My kids have led me to wreck and ruin

To Toy Story 3 with the children. I know enough by now about my own state of mind and the efficiency with which the good people of Pixar can churn the human heart, so I am bracing myself. In what proves to be only the first of many emotional moments during the course of the afternoon, I find that the cost of taking three children and myself to the cinema at Westfield is over £70. There is a cheaper cinema in the shopping complex but, perhaps deliberately, it is not showing the film at the only time I can make it without removing the children from school.

As I stumble, ashen-faced, from the counter, one of the children says: "You've won!" - meaning that it is I, and not their mother, who has "won" the honour of taking them to see this film, which they have been looking forward to for some time. Not having been aware that there was any contest in the first place, I murmur to myself the words of the Greek: "Another victory like that, and we're done for."

As for the film, I am well aware that age has softened both my head and my heart.

I think it has something to do with having children. Once, when we were on a somewhat idealist mission to have the eldest child grow up bilingual, we got hold of a video of 101 Dalmatians (the original Disney cartoon) in French. For some reason, this gave the film an added poignancy and, whenever I watched it with the eldest, I would find myself in bits by the time Pongo manages to get his owner married.

This trend of getting emotional at the movies has continued. Everyone cries at the beginning of A Matter of Life and Death, but I realised things were getting out of hand when I found tears trickling down my face at the end of Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. As for The Simpsons Movie - don't get me started. (The image of Homer Simpson adrift on an ice floe the shape of a broken heart haunts me to this day, to
the extent that I am not sure if I am the same man as I was before I saw it.)

Anyway, to the entertainment. It turns out that the reason the tickets were so expensive is that the cinema is a luxury one: the screen is larger than the typical glorified TV screen of the modern multiplex, and the seats are larger than the average armchair, with softly glowing panels upon which you can rest your drink and your popcorn. (Which, wise now to the grasping ways of cinema operators, I have instructed the fruit of the Lezard loins to buy on the Uxbridge Road and then smuggle in themselves.) This is all quite exciting. I was intrigued by the excellent Ryan Gilbey's review of the film in the previous week's New Statesman. Disappointing, eh? Good - less chance of me being turned into an emotional wreck by the end.

The crying game

Ah. With all due respect, Mr Gilbey, you did not see this film with three children of your own, all of whom were bringing with them their own memories and expectations. (They have, literally, grown up with the first two Toy Story films; my eldest is as old as the first one.)

Just as the toys in the film aren't just toys, but concentrations of childhood and nostalgia for it, so children are more than just your offspring, and their own beings: they are, inadvertently, what you invest them with as well.

I have to salute the ingenuity of the film's creators. Even allowing that I'm a sentimental old fool, they sure know how to put an audience through the wringer. At one point, I realise that I am not so much watching a movie as submitting myself to a ruthlessly efficient machine for making people cry. I am not sure whether this is an advance or a regression in the art form.

I try to look at the film as a Marxist critique of disposable capitalist society (although, like all children's films, it's hardcore conservative); I dredge up some mangled Lacan with which to interpret its themes of loss and desire. I even try to distract myself by contemplating Barbie's disturbingly cute bottom.

But it is no good. The final minutes of the film (which come after scenes of such infernal distress that I wonder whether young children should even
be allowed to see it), as Andy hands over his toys to a younger child, and then, in a moment for which all the toys have been yearning for years, plays with them one last time, have been almost sadistically crafted to prompt sobs.

It is perhaps only this realisation that stops me from losing it altogether. As we leave, shattered, I resolve to watch something more soothing next time. Like Psycho.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Politics and comedy

Photo: Getty Images/Richard Stonehouse
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Here's how Jeremy Corbyn can win back the Midlands

The Midlands is where elections are decided - and where Jeremy Corbyn can win. 

