It may be because I’m mildly hungover, but today I am excelling myself at getting crap songs stuck in my head. Right now I’m in a café and they’re playing Lovesong by The Cure, and what am I hearing by way of a counter-tune? Uptown Girl by Billy Joel. Only it’s not even that, not the original version, nor even the infinitely worse cover version by Westlife. It’s an even worse version than that, because it’s one we used to sing in the playground when I eight. Indeed, back then, it was considered the height of comic genius. And so, in case you didn’t sing it too, I give to you Uptown Dolly:
She’s been living in a Tesco trolley
She said she’s gonna go for Action Man
And they’ve been snogging in the A-Team van
It’s a pity there’s no mention of a soda stream but still, you’d be hard pressed to find four lines that shout early 80s more loudly than that. It’s like we all planned it just so one of us could go and discuss it on one of those “I heart the 80s” nostalgia programmes twenty years later. And we’d have done it, too, if it hadn’t been for that pesky Kate Thornton hogging the show.
Uptown Dolly was not the only toy-related parody song we sang, but the others are all too offensive to write down here. There was one about My Little Pony, but it involved rhyming “plastic” with an ablist term which I’m sure you can all make a guess at. Then later on the trial of the Butcher of Lyon – Klaus Barbie – provided ample opportunities for the creation of Barbie Dream Torture Chambers and the like. We were utterly self-centred, with no awareness of the context in which we made these nasty jokes. But what I think it also shows is that we held no reverence for our toys. We didn’t really want to be like Barbie. We all knew she was fucking ridiculous.
I cut off my Barbie doll’s hair. My mum told me it would never grow back. Like, duh, mum! It’s so much easier to dip your doll’s head in a tin of shoe polish if you’ve already cut off the hair. My brother tripped over my My Little Pony Show Stable, making the purple plastic roof cave in. It didn’t matter; the undignified mounting of Lemondrop by Peachy could still take place, with or without flimsy accessories. It’s not that I didn’t have toys I loved, just as my sons do now. But they were little, cuddly things from early childhood, not plastic zombie-women with miniscule waists or stupid ponies who separated themselves from their own tails if you tried to whirl them around your head while holding on to the latter (and ideally yelling something incomprehensible). I played with these toys but I was not in love with them. I no more wanted to be Barbie than my Eldest wants to be C-3PO (although he is in many ways just like C-3PO. I mean that in a good way).
When I look back on how I treated my Barbies, I think there are perhaps three possibilities:
- my friends and I were exceptionally weird or, slightly more generously, behaving like this is a Cumbrian thing
- girls today have grown up in a culture which has made them dumber and less capable of holding their toys at any critical distance
- girls today still do terrible things to Barbie and make up terrible songs about her
While I wouldn’t want anyone to emulate the all-round, broader offensiveness we embraced as children, I’d still like to think girls today are a bit like we were. And aren’t they, probably, behind our backs? Barbie will get you in the end and she will make you feel like shit. But in the meantime, you should at least be able to have a laugh (but remember, the songs will stay with you forever).
PS Christ, now they’re playing William, it was really nothing. I love this café! And I hate my stupid brain!