As some of you know, I was at a John Lewis department store in Leicester at the weekend. As part of the celebrations for their 150 years of trading they are running a series of Story Time events where local celebrities read to children and help raise money for Barnado’s. “Storytelling is one of the first things that a parent will share with their child, and it’s something many of us take for granted. However, for the parents of some of the UK’s most vulnerable children, the first years of their child’s life can be a bewildering time. Growing up, they may not have had the experience of being read to or played with by their own parents. Barnardo’s supports vulnerable children by teaching their parents five key activities they can do with their child from birth to help them to thrive; Respond, Cuddle, Relax, Play, Talk – all skills that are intrinsic to storytelling.”
I don’t often get the chance to read to children any more, so I was thrilled to have been invited but slightly puzzled when the organiser, Chaz asked, “Would you mind if the reading dog listened and maybe put his head in your lap?” I had visions of an employee dressed as a dog or better still, a dog that could read. The dog in question was none other than Danny the reading dog who has been photographed with more celebrities than I have heard of, got a fanbase I can only dream of, and who won everyone’s heart. He’s a greyhound owned by Tony Nevett. Danny’s role is very important as often children with learning difficulties will read to him but not to adults. He goes into schools all over the world. I’ll tell you more about him another day but for the moment, I’ll leave you a link HERE so you can visit his website. He is remarkable.
The day didn’t go to plan. I arrived at the railway station to discover my train was delayed. An incident at a level crossing meant it was ten minutes late. No problem. I had thirty-five minutes to connect at Derby. A further announcement alerted us to the fact the train was now going to be another ten minutes late. Another two minutes later indicated the train would be half an hour late. I made frantic calls to the organiser, Chaz.
“I might miss my connection,” I wailed.
“We’ll juggle everyone around. Let us know what’s happening,” she said.
“I’ll do what I can to get to you,” I replied. “Save my spot.”
The train finally arrived and puffed it’s way to Derby. I willed it to go faster. I tried to get the train conductor to cajole the driver into driving faster, but as it pulled into the station my connecting train pulled out.
“I’ve missed it,” I told Chaz. “However, there’s another train that arrives at Leicester station at five to eleven.” I calculated that if I ran from the station I would get there only ten minutes late. “I’ll be there. Wait for me.”
I arrived at just after eleven, hot, sweaty, sore-footed and wheezing. I was whisked upstairs where Sir Peter was about to read and flopped into a chair to catch my breath and wait my turn to read. Chaz took pity on me and sent me off for a coffee first. Peter Rabbit would entertain the crowd while I recovered.
There were several readers including Sir Peter Soulsby, City Mayor of Leicester, (to my left in the photo above) children’s author Holly Desai and Mr and Miss Leicestershire who were unbelievably glamorous yet unassuming and very, very nice, oh, and me, of course. Children gathered on cushion, coloured in pictures and listened to the stories.
Now back to normal, apart from my hair which looked rather scary thanks to running, I read from The World Of Pooh by A A Milne. It was a special copy with coloured drawings and belonged to my dear Grumpy. Pooh bear is timeless, thanks in part to Disney.
The children were delightful. I was reminded of how special it is to share these magical worlds with them. I’d like to thank the organisers, especially Chaz and the lovely Vish who invited me to participate. I have been invited back to do anothe reading in the summer so hopefully I’ll see some of you next time I’m there.
I didn’t miss my connection on the way home. The journey was less fraught however, Kasabian were playing in Leicester that evening and I had to fight my way through thronging, singing, beer-drinking masses to get to the station. On the first train I met a very nice man called Paul who was going back to Loughborough … in his haste to catch the train and get to the concert, he’d forgotten his ticket. He now had to go home, grab his ticket and try and catch another train back to Leicester before the concert began. See, it wasn’t just me.