Saturday is Hayley Day. I get to do whatever the chuff I like while my dearest boy looks after my dearest girl. So yesterday morning, after a lie in, I sauntered down to Mystic Brew, pausing in Tesco in get a paper. Simple enough, until I arrived, paused at the paper counter, reached my hand out for….for what? I had no idea which paper to buy. All around me, people were busy, striding purposefully up to the paper section and, without thinking, picking up their rag of choice, then stride stride stride to the till and off they went. They were done. They didn’t need to think. They had a paper. Their paper.
I hesitated, looked at the covers a bit. I was reminded of my ex-boss asking me a few months ago “Do you get the Guardian, Hayley, or do you get another paper?” It didn’t occur to him for a second that I didn’t get any paper, that, not only did I not have a paper delivered daily, I didn’t even know which paper I would choose if I did. My news intake is strictly limited to snatches of Radio 4 in between Peppa Pig, swimming lessons, singing class and endless retellings of The Gruffalo. Even if I did, on a daily basis, have time to sit down and read a paper, I don’t have a paper.
Most of the clientele in the newspaper section of Tesco Orpington were opting for either The Sun or the Daily Mail. No surprise there, really. And whilst I cannot deny the attraction of The Sun’s problem page, if discarded on a train; or the letters page pf the Daily Mail, whereby outraged readers vent their spleen about the fact that you can buy coconut milk in Sainsburys (soon they will make Yorkshire Puddings illegal! It’s all the fault of the EU and all those sponging immigrants!); I didn’t really want to spend any money on them.
What do people like me read? I know the answer really, of course. People like me read The Guardian. But I didn’t really want to read a paper because it’s what I should be reading. Surely I have a mind of my own? I reached for The Independent. This is the one for me, I thought. Screw you, Guardian, trying to tell me what I think and sell me nice things from your glossy magazine pages! Oh…glossy magazine pages. The Independent in my hand was suddenly so very, very, disappointingly thin. My heart sank. Clearly, The Independent didn’t have any extra sections. Imagine that, no extra sections! On a weekend! What were they thinking (Independently)? I looked across at The Guardian, all fat and inviting. It had so many sections they had had to be wrapped in plastic to keep them all together. I bought it. Damn.
Ten minutes later I was sitting with my coffee, trying to skim through the news section as quickly as possibly so I could get to the frippery. News done (OK, I just read the first few lines of most of it, apart from the in depth analysis of one of the alleged Russian Spy’s outfit choices), I started on the sections. Yay, sections. I spent quite a long time drooling at a greenhouse advert. I read a harrowing account of some kids while were dumped in an orphanage while their mother hanged herself. Chirpy! I then read the article which made me realise I had been right all along. I am not a Guardian reader.
On page 17 of the family section, I read with my mouth agape that we should not read children’s books aloud to our children, but to read them “proper literature”. Right. I just laughed at first, dismissing it as the most middle class notion I had ever heard. But then I got a bit cross. I am presuming that “proper literature” (and by the way, that doesn’t include Tony Parsons or Cecilia Ahern, as our esteemed writer has deemed these to be unworthy) would be books without pictures? Anyone tried it? Sitting down with a small child and expecting them to gaze with delight upon…rows and rows of text. Babies and toddlers are not really listening to the story, they are looking at bright shapes and listening to your voice, and learning to recognise words. You don’t need to be an expert on rearing children to know that repetition is absolutely key, something that’s going to be hard to find if you’re intent on ploughing your way through the latest Booker Prize shortlist.
The main problem with this theory, though, is the utter prickishness of the suggestion that intelligent people should not enjoy reading children’s books. And even if you don’t enjoy it, so what? I don’t enjoy changing nappies particularly but i do it because my child needs it. That’s what being a parent is all about, putting their needs first. And I’m sorry to tell you that that also means putting your “proper” books back on the shelf and picking up The Very Hungry Caterpillar.