I’ve read to Freddy since he was in the womb. Hoping he would hear my voice from the uterus, I read him stories to develop an early connection with him. I now read a book or poem to Freddy every morning. I usually cover the favourites – Mem Fox or A.A. Milne – but the other day I picked up a little wooden book that only had pictures. I couldn’t resist telling him my version of one of the great books ... here is a written and, admittedly, more coherent version:
“Mr. Jones was nothing but a stinkin’ drunk, Freddy, nothing like you’re old man, but just as forgetful. Anyway, Jones forgot to lock up the barn so the animals had free reign over the joint. The old sow was the natural ringleader. She was a grumpy old pig, just like the grizzly Mrs Dewey from primary school (she wasn’t very nice) and had been a prize-winner down at the show for the past 10 years. What the pig wanted the pig got...let’s call her Dewey. If Dewey shouted ‘oink’ all the other animals asked, ‘how high’.
“So, one day, Dewey called a meeting of all the animals on the farm. She was surprised by who came first. It was Roger the sheep. Without a mind of his own, he’s usually the follower. Then in flew Drake, a duck who wouldn’t shut up. He’d talk with his head cut-off. Speaking of heads being cut off, the next into the barn was Chucky, the rooster. Dewey hated that rooster, and a bit of a spoiler for you Freddy, the story doesn’t end too well for Chucky. Chucky was cocksure and arrogant, two traits Dewey hated, but what really got under her pigs ears was that every morning, Chucky would climb to the top of Jones’s barn and shout obscenities at the farmer.
"Dewey had long despised this lack of respect, even though she was about to lead an animal revolt. Typically the next through the door was the family dog, Mrs. Jones’s beloved Beagle, Jemimah. Then the muscle came in – the dairy cow Daisy and the proud young colt White Sox. Dewey had never told anyone, but she had thought White Sox’s ankles made him look stupid. He lived up to his reputation, but Dewey needed his brawn for her plan.
“When all the animals on the farm were in the barn, Dewey spoke of a dream she had of stealing the land the Joneses owned. She spoke for hours and the animals listened. She spoke of how they would all work together, how there would never be any boss, and how all of the produce from the farm would be shared equally among all the animals. Dewey’s vision was realised when the animals, including Jemimah, scared a drunk Mr. Jones and his wife off the farm. As dumb as he was, White Sox’s brawn was the key.
“In the early days, the animals kept the farm going well. They made hay to eat and they slept soundly in the barn. But after a month, everything began to change. Some of the animals felt they were working harder than others, and weren’t getting their fair share. They began to fight and started to work against each other. At one stage Drake got into such a flap over the failing farm he turned to the drink like Mr. Jones and even sold Chucky to a pillow-making company to buy himself some beer. Trying to recover control, Dewey teamed up with the neighbours (who were humans) and struck a deal that turned her into a queen, leaving the other animals out in the barn to fend for themselves. The end.”
It’s fair to say, I got a bit carried away. But the main thing is Freddy and I have continued our ritual, one I hope goes on for many years.
I have recently learnt of a great movement, MaJenDome, which I endorse. MaJenDome is not only encouraging expectant fathers to read aloud to their babies in utero, but for it to become instinctive in dads. I wouldn't publicise Animal Farm as the most suitable text, but there are plenty of other options.