Photo by Jak Hutchcraft
Russell Brand recently moved to the same small corner of East London as me, possibly because it is now billed by estate agents as a "village", despite not containing a maypole or any car parks suitable for dogging. Having interviewed Brand and found him brilliant company, I’m always pleased to see him eating at my local chicken cafe with his massive dog slumped at his feet (this is not a euphemism). Some of my friends are less enthusiastic though, which is why, when they find themselves standing behind him in the queue at Tesco, they take photos of the back of his head, put them on Instagram and write "TWAT" across them.
On the one hand, he’s done a lot of good comedy, raised awareness on drug addiction and burst through the dull box of death that is the telly. On the other, he burst through the dull box of death to grab a thousand women as if they were lifeboats made of tits, and is now trying to overthrow democracy with a revolution fashioned from leftover bits of the internet and some string. This week, Brand revealed that he’s writing books for children, because fairytales are “the code to unlock aspects of our consciousness and to affect and impact the way we see the world”. As the mother of a little girl, I’m wondering if I want her consciousness unlocked by the local revolutionary sex addict. Perhaps, I say to myself, with a tortured brow, it is better this way?
Well, let’s look at what else my kid has got going for her as a child in 21st century London. First, there’s Michael Gove, the Tory Education Minister whose curriculum I have scoured for things called art, or music, or love until my eyes boggle. There is no art in the brave new world of Mr Gove – there are only schools run by private businesses as if they were chainstores. (When Mossbourne Academy, one of our local secondaries, decided to open another branch down the road, it was referred to for a long time as Mossbourne Academy 2. Kanye West recently bought ten Burger King franchises for Kim Kardashian as a birthday present – is it totally far-fetched to suggest he could buy her a chain of British state schools next time instead?)
Even the core English GCSE has been stripped of its stories. It’s just grammar and comprehension, with literature now an optional extra; a bit on the side, lest children roam too freely into the land of unthought things, and find out that “hardworking families” is the sort of propaganda you can read about in the political predictions of George Orwell. In the Goveworld that awaits my daughter when she starts school, there is a lot of computer coding. There is British history taught as if it were clean fact, with goodies and baddies and winners of wars. (In fact these are the fairytales Gove is most fond of.) There is rote learning. There are facts. There are no attempts to unlock anybody’s consciousness at all.
And then there’s London itself – where this word "village" keeps getting bandied about in property developer newspeak. In the last 48 hours, the Standard spoke to Rob Tincknell, who is redeveloping Battersea Power Station and is also apparently obsessed with turning it into a “village”, where people will make friends with each other at some kind of virtual “parish pump”. What a fairytale! When the man gives an example of the sort of “new Londoners” who will pay squillions to inhabit this chatty village of decommissioned coal towers, he names his boss Tan Sri Liew, the Malaysian chairman of the Battersea Power Station Development Company.
“He spends a week in London every six weeks with his family and they’ve got a couple of homes in Soho,” the village idiot explained. “I would argue he contributes a lot to the fabric of London – he’s always here doing things, he is almost a local and that’s the kind of people you want.” Presumably, this development will end up doing what most others in London now do – building a whole separate entrance for the tiny fraction of the complex they’ve been forced to make vaguely affordable, so those villagers never have to cross paths with someone who turns out to be a resident yet looks weirdly like their cleaner.
Then there are the children’s books my daughter currently has. There’s The Gruffalo, which makes her wake up in the night screaming that monsters with scales on their back are coming to feed her to an owl. There’s the gritty social realist ones, where some kid loses their mum in a supermarket and not even CCTV can save them now. Then there’s the cheerier cuddly ones, with teddybears and hugs from Mummy and somebody weeping into the playground because a total bitch at the school fete won’t give them back their stuffed dog. People – it turns out we do not live in an ideal world at all.
And now there is Russell Brand, whose series of kids books will be called Trickster Tales and published by Canongate, starting with The Pied Piper of Hamelin in autumn. "Once upon a time, long ago, in a time that seemed to those present exactly like now, except their teeth weren't so clean, and more things were wooden, there was a town called Hamelin," the story will apparently begin, before going into some wild explorations of consciousness and rats. Oh, so many children, and rats. These books will be Brand’s own "interpretations of fairy stories and folk tales, “because once we start changing the way children see the world – oh we can do all sorts of stuff".
After a thorough and scientific investigation of how shit everything could actually get round here for kids, I have come to the conclusion that the hairy child-catching bastard might be onto something, you know.