I was bang up for reading to my children at bedtime. I felt it was massively in my wheelhouse. God knows I wouldn’t be constructing any treehouses but I could sit on a chair and read a book. I’d watched a lot of Jackanory. I knew the right pace and the right comforting low pitch. I could do voices. I knew to say the last few lines very slowly while simultaneously closing the book. And to lean over to kiss them on the forehead and bid a fond ‘good night’ as they slip off to the Land of Nod, heads full of fantastical images.
Now that I’ve written it down, it does sound a bit creepy. Perhaps that’s why the reality is very different. First of all the Major normally takes some persuading that he wants me to read to him at all. He evaluates my skills differently, mostly requesting his mother to read to him. When I explain to him that mummy is downstairs making me my tea, he counters that mummy is the ‘reader’ and I am the ‘cooker’. I guess I should encourage his unchauvinistic view on household management, or take it as a stirring endorsement of my scrambledy-bambledy eggs on toast. What it is really though is just another slightly disheartening reminder of the recurring theme of my parental experience so far: that Major wholeheartedly prefers his mum.
So bedtime stories has become a battle of wills. I once recited Incey Wincey Spider to the Major only for him to ask me to read it again ‘like a man’. Obviously my ego was bruised so I repeated the rhyme in a sort of Clint Eastwood snarl. The Major then asked me to read it like a lady, then a girl and then a little boy. After that challenges became more surreal: Incey Wincey Spider came out like a giraffe, a leaf and most obviously a spider.
This seemed to entertain both reader and audience so I started doing funny voices for other stories. I try to read Thomas the Tank Engine in a Scouse accent like Ringo Starr, the original narrator of the television series. Like all my accents, it comes out Indian. Except my Indian one, which comes out Welsh. You’re probably sympathizing with Major now but when you have to read Harry and the Dinosaurs United on a perpetual loop, then certain tactics are required.
I shouldn’t single out Harry and the Dinosaurs United. There’s Harry and the Dinosaurs Say Raaah and Harry and the Robots, which doesn’t feature any dinosaurs. The Major is wise to my aversion to the Harry series because invariably he’ll select one off the shelf. I confess to throwing a few minor tantrums on these occasions.
Sometime Major likes me to make up stories. The most coherent of which was about a lonely crocodile that gained acceptance from the other jungle animals by dribbling a football with his nose. There was one about electric pylons turning into robots and stomping all over the countryside. The plot dribbled off into nothing quite early which was a good thing because it would have probably have been absolutely terrifying. And then there was another one about a dinosaur that was also a princess called Dianasaurus Rex which hasn’t got past the concept stage.
Mainly it just ends up with me listing stuff very slowly, which is probably the genesis of most of the children’s books. A typical example would be Peppa Pig walking into a forest and bumping into every single Peppa Pig character I can think of and some that I’ve made up like Clive Cow and Simon Salmon.
The Major is now three and I’ve began to read longer text-heavy books, intended to be read episodically over a few nights. Unfortunately it seems that he cannot be left with a cliffhanger without flying into a rage so these occasions have turned into something of a marathon. I spent a full hour reading him Roald Dahl’s The Twits which is a basically a novella. At the end I at least thought I’d filled his head with fantastical images and that I could lean over and kiss his forehead as he slipped off to the Land of Nod. But the Major was wide awake and the fun had just begun.