From cats on mats to busy paramedics

It only seems like yesterday that toddler Gregory perched himself eagerly on my lap with a Dr Seuss book and took great delight in his growing ability to read.

It only seems like yesterday that toddler Gregory perched himself eagerly on my lap with a Dr Seuss book and took great delight in his growing ability to read. “Up. Pup. Pup is up. Cup. Pup. Pup in cup. Mouse. House. Mouse on house…” You get the idea - and, fortunately, so did he!

Life in those days was easy-peasy, cheddar-cheesy. Cats sat on mats, pups climbed amusingly into cups, and books were happy, simple affairs.

For the first 18 months Julie and I kept him entertained with touch-and-feel baby books. “Ripping yarns” took on a whole new meaning as Gregory literally tore through the plot, turned the pages far too heavy-handedly and lifted the hidden flaps with brute force.

Now a grown-up boy of eight, he is reading 'proper' books with increasing speed and confidence. As a first-time parent, I find his progress fascinating: the ability to accumulate a vast knowledge of words shows just how powerful and nimble the young human brain can be.

Although we are several years on from humble pups and cups, I am sometimes astonished by the complex vocabulary in his reading books and pleased that he nonetheless bravely “has a go” at the trickiest of words.

Last week, for example, he understandably stumbled at the following sentence: “Chris is a state-registered paramedic.” Ah yes, state-registered paramedics - those well-known characters so beloved of children's literature down the generations.

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Sarcasm aside, even an 18-year-old might struggle with “state-registered paramedic”, let alone an eight-year-old. Other challenging little gems from Gregory's reading book about the emergency services were “fire resistant”, “high-visibility jacket”, “satellite navigation” and “text message”.

I suppose that “sat-nav” and “texting” have now become such a part of common parlance that he needs to be familiar with them. Indeed, they are at the heart of many 21st century lifestyles.

Always keen to promote cutting-edge concepts, the government is telling us that children's development can be helped if parents take time to sit and read to them. Such an amazing idea! I can't believe that no one has ever thought of it before.

I wonder how many think-tanks, focus groups, consultants, overpaid advisers and quangos were needed to come up with that pearl of parenting wisdom?

Here at Bullock Towers, reading sessions with Gregory have been an enjoyable and mutually rewarding part of our daily routine for years. We certainly didn't need dear old Nanny State to suggest it.

I've occasionally had to make a few subtle amendments at storytime in order not to worry the wee lad. One of his favourite books, for example, used to be The House That Jack Built, which got off to a bad start with the line: “This is the cat that killed the rat…”

In a moment of inspired censorship, I read out loud: “This is the cat that kissed(itals) the rat…” Switching just two consonants turned tooth-and-claw savagery into a natural gesture of tenderness.

Some of his wildlife picture books can be gory affairs, too, with illustrations of lions attacking blood-spattered zebras or packs of wolves hunting down stags. In a feeble attempt to reassure him, I'll say: “Look Gregory, the careless zebra has spilled his tomato ketchup again. And he's having a nice pretend wrestling match with Mr Lion.”

Or: “Those wolves are always being careless with the red felt-tips, aren't they? Perhaps they've been doing some colouring-in with their friend, the stag, and have accidentally got red ink everywhere.”

He generally sighs, gives me a look of utter disdain and dismisses my overprotective nonsense with a calm response such as: “Don't be so ridiculous, Daddy - the lion is actually eating the zebra. That's what lions do.” Kids, eh?

I haven't yet gone as far as changing the title of a story, so I was intrigued by recent reports that a junior school in Huddersfield has turned a musical production of The Three Little Pigs into The Three Little Puppies - for fear of offending Muslims.

The sanitised Bullock Towers version, of course, would retain the pigs but would probably tone down that unpleasant wolf threatening to huff, puff and blow houses down in case he caused any undue distress to Master Gregory.

My kindly wolf would instead offer the pigs a nice cup of tea with counselling, chat through various 'home dismantlement options' and draw up a list of achievable positive outcomes on a flipchart. Most of all, I'd make sure he took great care with the red felt-tip pens.