There’s a certain level of fame where only one name is required for immediate recognition.
Like Madonna, or Beyoncé.
Or, in the world of of kids’ TV, Andy.
For any readers who don’t have young children I should explain that Andy is a constant presence on CBeebies, and therefore on my television screen. A whole genre of programmes has been created around his floppy hat wearing explorer character (Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures/Prehistoric Adventures/Wild Adventures/Safari Adventures). He also sings in his own rock band and seems to have a strange talent for making mummies go weak-kneed.
My wee man adores Andy and many of the extemporised games he plays involves him imagining himself as the adventurer, getting in and out of exciting scrapes as he squeals with delight: ‘Time to go on a dinosaur adventure!’
As a parent it might be expected that there would be a particular level of ennui towards such a ubiquitous force in my son’s cultural experience. But it’s not so with curly-locked Andy; it’s simply impossible to dislike him.
So, when it was announced that Andy Day (for that is his full name) was coming to Belfast for the Christmas lights switch-on, there was nothing to do but get tickets.
Or, at least, that would have been the case if I had actually been able to get tickets.
They were made available online by the council to the public at 9am on a Monday morning and within minutes had all been allocated while I was still trying to remember the password for my laptop.
Of course a seasoned and resourceful blogger like myself was unlikely to allow such a petty hiccup to frustrate my attempts to enable my son to see his favourite TV character.
I thought hard about what I would do. Then I thought some more. Then I made a cup of coffee before having another think.
Then my wife, a respected journalist, phoned me and told me that she had gone ahead and got press tickets from the lovely people at Belfast City Council.
I nodded my head slowly in approval. I knew that I’d think of something.
We’re standing in front of the large stage in front of the City Hall. The number of people is beginning to swell rapidly. I’ve got mixed feelings. It’s fair to say that my five-year-old has a poor record in attending public events. He doesn’t like large crowds and is easily disturbed by loud noise. I’ve lost count of the number of carefully prepared family outings that we’ve had to abandon in misery and frustration because he has become upset and afraid of the din and commotion.
And now, as the density of spectators thickens the throng, I’m worried that it’s only a matter of times before my wee man gets spooked and we have to retreat to the car, excitement once more tempered by reality.
But it doesn’t happen.
There’s something different in the air tonight. It’s a beautiful, dry, clear evening in Belfast and the city centre has put on its best face. Christmas music is playing and it’s easy to forget that it’s still only the middle of November. It’s an evening to leave cynicism at home.
I begin to relax as it becomes clear my son is actually enjoying himself. He’s singing along to the tunes, dancing on the road and playing games only he understands. When the official entertainment begins he demands to be lifted to have a better view of the action on the colourful stage.
My little boy insisted on bringing along a large toy dinosaur, ignoring my practical pleas for him to leave it in the car. When Andy comes to the stage he immediately launches into a series of dino raps and my wee man serenely waves his T-Rex high above his head, vindicated that he knew better than daddy. Better than everyone.
I don’t see that much of Andy’s performance because I’m watching my son’s face. He is transfixed with a particular sense of delight which can’t be faked. He absolutely gets what is going on. Just at this time, at this age, on this night, it all makes sense to him.
I watch his smile. That’s my memory of the night.
As Andy coaxes the crowd into a series of growls and roars mummy and I take turns holding our son. Physically we’re both beginning to flag. My back is beginning to fail and her heels are making her feet ache. But my son is effervescent, with enough contagious energy to sustain us all.
Soon it’s time to switch on the Christmas lights. We all bellow out the countdown from ten and, a moment after we reach zero, the tree, City Hall and surrounding streets become a kaleidoscope of dazzling illumination. Andy returns to the stage with Fireman Sam, Paw Patrol and the Lord Mayor to dance along to Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone. A machine is blowing out fake snow which lands lightly on my boy’s face.
We wave a distant goodbye to Andy. We’ve got quite a long walk back to the car.
My son has a particular trait. When he’s happy he bounces as he moves, up and down, as if all the forces of fun within him simply can’t be contained.
As we walk down Royal Avenue tonight, past the ashy shell of the old Primark building, mummy is limping and I’m shuffling. But my boy is bouncing as he walks. Up and down. Up and down.
And he’s singing also, with a wonderful disregard for who is nearby and what they might think.
We’re home now and it’s very late as I write this. In truth I could have waited until the morning and, with a fresher mind, produced a more polished version.
But I felt moved to record my thoughts while they were still dancing around my skull. To get the immediacy of it across. To remember it exactly as it happened.
To remember the look on my son’s face when he saw Andy.