Neverending Story

In which our reluctant hero goes back to school (again) and fails to come up with an appropriate blog title despite spending about four hours on imdb.

I’ve spent much of this week on the road or, more accurately, on the rails. With hindsight, this was only slightly better than spending much of the week going off the rails, but no matter.

Surprisingly, commuting to work is not as fun or glamorous as is sounds. No, really. My daily trek usually involves overcrowded carriages, faulty toilets and wringing ten hour old coffee dregs from a battered Thermos. I frequently find myself staring into space and adopting an expression resembling Michael Palin midway through filming a Channel 5 series where he only visits soulless provincial towns by Megabus.

Anyway, I was making good progress while travelling home on Wednesday evening when a message unexpectedly popped up on my not-as-smart-as-it-thinks-it-is-phone. It was from my wife. Who did you think it going to be from? The Pope?

“M has just taught me something I didn’t know”
(Trespasser on line. Spoke too soon…)
What was it?”
“A cross between a diagram and graph?”
“Apparently it is a sound which has 2 letters
E.g. ‘Ch’ or ‘sh’ or ‘th’”
“Ah. Digraph… Looked it up mind!”

Ha, indeed.

After briefly pondering what a “diagraph” could be if it existed (I settled on something like an infographic) I re-read the definition of the thing that I was supposed to be finding out about. Stupid short attention span. Ooh, look. A bee…

According to the Internet, which is never wrong, digraph sounds are single sounds that are represented in writing with two letters i.e. ch, th, sh, wh, and ng. Digraphs are not the same as consonant blends. Oh, no. Each pair of letters make a new sound that is different from the sounds made by the individual letters. Or something.

So there you go. We’ve learnt something from our four year old that she didn’t pick up from adverts on YouTube or Nick Jr. Isn’t modern day education marvellous?

Once home, I helped our daughter spot digraphs by pointing them out as she read her nightly story. Fortunately, it turned out that there were loads of them in “The Seven Kids.” Not as many as those pesky consonant blends, mind – they get everywhere – but loads nonetheless.

Isn’t it funny how once you know that something exists, you notice it everywhere having never given it a thought previously? The same thing happened when we downgraded our Mercedes to a second hand Vauxhall Meriva. Stupid practical kid cars.

But there’s more to life than books you know, and other ways to learn apart from reading. Apparently, repetition is the mother of all learning, and possibly the father too. A most genius idea of how to identify digraphs popped into my noggin. Why not simply point them out in sentences that we say all the time? Say the sentence, highlight the digraph and repeat, ad infinitum. She’ll be top of the class by the end of the week. Sorted.

You’d like to play along at home too, you say? That’s fine. Here’s some common and useful everyday phrases to get you going. Feel free to add your own. You’re welcome.


  • What would you like for lunch?
  • No, you can’t have fish fingers and chips again.
  • OK. But wash your hands though.

Leaving the house

  • Why haven’t you got your shoes on?
  • Who moved the car keys?
  • Shut that door… we’re not going anywhere yet.

Tidy up time

  • Where did all this rubbish come from?
  • Who has been throwing Lego down the stairs?
  • I’ll pick it up then, shall I?


  • I thought that I asked you to clean your teeth.
  • Stop pouring shampoo into the bath!
  • That doesn’t look like sleeping.

Essential Everyday Phrases

  • What did mum just say?
  • No, we’re not nearly there yet.
  • Stop pushing your brother!
  • I don’t care who started it.
  • I’m going to count to three…
  • Because I said so, that’s why.
  • What are you crying for this time?
  • I’m not angry!
  • I’m taking you two back to the shop.

That’ll do. I’ve had enough of this. I’m going.



Tellin’ Stories

In which our reluctant hero discovers that there’s more to life than books. But not much more.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

This week is National Storytelling Week. Coincidentally, it is also the first week this year that I’ve started reading a book that doesn’t feature princesses or a monkey that has lost his mum. And what better excuse for the evil natured programme planners at CBeebies Towers to spice things up by wheeling out Tom Hardy (whoever he is) to do “Bedtime Stories” for the second time in a month. Can’t you give us poor dads a break?

