The Way We Were...

"I know she's got to learn, Mummy," says Anne, at her most old-fashioned, "But how long do you think it will be before she starts to learn QUIETLY?"


From the other side of the door, Little Nan can be heard, intoning each word sing-song style as she informs the world at large that Peter and Jane want to go to bed.


"Up to bed, Jane, says Mummy. Up to bed, Peter, says Daddy. Up to bed you go." Anne raises exasperated eyes skyward: "It's so utterly BORING!" she explodes.


There are a lot of educationalists who would agree with her. Poor, boring, middle-class Peter and Jane, whose father, trilby-hatted, goes off to work in his car each morning, whose mother beams, ever beatifically, over her kitchen sink, have come in for some criticism of late.


Personally I can't help thinking that small children are far more influenced by what happens in their own homes than in Peter and Jane's. Why else did gipsy children at a school in Surrey turn their classroom Wendy House - a middle-class plaything if ever there was one - into a trailer?


But whatever anyone else says about the hero and heroine of this particular reading system, Little Nan will not hear a word spoken against them. After years of being told by her otherwise-occupied sisters: "I can't play now - can't you see I'm reading" - she can now join the book club herself. The sheer pleasure of being able to start at page 1 and continue through to page 48 or whatever, with only the occasional query about a new word, is so great that small considerations such as the fact that Jane only manages to "look on" while Peter battles it out with a ball and the other boys, melt into total insignificance, even to a thoroughly liberated lady like Little Nan. No, the main problem is, to put it baldly, that the rest of us are getting a little browned-off by the thrilling exploits of Peter and Jane.


In the beginning we were so delighted by her progress that there was no shortage of listeners to encourage her over each word and to applaud her sincerely at the end of each page. Unfortunately, we grew out of Peter and Jane rather more quickly that she did - and, while the constant repetition of each new word does, we agree, ensure that the learner-reader grasps it throroughly, it also has an unfortunate cumulative effect on the word-weary listener.


As her grandfather - who will take more punishment than most from this particular grand-daughter - remarked as she climbed on his knee, clutching the inevitable book: "Oh, no - don't tell me, I can guess: Peter is up the pole. Jane is up the pole. Everyone is up the pole..."


Well said, that man, we thought. Little Nan did not take the point: "Not the pole, Grandad, the TREE! Peter is up the tree..." she was off once again.


We noticed that visitors entered our house warily, afraid of being set upon and "entertained." How long would it be, we asked ourselves, casting our minds back to Anne and Hilary's early school-days, before we could bid a not-so-very fond farewell to Peter and Jane?


Rescue comes from an unexpected quarter. Little Nan catches hold of her small brother as he is trailing around in search of a fresh diversion. "Come along, Steven," she says, grandly, "I'll READ you a story." He goes like a lamb. She sits him on the settee at her side, he fastens expectant eyes upon her face as she opens the book. "This is a story about Peter and Jane," she announces, unnecessarily. He beams in happy anticipation.


"And when I've finished this, I'll read you 3b if you like," she adds, in best Lady Bountiful fashion. He glows with gratitude. The story-teller draws a deep breath: "Here are Peter and Jane," she begins.


He snuggles into her side, a wholly captive audience, and hangs with obvious and unsimulated pleasure - bless him - on her every oft-repeated word.



Slough Evening Mail - 1975

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Latest comments

23.04 | 19:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

10.11 | 21:31

What a super account of a special event. I loved meeting you last night and seeing your creation come together. I’m so pleased you got so much from the activity

07.09 | 12:17

I have broad shoulders x