Nice clean boys have lit my fire

ENTERING my daughter's bedroom a couple of days ago I was shocked to see a large, blank wall. The night before, every inch had been plastered with posters of Take That. Now they were stuffed into the bin.

Since April (when she had really got the bug), I have been quizzed, mercilessly, about whether I preferred Robbie, Howard, Mark, Jason or Gary. Unwelcome guests at the start, the famous five had become part of the household: each has a distinct persona. And, as one paper noted: 'These were the new boys next door, they were not about to carry off the nation's daughters to a life of unimaginable depravity. They were as celibate as tea and biscuits.'

The bedroom also housed the prize exhibit, shown to every visiting friend: an autograph from Gary, hunted down by a friend in Manchester. My daughter perfected a dance routine with a group of friends to 'Everything Changes But You' to perform with a group of friends, as a farewell rite, on the last day of school. She burst into tears when the track went missing, and the dance was called off.

On holiday we smoothed car journey revolts with the emollient Take That medley of Beatles songs. And there was always the Take That video at home. This was the first great pop group crush to hit our household and the speed and intensity of adoration reminded me of the Beatles, even though the pop gurus say a better comparison is the Osmonds. All I know is that everyone with girls in the eight to 12 age band seemed to be swept up, as was their pocket money.

So, when the BBC's Newsround conducted a poll earlier this month which showed that 80 per cent of children hated the group's new kinky stage image, I lay low and wondered if such a love affair could really be shaken by a piece of marketing hype that affected the music not a jot?

Then a friend, badgered into spending pounds 11 on the Take That fan club (she got a woolly hat with Take That on the front), reported indignantly that her daughter wouldn't touch it: she had switched to Blur. I still half expected desperate pleas to magic up some Take That tickets for the Wembley Arena show, which started this week. But not a sausage - until the posters came down, and the great love affair iced over. 'Mark and Jason, they've gone all scruffy. And it's rude to show your bottom,' was the explanation. My daughter scooped up a discarded picture and pointed to Howard's dreadlocks and grungy beard with disgust.

She fetched me a photo of her new hero, Sean Maguire, who is 18, used to be on Grange Hill, and has a funny mouth from which he warbles 'Everybody Needs Someone To Love'. Scanning her Smash Hits for clues to his appeal, I found a picture of Maguire stuffing melon: 'Watermelon is such a great lush thing to have . . . I guess pink makes me think of things girlie. Things like furry teddies that sit on beds with bows on,' said the caption. Yuck, but when you're 11 it goes down a treat.

I suppose the hot/cold experience represents a swift initiation (for me) into the fickleness of affection that is part of growing up. But the problem is that I am secretly suffering withdrawal symptoms, missing Take That to the point of deliberately waiting up to watch the Mercury Music Prize this week in case they won. Call it brainwashing, but I happen to think 'Everything Changes' and 'Relight My Fire' (your love is my only desire) rather classic pop songs.

When Take That started, four years ago, they revived the teeny bopper group cult. When they first toured in 1991 their act was described by the Daily Star as filthy: they soon repitched themselves as 'Every Mother's Ideal Sons', which is where my daughter came in. So has the grunge image backfired? Yes and no. I secretly rather support their change: everything changes, as they sing, so why not move up the age range, where the real spending power, rather than pester power, lies. If they are going to stay the course then the disgusted teeny boppers will just have to rediscover them a bit later, when their fires of affection are relit, so to speak.

The shows are complete sell- outs, by the way, no returns from upset fans. I rang up this morning, just checking. But when I put down the phone I realised that I would not really have minded going: after months of these icons staring down from the wall, it would have been interesting to see their act in the flesh and decide for myself whether it is too raunchy. The problem now is finding the time to play their tracks, when nobody of 11 or under is around.

COMMUTING to work, I saw a man convulse helplessly with laughter as he read a newspaper. He was reading a story about a pin-striped poser who clinched a business deal on his mobile phone, while on the train. An elderly man in the same carriage felt unwell, and asked to use it to make an emergency call home. The businessman refused, then was forced to admit the phone was nothing more than a children's toy. The packed carriage, on the way to Sevenoaks fell about laughing. And to think that I was on the point of buying a mobile phone. The show-offs of the world have a great deal to answer for, in giving a useful modern communications tool such a terrible image.

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