Losing sleep over bedtime stories

11th July 2003 at 01:00
TEACHERS with young children of their own lead a Jekyll-and-Hyde life. By day, it is all smiles as someone else's child demands your attention. In the evening, it is a different story - a total lack of sympathy when your kids want quality time.

I get home around 5.45pm. My cute and lively nine and six-year-olds instantly leap on me and demand to play rounders, football, or hide-and-seek. I am hardly through the front door and already suppressing a groan: "How about in 10 minutes?"

It gets worse. I am an English teacher - a custodian of the nation's reading habits, accustomed to derision when I suggest students should do some "summer reading". So what could be better than two pre-teens, desperate for Daddy to read to them?

Yet Dad can seldom face a bedtime story. It is heresy, but it is true - having spent all day straining your voice above a room-full of teenagers, the last thing you want is to repeat this at home. You need a drink and some serious "vegging" in front of the TV.

When guilt does occasionally force me to read to them, the first thing I do is work out how few pages I can get away with. Best of all, are those brief, fun stories with plenty of pictures, like The Gruffalo. These can be dispatched in five minutes flat. Worst, are the excellent Horrid Henry stories. Each chapter is 30 pages and a 25-minute session.

"What do you want tonight?"

"We want Moody Margaret!" (One of the longest.) It is like being back in school, only this time I am the bored teenager, watching the clock. My children show a curiosity that puts me to shame.

They ask questions and demand that their favourite bits be read twice.

It is fair to say that this reluctance to read to my own children is a constant irritation to my non-teaching wife. Especially when I quote the old adage about the "cobbler's children going barefoot" in self-defence.

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