Toby Young Toby Young

The tyranny of the bedtime story

The dreaded tryanny of a bed-time story

All surveys carried out by retail businesses with a view to generating press coverage should be treated with extreme caution, but I cannot resist writing about one that has just been published by The press release is headed ‘The Decline of the Bedtime Story’ and the key finding is that 64 per cent of parents do not regularly read a bedtime story to their children. Just 10 per cent say they do, while 6 per cent say they have never done it.

Oh how I envy that 6 per cent! I am a member of the wretched 10 per cent who read to their children at night. Why wretched? Let me count the ways.

First of all, children have absolutely no taste. None. When my daughter was a baby and unable to protest I read her Pride and Prejudice, mainly because I fancied rereading it myself. But as soon as she was able to exercise any choice she would insist on the most ghastly trash, such as We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by the hirsute communist Michael Rosen. Ironically, Rosen is a lifelong opponent of rote learning — on the grounds that it stifles children’s creativity, or some such rubbish — but I have been forced to read this awful, so-called poem to my children so many times that it is seared into my brain.

I cannot merely cite it by rote. I find myself muttering it, involuntarily, when I’m on country walks and confront one of the obstacles the children have to face in the poem: ‘Uh-oh! Mud! Thick oozy mud. We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it! Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch. Squelch squerch.’

I know that when my time comes and I am staring the Grim Reaper in the face I will think: ‘Uh-oh! Death! Hooded, skeletal death.

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