My nieces love One Direction. I say ‘love’. It’s more of a joyless, fact-based obsession to which I am now party, due to our undeniable DNA link and its consequent obligation. For no other reason am I familiar with song titles, lyrics and anecdotes, such as the time one of them walked into a glass door and shortly afterwards another one walked into the same glass door.
Video viewings are forced upon me during what used to be pleasant visits filled with colouring competitions and attempted makeovers (they have an uncanny ability to turn almost anyone into a plausible Amy Winehouse impersonator while aiming for Disney Princess). Time is instead spent forensically studying the boys leaping about energetically in sunny locations, on laptops provided for educational purposes by optimistic parents. I am subjected to a deadly serious commentary delivered in a low, insistent monotone by a ten-year-old who used to care mostly about The Worst Witch: “That one has a girlfriend who’s a model. That one only has one kidney.”
Thankfully their names have orbited my brain, been denied permission to land, as they are all usually only referred to ‘that one’. They exist as an amorphous mass of teeth, hair and youthful joie-de-vivre and my averted mental eyes can just about deal with this. Except more is expected of me. Namely merchandise.
The material has yet to be discovered which can resist the 1D stamp, whose mere presence increases the market value of children’s pyjamas and lip gloss by approximately 4000%. I am looked to expectantly at every special occasion to add another treasure to the collection. Unwillingly, of course.
I never wanted to be the person who spent £5 of real money on an elasticated plastic bracelet with five grinning faces and a logo stamped upon it and have the woman who hands me the bag in Claire’s Accessories refuse to believe it’s not for me – “Of course, madam. Just like the men who come in to buy make up for ‘someone else’”. Or referee the ‘two posters for £5’ incident in which smaller niece changed her mind at the till prompting a furious lecture from older niece about how once you’d said yes to something it was never OK to change your mind.
Stepping in to deliver what felt like a vital life lesson about consent, I wondered how much of the hard-earned pocket money of the nation’s future adults those adorable mopheads beaming from the poster bin even saw. Could redemption be wrought from this budget music store meltdown through a timely lesson in exploitation? Apparently not. A singular poster was purchased, economies of scale forgotten in the desire to cover the last remaining bit of wall space in an already thoroughly Direction-ed bedroom-turned-shrine.
Oh for a return to the days of hiding shock at the abduction of their expanding collection of flocked woodland figures from their tiny plastic sweet shops and caravans to populate the newly established Sylvanian Makeshift Morgue. Even the brief foray into High School Musical dance mats and Mamma Mia! soundtracks (cue gimlet-eyed interrogation: “How do you know this song, Aunty Vicky?” “It’s ABBA“ “What’s an ABBA?”) would be welcomed back, though it seems to be part of the same picture. Merchandise, money and memories. Highly commercialised memories, quickly discarded by the next birthday list. There seems to be no escape.
But this could be the last round of emotional exploitation of which I get to be a part, before real boys take over and wreak their own special havoc without the compensation of badges, catchy lyrics and personalised pencil cases. I suppose I should be grateful I have a role now, where ‘They’re just not worth it’ can be measured indisputably in pounds sterling and not in broken teenage hearts. That is my only consolation for the sad truth that I know too much. I didn’t want to know anything. This should have passed me by. I’m old enough to be Harry’s girlfriend, for goodness sake (OK, maybe one name slipped through security). This is one direction I didn’t intend to travel in, but I’m going along for the ride.