21st century almost-grown-ups are apparently reading more than ever. Sadly, for many of us, this is largely noise, cranked up to eleven, from the endless inane soundbites and clickbait that we are bombarded with during our waking hours.

For may parents, the exception to this involuntary rule is the bedtime story. Children’s fiction may not be Shakespeare, but at least it contains coherent chunks that span more than 140 characters.

Story time is often presented as an idyllic parenting ritual, where sleepy-eyed little people hang on mum or dad’s every word before cuddles and the nightly lecture about not getting out of bed until the sun is “up up” on the Gro-clock.

And, to be fair, it usually is. It’s the bouncing on the sofa, emptying the re-stocked toy cupboard, arguing over telly programmes, refusing to go upstairs, splashing in the bath, refusing to brush teeth, suddenly becoming hungry seconds after eventually brushing teeth, jumping in the wrong bed and arguing over who’s turn it is for mum to do the stories beforehand that’s the problem. Every. Single. Night. But that’s not the story’s fault, is it?

We read to our children because it’s important. Important as part of the bedtime routine. Important as it’s usually calm one on one time doing a shared thing, which is nice whether you’ve been out at work all day and missed everything else or not. Important as it fuels the imagination in a way that telly just can’t. Important as it can help increase literacy and learning in the long term, and help shape the next generation of cool kids that hang around in libraries and Waterstones at a certain age.

But what chance have we got of keeping our children interested in reading once they can do it by themselves?

My book is on my tablet which is convenient for commuting. But with the tablet comes distractions. There’s enough games, music, films and telly to provide a lifetime of entertainment and the temptation for me, an adult-ish man, not to read is often overwhelming. Children hardly stand a chance.

Creativity requires time and patience, and often rises from boredom. Proper boredom rarely happens with so many distractions and the constant flitting from one thing to another must have a negative effect on our attention span. (Ooh, look… an aeroplane.) If we can’t concentrate long enough to read a book then we’re unlikely to do so long enough to write one. At this rate we’ll have run out of authors by the 22nd century. Perhaps we just won’t need any by then.

However, all is not lost in the battle to save the humble story.

Making time to read with children is the obvious first step. I’m finding that as our eldest is growing up and able to read some words, she is showing far greater interest in the actual stories and is asking questions about them. Which is great when they’re about things that I know about or can make up, less so if querying holes in the plot or anything Disney related, two concepts that sort of come hand in hand.

Technology, used in the right way, may help too. Love them or loathe them, the gadgets are not going away, so why not give them a big cuddle? The tablet is not just your fifty quid babysitter from Amazon but a seven inch personal tutor too.

While I’m in no hurry to ditch the old fashioned hardbacks at bedtime, there are plenty of alternatives for the bits in between. We have a free app with old stories like The Gingerbread Man on that our eldest likes, and the CBeebies Storytime app is excellent entertainment for a variety of ages. Even Dr Seuss is available for a couple of quid and there’s loads of phonics apps to help develop reading skills too. Sneaking some fun learning into playtime has to be better than another half hour of American children opening Kinder eggs on YouTube, right? I reckon that our two year old will be reading Dostoyevsky by the time he gets to nursery at this rate.

There’s creative things to try too. After we read Alice in Wonderland one bedtime, our daughter discussed using our imaginations, being a central theme of the story. She was adamant that she couldn’t make up her own stories until I suggested that changing bits of her favourite story may be a good way to start. So she had a go. Ok, “The Bear Who Came to Tea” may result in a lawsuit if it ever gets published, but she really enjoyed doing it and there were sparks of proper creativity going on, even at such a young age.

If I can nurture this creativity, I reckon that I can handover blog writing duties by the summer. After all, banging the same old rubbish out each week with a few words and ideas changed is all that I do. In the meantime, there’s always Tom Hardy for her to watch on telly with all of the thirty and fortysomething old girls across the land.