Have you ever considered recording your children's bedtime stories as you're telling them at night, and then taking them along with you on those long holiday car journeys to make them more bearable? No? Well, believe me, you should. It's fun, and it provides endless hours of amusement for them on the road.
Err ... yeh, fine ... okay, but who's this at the left, you're probably thinking?
Well, she was one of the more inspired British children's authors of the middle of the 20th Century - Enid Blyton. As a child, I read all of her books that I could get my grubby little hands on (Secret Seven, Famous Five, Magic Faraway Tree, Adventurous Four, one or two books about "naughty school girls" (of which the names now escape me), and lots of others).
Even when I reached my early twenties, I could still (on a boring Saturday afternoon at home) pick up one of the Magic Faraway Tree books, curl up on my bed, and re-read it just for fun. It was somehow ... the stuff of dreams. Part of you would think "Kids stuff ... gee, if anyone caught me reading this now ...!". And yet another part of you would think "But why not - why couldn't this have really happened - in another world, another time, another place ... who really knows ... ?"
And then, on a rare night, you would even dream about these places and their inhabitants ... and that was really cool!
In a funny sort of way, it just seemed so real, so matter-of-fact. Either way, I could just get carried away into this magical, strange world that she conjured up. After all, isn't that what reading great books is really all about anyway?
A few years later, after teaming up with a nice girl and getting married, my own offspring arrived on the scene, of course. And by the time they were (respectively) three and four years old, I ended up - as often as not - reading them stories at night in a vain attempt to get them off to sleep.
Eventually, of course, we also ended up driving off on holidays. On one
occasion, I made up a little music tape with some bits of introductory voice
nonsense from me (together with occasional gurglings and laughter from
themselves in the background) mixed in between the various music tracks.
I played this tape back to them in the car on the next long drive, and it worked wonders in keeping them amused.
At that point, the idea occurred to me to tape our next bedtime story. I reasoned that we could bring it along on our next trip and possibly make the longer driving sections a bit more relaxing.
This was tried - and it worked quite well. So over the next few years we taped a few more. Playing these back in the car (using the built-in cassette player and its rear speakers) then kept them amused for many long hours of driving ... until they were around nine or ten years old, anyway.
Since I also have a reasonable collection of old "theme" music and sound effects, I decided after the first sucessful attempt that I may as well go "the whole hog" and do a proper post-production with careful editing, intro theme music, sound effects, and the whole general bit - similar in some ways to the old radio serials I used to listen to as a kid. So in the end, several stories (mostly Enid Blyton's) were given this whole treatment.
Of course, it isn't strictly necessary to go to this post-production stage - I just happened to have all the raw materials handy, so I reckoned that I may as well give it "the works" and maximise the overall impact.
Anyway, the resulting collection of story tapes is now around 40 hours worth, and these sucessfully "passed away" many long hours of driving over a five or six year period. In all, we ended up taping the two "Adventurous Four" books, one Secret Seven, one Famous Five, "The Valley of Adventure", and (from earlier on) some Magic Faraway Tree - and even a few Brer Rabbit stories.
From then on, during any long evening drive from one holiday spot to another, as soon as we started getting restless, irritated arguments in the back seat between our two children - out came a tape. Sometimes they'd yell abuse at me, but invariably - after a few minutes - they'd go quiet and sit back and listen. More often than not, they'd doze off after the third or fourth chapter.
Part of their interest, of course, was in hearing their own interjections at various points throughout the stories. Because I used a separate, well positioned stereo microphone for the recordings, and kept the gain well up (myself typically sitting 2 or 3 feet away), any comments of theirs were always loud and clear.
Enid Blyton's Valley of Adventure (a novel written for older children) was one of their favourites towards the end of this period.
As you might gather if you do listen to any of the samples below, my bedtime reading was not always that successful in getting our children to sleep during the actual taping of these bedtime sessions!
But if you have young children, and you have trouble "keeping the peace" on those long holiday drives or just getting them off to sleep at night, I can nevertheless thoroughly recommend doing this sort of thing. It's great fun during the recording, and almost as much fun when listening back in the car a few months later.
Enid Blyton stories are pretty dated, of course, and some of her phrases are quite enough to trip one up when attempting to read them aloud nowadays. But for 7 year olds, it doesn't really seem to matter. It may even be beneficial for their vocabulary - who knows?
By the way, Ogg Vorbis is essentially an open-standards MP3. Winamp and many other programs play it quite happily (although last time I looked, Microsoft's Media Player wouldn't). It actually sounds better than MP3, and there are no patents on it, so even the encoders are free.
If you don't have the ubiquitous Winamp, just go to the Winamp site and grab yourself one (otherwise, you'll just have to put up with the dreadful sounding RealAudio versions). Mind you - the Ogg versions are pretty large, typically 10Mb to 12Mb each, so you may need to be patient if you're downloading them.
Anyway, here's the first few chapters of The Valley Of Adventure, recorded live in this room back in 1992 (which was our kid's bedroom back then). An Enid Blyton classic, dated though it may be ...
Chap 1 (as streaming RealBubblingAudio) - or as a high-quality Ogg Vorbis version.
Chap 2 (RealBadAudio) or as an Ogg Vorbis version.
Chap 3 (RealBadAudio) or as an Ogg Vorbis version.
Chap 4 (RealBadAudio) or as an Ogg Vorbis version.
Chap 5 (RealBadAudio) or as an Ogg Vorbis version.
Chap 6 (RealBadAudio) or as an Ogg Vorbis version.
Chap 7 (RealBadAudio)
or as an