The most productive hour of my day today was the time I spent at a local primary school reading with some seven-year olds. I used to do this every week for several years, but I stopped when we went travelling in 2010 and never got back into the habit. I used to really enjoy it: it's a step outside my comfort zone, for sure and it's definitely easier not to do it, but I used to get loads from it and was glad when the opportunity to get started again fell into my lap. I loved reading as a kid, and I got so much from it. It's a bit of a sobering realisation that not everyone has the same opportunities as I had or is lucky enough to have parents who are keen to encourage their kids to read. It no doubt sounds a bit pompous, but if I can help anyone to enjoy reading as much as I did then it's definitely worth some of my time, I reckon.
It's a different school from the one I used to read at, although it's in the same slightly grubby part of town (the one that Jake Bugg was so glad to escape from). I first came into contact with them when we dug up their allotment for them a few months ago, and since then my old team have been maintaining contact and a few of them nip over every Thursday lunchtime to read with the kids. They've always left the invitation open to me, and today I was able to take them up on it and join them.
The school has an extremely high level of pupils with autism and dyslexia (1 in 5 - shocking, no?), but today I read with Hannah and with Sophie, both aged 7 and both actually pretty good readers; both prepared to have a go at sounding out the words that they don't know. My favourite book? The one where a lovely girl called Tara threw a seventh birthday party. It was a beautifully inclusive book: her Asian friend Veejay gave her a toy car, her wheelchair-bound friend Emma gave her a nice scarf.... and her ginger friend Martha brought her a single marble. Martha then went on to wear the scarf, play with the car, ruin a game of Pass the Parcel by opening several layers at once and then crying when she didn't win. She also ate all the jam tarts, five bananas, opened all the jars in the bathroom when they were playing hide-and-seek, and then had the cheek to tell her mum that she hadn't had fun at the party as everyone was picking on her. The nerve of the girl! The moral of the story, from what I could tell, was don't invite gingers to any parties you might be thinking of throwing. But perhaps I was misreading it.
Hannah seemed to enjoy the story, anyway.
Always the most useful thing I do in my working day (which, to be fair, probably isn't all that hard, given that I spent the rest of the day working on a presentation I'm giving on our BA approach - into which I have worked a picture of Ron Burgundy, but that's another story). Hopefully I'll get the chance to go again before too long. It's nice to feel properly useful, even if only for an hour.