There are aspects of parenthood I could be better at. I’m forgetful (twice last week, I packed no nappies in his nursery bag) and selfish – I eat roughly 35% of the food I’m meant to feed him. But one thing I am ready for is story time. My voice-work is unparalleled, my back stories deep and weighted. I bulge my eyes and strain my neck as I inhabit a score of characters for my son’s delight. ‘The actor,’ wrote Lee Strasberg, ‘creates with his own flesh and blood all those things that the arts try to describe.’ It’s tragic he never got to see me do my version of Supertato, the masked vegetable superhero I consider my finest vocal realisation.
Though not a reader per se, my son has a passion for books that has come on in leaps and bounds. More accurately, it’s come on in sprinting crawls, his doughy little paw holding whichever book he wants us to read just one or two or eight more times. I’m biased, of course, but he likes some pretty advanced stuff, particularly really boring dramas that are only interesting because they features an unlikely protagonist: a dinosaur loses his hat, a fire engine does its taxes, a moth deletes its Facebook account – that kind of thing. But he really likes those thick, hard little books for babies, squat and square like carpet-swatch booklets.
You can tell the books he likes best because he will wear them to pieces until they hold together via individual atoms. Once square and regular, Happy Dog Sad Dog now hangs together like a collapsed Frank Gehry building. Just opening it propels the acrid disjecta of several previous meals into the air, and sends random pages clunking to the floor, like those magazine inserts for a wine club you’d like to think you’ll join, but never will.
The only complication is my wife, who fancies herself a better storyteller than me, even though I’m an almost famous Twitter humorist, and she does some other job I’ve never really quite gathered in the 10 years I’ve been with her. (I want to say something to do with computers?) She’s taken to attacking these stories with a venom she doesn’t get from her daily life. (In accounting, maybe?) Either way, she’s working my side of the street and I don’t like it. ‘A scouse potato?’ I think. ‘Dear oh dear, what would Strasberg make of that?’
My son is not yet sophisticated enough to spot this, and laps up her clearly inferior story times, leaving us in roughly equal esteem. Trapped in an endless stand-off of regional accents, giant gestures and screamed rhymes, we strive to be the one to whom he brings the next book, gesticulating until our veins pop. Now, if you’ll forgive me, I will take my leave. It’s not you I’m trying to impress, my son has returned and this maestro must take his place on stage.
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