A Spoonful of Sugar

Are the Sherman Brothers real, mummy?’ / ‘Do they live on our planet, mummy?’ / ‘Do they live on our road?‘ (….because if they lived on our planet, why wouldn’t they live on our road, after all?)

I know quite a lot about the Sherman brothers these days. If you’re wondering who they are and why the obsession with them……well they wrote the soundtrack to Mary Poppins. Yes they did; along with countless other films. And we are very much in a Mary Poppins phase. If, like us, you are lucky enough to own the Mary Poppins soundtrack and if, like us, you listen to it on repeat in the car, then you will know that at the end of the CD there is an interview with the Sherman brothers – yes, we love listening to this too. If you want to know how the song A Spoonful of Sugar came about, just ask us.

Our Mary Poppins obsession has been going on since the beginning of this year and shows no sign of waning. You might think I’d be over it by now but the thing is, well I actually quite like it. It can continue for a while longer as far as I’m concerned. I mean firstly, the songs – they are just so good, aren’t they? Who wouldn’t want to hear a little boy singing Sister Suffragettes with gusto as he goes about his day? Equally joyous is seeing your children attempting to recreate the whole Step in Time dance routine. And I challenge you to try singing along to Let’s Go Fly a Kite without raising a smile….I’m not sure it is possible – it must be one of the most uplifting songs ever written.

It has never been particularly easy to get my three boys to sit down and watch a film together, but Mary Poppins is one of the few films that manages to keep them all gripped. It might be old, and it might not be as flashy as today’s children’s offerings; but I think this might actually be a big part of the reason why we like it so much. I know it makes me sound about 83 but…..well they just don’t make films like Mary Poppins anymore. So many children’s films now seem to be so complicated. I am the first to admit that following a complex plot is not one of my strengths, but if I can’t follow what’s happening in a film then what hope do my four year olds have? Often there are too many characters, everything is moving too fast, the whole thing is too loud, I struggle to understand what anyone is saying; and plots are long and convoluted.

Yes I know, I really do sound about 83. But there is something very comforting and reassuring about Mary Poppins. Yes, there are parts of the plot which might go over the heads of very small children – Mrs Banks the suffragette, for example. But the gist of what’s happening – a flying nanny with a bottomless bag who takes two children on magical adventures in London, and a father who, in the end, fixes a broken kite – well, we can all understand that.

Yes, I know it’s all very saccharine and Julie Andrews actually sings about spoonfuls of sugar, but isn’t the message of that song actually quite a good one for children? Not taken literally, obviously. But isn’t it saying that if we try to make everyday jobs fun then they will be easier to carry out? And isn’t that what we all try and encourage our children to do if we want to encourage them to get on with something? When their little legs get tired on a long walk, or when they don’t want to tidy their room, or when they’re bored sitting in a traffic jam? Try singing a song as you walk……Or making a race out of tidying up to see who can be quickest……Or playing I Spy to help pass the time.

So in these uncertain times when the country frequently feels like it’s falling apart, I’ll happily take a spoonful of sugar. In these days of special effects and flashy superheroes, I’ll take dozens of chimney sweeps stepping in time. I’ll even take Bert’s ridiculous accent. Films these days may be ritzier and louder and flashier. They might have more impressive special effects. But when you’re 4 and 6, nothing can beat those magical opening and closing drawers in Mary Poppins.

Sometimes, less is more. There’s a lot to be said for a plot you can understand. For catchy songs. For dancing on roof-tops. And for Mary Poppins soaring over London with her magical umbrella.

We love you, Mary. You can stay a while longer.

Mary Poppins