This post has been subject to a radical redraft. I sat next to a monumentally annoying mother (not my own) on the train and came back and wrote an extremely ranty few paragraphs. If I give you the first few lines, you’ll get the general idea:
Are you an aspirational, pretentious, and over-compensating parent? Did you give up your career to raise children, and subsequently treat your offspring as a project management opportunity? Did your own life lack meaning, and so you decided to add to our vastly over-populated planet through your own woefully mediocre gene pool? Then this post is for you!
Oh dear. I promise I’m not a really horrible person. I was driven temporarily insane by spending 20 minutes sat next to this woman. I’ve decided to stick with the book recommendations I was going to make, but keep this post mercifully short so I don’t expose what a nasty, judgemental person I am any more than necessary.
Here are a couple of ideas for stories that kids might like which may not be the first to spring to mind. They’re also established classics so if you are a certain sort of art-enforcing parent (a clue as to where my first draft rant continued to) you can gain kudos amongst your peers as you sit in your planet murdering off-road vehicles waiting for the Sushi-Making for the Under 5’s class to end (sorry, sorry, I promise I’ll stick to books from now on).
Firstly, Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale. Stay with me here, I’m not suggesting you get your child grappling with Middle English while they’re still learning to read and write the contemporary version. Either do your own version or read it in translation (you’ll want to check it first, Chaucer can be pretty saucy). An older man marries a younger woman (it may be over 600 years old but will still offer your child an insight into contemporary celebrity culture) who then shags a younger model behind his back (obviously this is a point you may wish to gloss over with your young charges). Meanwhile, a delicate type also has designs on our earthy young heroine. Well, she is gorgeous: “fair was this yonge wyf, and therwithal/As any wezele hir body gent (delicate) and small”. Er….thanks Chaucer. Every woman wants to think she has a body as good as any weasel. For his troubles, the delicate suitor gets not one, but two bottoms shoved in his face. Firstly he kisses his beloved’s “naked ers/ful savourly” whereupon he feels “a thyng al rough and long yherd (haired)” – apparently this comely lass really does have a body like a weasel, including a hairy backside. Away runs our young suitor, only to return for her lover to “leet fle a fart/As greet as it had been a thunder-dent” in his face, for which the farter gets a red-hot poker shoved up his rectum in retribution. Tell me what child isn’t going to love this? Hairy arses being kissed, farting, and pokers up the bum. There’s a reason Chaucer is proclaimed the greatest English poet.
Secondly, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Seriously, Middle English literature is the place to go to, trust me. If your child likes Merlin, they’ll love this. If you’re one of those parents who doesn’t let their child watch TV, well, first off, stop that. Stop it before they hate you forever. But after that, even they don’t watch Merlin, they’ll still love it. King Arthur has knight arrive in court during Christmas celebrations (like the “family friends” you avoid all year but at the first sniff of turkey you’re exchanging recycled chocolate/soap gifts and making small talk over mulled wine, desperately wishing all the alcohol hadn’t evaporated so you could numb yourself to the whole stultifying experience. Or is that just me?) Unlike my unwelcome guests, he is a humongous green giant (no, not that one, although I suspect you still wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. No, not the maize-pimping one either.) This one is a bit of snappy dresser, albeit like many fashion-types he sticks to a limited colour palette – I think you can guess which colour. He wears a close fitting coat, an ermine trimmed cloak (how Dr Zhivago) green tights (men seemed to have abandoned that look for some reason) and gold spurs – quite some bling there. What’s more, when Gawain (he’s the one in Merlin who always looks like he’s filming a shampoo commercial in between Round Table duties – and that’s not a criticism) chops his head off he recovers with apparent ease: smooooth. He then challenges Gawain to the sort of endeavour that knights seem to get up to on a regular basis, in other words, it involves honour, a journey, and doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense. At the end of it all it turns out Morgan Le Fay (Morgana in Merlin) was behind the shenanigans, as she normally is, the cheeky minx. Everything works out in the end and happiness reigns, as well as King Arthur. I haven’t quoted any of it here as the Middle English variant used is much harder to pick up than Chaucer, but it’s a ripping yarn and definitely worth looking out for in translation.
Happy reading! I was going to illustrate this with a picture of the books in a playground, but my local one is always busy and I was concerned one of the feral youths would knife me if I delayed their turn on the swings (rather aptly for this post, some parts of south London really are quite medieval) so instead I’ve taken a photo of them with some Kentish ale, because firstly, I didn’t have any mead, and secondly, the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales were on their way to, well, I think you know. And the Miller was drunk so he probably would have partaken of a Kentish ale or ten at some point.