It's all JK Rowling's fault. Before the boarding school whimsy of Potter came along parents had about given up reading to any child capable of diving into Roald Dahl under the bedclothes after lights out. Thanks to headphones even the terminally lazy could snuggle down with an audiobook.
But then came the necromantic nostalgia of Harry Potter and, as if by magic, an unemployed single parent living in Edinburgh became one of the most potent forces for social change since Marx, Spencer and the microchip.
Last week, Young Tom came back from a sleepover declaring that Maurice's mum was "brilliant at Harry Potter". Evidently, to be brill at Potter isn't to understand how Jo Rowling has become a major player in contemporary marketing, or even to shell out for all Hogwarts's merchandising. No, it's to excel at all the voices, Stephen Fry fashion.
Maurice's mum, a designer of websites by day, does a Hagrid that could bring tears to the eyes of Jeremy Paxman and her Voldemort is said to be even more scary than the sight ofMargaret Thatcher kissing a newborn baby.
Personally, I have no wish to get involved in competitive histrionics with fellow parents. Books are a private dialogue between author and reader. Moreover, the day when a child masters the art of silent reading is a blessed one. I can remember the tedium of reading round the class at school with Bacon, Banerjee and Box taking us one syll-a-ble-at-a-time through deathless prose.
Within minutes half the class had switched off in boredom while the swots were surreptitiously reading ahead. Orwell became awful and Trollope tripe as the gems of English literature became a turgid exercise to make sure everyone had at least seen the set text. Prose fiction, unlike poetry and drama, is not intended to be read out loud. No one enjoys it except for the class show-off which is what Fry admits he was and what Maurice's mother has proved herself to be. Personally, I don't care how good she is at Slitherin the night away, my Muggles are private. This is one dad who's staying mum.