The Midlands: this “formless” place is where much of Labour’s fate lies. The party witnessed some of its most disappointing 2015 results here. In those early, depressing hours of 8 May, Nuneaton was the result that rang the death knell of Labour’s election chances. Burton, Cannock Chase, Halesowen & Rowley Regis, Redditch and Telford weren’t far behind. To win here Labour need to build a grassroots movement that engages swing voters.

Luckily, this is also a place with which Labour’s new leader has a natural affinity. The bellwether seat of Nuneaton is where Jeremy Corbyn chose to hold his last regional rally of the leadership contest; just a couple of counties over you’ll find the home Corbyn moved to in Shropshire when he was seven. He cut his political teeth round the corner in marginal constituency The Wrekin; it was in this key seat he did his first stint of campaigning. Flanked by a deputy leader, Tom Watson, who represents Labour stronghold West Bromwich East, Corbyn has his eye on the Midlands.

As MP for Islington North since 1983, Labour’s leader has earned London-centric credentials that have long since overshadowed his upbringing. But Corbynism isn’t a phenomenon confined to the capital. The enthusiasm that spilled out of Corbyn’s summer leadership rallies across the country has continued into the autumn months; Labour’s membership is now over 370,000. It’s fast catching up with 1997 figures, which are the highest in the party’s recent history.

London is the biggest beneficiary of this new movement - with 20 per cent of Labour’s members and 19 per cent of new members who signed up the week before conference coming from the capital. But Corbynism is flourishing elsewhere. 11 per cent of all Labour party members now reside in the southeast. In that same pre-conference week 14 per cent of new members came from this mostly Tory blue area of the country. And since last year, membership in the southwest increased by 124 per cent. Not all, but a good deal of this, is down to Corbyn’s brand of anti-austerity politics.

A dramatic rise in membership, with a decent regional spread, is nothing to be sneered at; people are what you need to create an election-winning grassroots movement. But, as May proved, having more members than your opposition doesn’t guarantee victory. Corbyn has spoken to many who’d lost faith in the political system but more people need to be won over to his cause.  

This is clear in the Midlands, where the party’s challenges are big. Labour’s membership is swelling here too, but to a lesser degree than elsewhere. 32 per cent of party members now and 13 per cent of those who joined up in seven days preceding conference hail from this part of the country.

But not all potential Labour voters will become card-carrying members. Corbyn needs to speak to swing voters. These people have no party colours and over the summer they had mixed views on Corbynism. In Nuneaton, Newsnight found a former Labour turned Ukip voter who thought Corbyn would take Labour “backwards” and put the economy at risk. But a fellow Ukip voter said he saw Corbyn as “fresh blood”.

These are enduring splits countrywide. Voters in key London marginal Croydon Central gave a mixed verdict on Corbyn’s conference speech. They thought he was genuine but were worried about his economic credibility. While they have significant doubts, swing voters are still figuring out who Labour’s new leader is.

This is where the grassroots movement comes into play. Part of the challenge is to get out there and explain to these people exactly who the party is, what it’s going to offer them and how it’s going to empower them to make change. 

Labour have nascent plans to make this reality in the Midlands. Tom Watson advocated bringing back to life this former industrial heartland by making it a base for manufacturing once again – hopefully based on modern skills and technologies.  He’s also said the leadership team will make regular regional visits to key seats. Watson’s words chime with plans floated by shadow minister Jon Trickett: to engage people with citizens’ assemblies where they have a say over Labour politics.

But meetings alone don’t make grassroots movements. Alongside the economy, regional identity is a decisive issue in this – and other – area(s) of the country. With the influx in money brought in by new members, Labour should harness peoples’ desire for belonging, get into communities and fill the gaps the Government are leaving empty. While they’re doing this, they could spread the word of a proper plan for devolution, harking back to the days of municipal socialism, so people know they’ll have power over their own communities under Labour.

This has to start now, and there’s no reason why the Midlands can’t act as a model. Labour can engage with swing voters by getting down to a community level and start showing – and not just saying –  how the party can make a difference. 

Maya Goodfellow is a freelance journalist.