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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Lost the plot of family story time

IT STARTED off innocently enough.

In fact, it was quite lovely. We were walking through the fields near the house and Annie asks me, how did that crack get into that wall? So I made up a story with fairies and witches and hobgoblins and the rest. The centrepiece was a fairy called Lottie. This went down really well, and I experienced one of those rare what-a-great-father-I-am moments.

That night, in bed, they asked for another Lottie story. Who could refuse? Eighteen months later, I'm tearing my hair out trying to come up with plotlines for Lottie and her hateful effin shower of magical effers.

At the start, it was great. They'd listen spellbound. But as time wore on, all kinds of complications arose. First of all, the witches and goblins started to freak out Mike, so they had to be cut, as did anything that threatened the main characters even slightly.

It's not easy to make up a good story if none of the characters are threatened in anyway. Then they started to demand that they — the children — be included in the stories, too. Fine. Then it progressed to a shopping list of characters that, for example, could include Mike and Annie, Robin Hood, a hedgehog who was a good guy, a very bad hedgehog, cousin Darragh, Scooby Doo! and a poodle named Aoife (no less). And that was just Mike's list.

And you can't just mention these characters in passing. They have to play a vital role in the unfolding story. All of Mike's have to be heroic, otherwise he'll sulk, and of course you can have no mention of anything even vaguely scary or he'll have a freak attack.

Annie, meanwhile, keeps close tabs on the number of mentions her characters get and if we arrive at the end of the story and it's less than Mike's, she'll start giving out. It's like having Roman Polanski in one bed and Simon Cowell in the other. The second a character starts to do something they disagree with they'll start howling.

Rehashed

Over the past year-and-a-half, I've ripped off every book I've ever read and rehashed the plot of every movie I've ever seen, from The English Patient to Sister Act II (Back in the Habit). Every old film they ever see will seem slightly familiar to them.

Some nights I get away with just reading a story, but that brings its own problems. Despite the fact that the house is coming down with books, they always want the same bloody ones. Mike's favourite book is this Shrek sticker book from which almost all of the stickers have been removed, so that most of the pages are blank. Annie insists on me reading something from The Beano Annual 1989 which she found in her grandparents' house. This is just impossible. You're reading out speech bubbles and the jokes are more or less unexplainable to a six year-old. I spend most of the time answering questions like: “Why is the giant spider sad?”

These demands for interpretation and reinterpretation never stop. Last week, we were watching Finding Nemo on DVD and Mike asked me to tell him the story of Finding Nemo while he was watching it. “That's ludicrous!” I wailed. “Can't you just watch the thing!”

“Which one is ludicrous? Is he the blue one? Why is he doing that? What's going on now? I'm hungry. My bum is itchy. Why are you pulling your hair out? Can I help?”

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