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Norwich grandfather rediscovers tapes of his father reading forgotten bedtime tales

PUBLISHED: 12:15 09 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:15 09 November 2017

Robert Smith reads his book based on his father's taped bedtime stories he made up for Robert as a boy, to his grandchildren, sisters, Millie, six, and Tia Kerton, three, and their cousin Archie Camish, 18-months-old. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Robert Smith reads his book based on his father's taped bedtime stories he made up for Robert as a boy, to his grandchildren, sisters, Millie, six, and Tia Kerton, three, and their cousin Archie Camish, 18-months-old. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

Sixty years ago Robert’s father made up bedtime stories for his only son. Now those tales are being heard again - and could help save other families from the tragedy of losing a child to meningitis

Once upon a time a little boy cuddled up with his dad, eager to hear the latest adventures of a rabbit family living in nearby woods.

Bob Smith created the stories for his only son, Robert. And as he recounted the tales, he also recorded them.

Eventually the old magnetic tapes were stored away and almost forgotten. But when Robert retired last year he finally found time to sort through his attic, and rediscovered the recordings.

He was thrilled to find they were in excellent condition and as each was transferred to compact disc, their long-silent secrets coaxed from them, Robert found himself once again listening to his father’s voice.

“For 45 minutes I was with my father again. There were tears of joy!” he said. “As soon as each story started, I remembered it as clearly as if I had been read them just yesterday. It shows how receptive a five-year-old’s mind is, whereas now I struggle to remember what day of the week it is!”

His parents had also recorded key moments of his childhood, including their four-year-old son opening his presents on Christmas morning 1959. “They were careful to describe each present as it emerged from its noisy wrapping paper, and who each present was from, in order to preserve the memories,” said Robert, who still has the clockwork aerodrome he opened that Christmas.

“As the recordings testify, at the tender age of five I am an attentive if somewhat jiffly audience of one!”

During Robert’s childhood his dad worked as an electrical engineer, and ran an electrical shop on Dereham Road, Norwich. His mum was a hairdresser. But their only child, was just 12 when Vera died of cancer, leaving Bob to bring up Robert alone. “He was such a kind gentle man and a loving father,” remembered Robert.

Bob lived until he was 96 but as magnetic recording tape and tape recorders were replaced with cassettes, then CDs, and eventually digital media, the story tapes were stored away and almost consigned to family folklore.

Now Robert hopes many more children can enjoy the stories.

“I have lovingly brought the stories up to date and back to life, and have published them, mainly for the purpose of sharing them with my grandchildren and more widely, but also in memory of my late father,” said Robert.

“Each of my father’s stories contained a moral or lesson for me to learn as I grew up. I have ended each of my stories with a short paragraph as to what lessons have been learned by the bunny in that story,” said Robert.

And his grandchildren are as mesmerised as he was.

The book, My Bunny Rabbit Adventures, is dedicated to Robert’s four grandchildren – six-year-old Millie, three-year-old Tia, one-year-old Archie, and the grandson who died of meningitis aged just 18 months.

“I lost a grandson needlessly to meningitis in 2014, and have decided to donate profits made from the sales of my book to the research of this awful child-killing disease,” said Robert. “He had been a healthy little boy who had learned to walk and was saying his first words.”

But when he fell ill, meningitis was not immediately diagnosed.

“The 12 hour period lost until he was readmitted as an emergency was catastrophic,” said Robert. “His life support was turned off just 24 hours later. “Antibiotics kill the disease and would have saved him, but they must be given early, which sadly for my grandson was not the case.

“The preventable loss of a child or grandchild is the very worst thing that can happen to a parent or grandparent. In the 21st century, death shouldn’t happen because of an infection. But it does, and it is the kind of thing you read about in the newspapers and think, that’s awful and terrible, but it will never happen to us. But it did. And as a result, I wanted to do something to help prevent a reoccurrence, if only to save one child and their family from having to go through what my family has had to endure.”

My Bunny Rabbit Adventures is available in paperback for £17.99, eBook for £3.99 and audiobook for £2.99, from Amazon, Authorhouse publishing and Robert’s website, www.bunnyrabbitstories.com

All profits will go to the UK’s largest meningitis charity, Meningitis Now.

After losing his grandson Robert set himself the task of learning as much as possible about meningitis, and to raise awareness to prevent other families suffering similar tragedies.

Robert has worked with NHS England and Public Health England to help ensure that information about what to look out for, and what to do, is clear, comprehensive and easily accessible. For more about meningitis, including when to seek medical advice, visit www.meningitisnow.org and www.nhs.uk/conditions/Meningitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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