Bedtime with Blyton

by Julie Alpine-Crabtree

Saturday night and my chef has rushed off to attend a function at the restaurant that I note he has just referred to on Twitter as ‘blinding’. I, meanwhile, have had a busy evening spent variously mopping up a river of little-boy pee, wiping my baby girl’s dripping nose, administering Calpol, running outside to watch other people’s fireworks over the garden fence (each bang reminding me of the party in Ladbroke Grove I am supposed to be at) and eating banana yoghurt while watching women in labour on ‘One Born Every Minute’ (a little voice in my head muttering, ‘yeah, my two c-sections were great and all, but what a huge shame I never got to try gas and air’).

Bedtime, however, was blissful. My boy and I are working our way through The Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton, one chapter a night, for the second time in as many months. It’s funny how I can remember the gist of all of these books from my own childhood but that I’ve already forgotten what happens when Molly and Peter and Chinky the pixie meet the witch Kirri-Kirri, say, or the enchanter Clip-Clap, having only read these very adventures last month. (Or maybe not so funny. A thousand curses on you, ecstasy.) I know Enid Blyton isn’t exactly PC, but I’m careful to change every one of the literally hundreds of mentions of the word ‘queer’ to ‘strange’ and edit overtly misogynistic passages as I go along, so it’s not always the girls who have to help Mother clean the house or soothe her through another nervous breakdown while the boys get to climb trees and make all the important decisions. The staunchly Conservative world view is less easy to revise on the hoof, but, look, it doesn’t seem to have done me much harm, bleeding heart that I am.

Or am I? It was while reading tonight’s chapter, ‘The Silly Boy’ (Blyton’s original header, not a gender amend by me), that I had the opportunity to ponder a compelling old-school parenting technique. The chapter concerns a boy who was caught pulling a face when the wind changed. On discussing the problem of their friend’s ‘stuck’ face, Peter remarks that they really must help him: “His mother may think we made his face like that, and we’ll get into trouble. You don’t want us to be sent to bed for a week, do you?”

Sent to bed?

For a week?

I mean, Blyton wasn’t writing in the Dark Ages. The Adventures of the Wishing Chair was first published in the UK in 1937. Did any parent back then really send their child to bed for a week?

We mothers are missing a trick here. Intent on learning the art of baby whispering in our laboured efforts to produce contented little offspring, should we not stop to consider some of the disciplinary methods of yesteryear? I’m not talking about caning (although you can come back to me on that one when we hit the teenage years), but mightn’t sending one’s child to bed be the answer to our prayers? It wouldn’t even have to be for a week. A day would do. A day in which I would busy myself eating bon bons and working on my soon-to-be-critically-acclaimed novel. Which was, come to think of it, my general view of what motherhood would entail, pre-children.

Naughty step, time-out step, call it what you will, I, for one, am too much of a pussy to properly enforce two minutes on it. But I think I could quite happily send my kids to bed for a few hours when they’d been naughty. I’d even pop in and read stories every now and then.

Another unexpected benefit of these books, while I’m on the subject, is that my boy is now learning Roman numerals from the chapter headings, while I’m learning that my entire sentence construction style was unconsciously lifted lock, stock from Blyton’s during my formative years. Christ, it’s just as well I’m not at that party tonight. Can you imagine the scintillating conversations I’d be having?

Am off to reference the Magic Faraway Tree. Will find out what magic it was that pulled Mother out of one of her bad turns, report back.