Toby Young Toby Young

Status Anxiety: Once upon a time on the motorway

After my recent column about the horrors of travelling with my four children, I got a sweet letter from a 17-year-old called Tara Vivian-Neal recommending the wheeze that her parents came up with to keep her and her brother quiet on long car journeys: audiobooks.

Black Ships Before Troy, The Iliad and Tales of William Shakespeare have forever been drummed into my head,’ she wrote. ‘When a story as captivating as King Lear or Macbeth is read aloud you totally immerse yourself and bickering and fighting is ­forgotten.’

Now, I’m not so naive as to think that my children’s attention could be captured by Tales of William Shakespeare. Gnomeo and Juliet is about their level — and even that was considered a bit highbrow by seven-year-old Ludo, who still struggles with SpongeBob SquarePants. But before our trip to Cornwall over the Easter break I decided to give it a whirl and made a few purchases.

First into the car’s CD player was Robin Hood, Crusader, billed as a ‘Hodder Children’s Classic’. I shouldn’t have been fooled by those words. Far from being a ‘classic’, it’s an original work by Matt Willies and John Brett and it’s quite astonishingly bad. Here’s a verbatim transcript of a conversation between Robin Hood and Will Scarlett as they’re fending off a pirate attack on the high seas:

Robin: Hold on, Will. You can’t fight three pirates by yourself. Let me have one too.

Will: At last, Robin. I wondered where you were. It’s here that your noble breeding and education shows — in the heat of battle and with a gleaming sword in your hand.

Robin: Ah, but Will. You know my favourite is the bow. Fly to your target, arrow!

My children were momentarily distracted, but watching them knock six bells out of each other was preferable to listening to this dreck.

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