and the picnic that is no more. ‘Oh dear,’ the narrator moans. ‘There is no food left for the Wottingers. What will the Wottingers do?’
For the first time in the history of the Night Garden, I’m wondering too. ‘Don’t fucking stand for it, Wottingers,’ I say into the washing pile. ‘They invited you on a picnic, and then they stiffed you.’ But I can also see the Pontipine point of view. The Wottingers have taken an eternity, and you can’t just put a picnic on hold forever. Jack and I sit forward in our seats. It could be on here.
And then we get resolution.
Narrator: ‘Isn’t that funny! It seems the Wottingers have forgotten the Pontipines asked them on a picnic.’
Forgotten? It’s not possible. You can’t do this to me In The Night Garden writers! I can only get by gambling on whether it will be Ninky Nonk or a Pinky Ponk for so long. I needed this fight. I needed this fucking war!
Narrator: ‘Look, the Wottingers and Pontipines are playing together! Isn’t that a pip.’
Save me Titifers. Save me Haahoos.
Then the merry go-round starts, and the fairground goodnight theme kicks in and somebody isn’t in bed, and it’s Iggle Piggle who isn’t in bed, and we all take a deep breath because we know this bit, and know that it ends with it being it being ‘time to go’ – and some of us, unlike Iggle Piggle, are usually ready.