IT'S so sad that in an age of some of the coolest children's writing we have ever seen, a survey of youngsters last week for the National Literacy Trust showed they increasingly believe that reading is 'not cool'.

This is a generation who have Harry Potter, The Gruffalo, Lemony Snicket, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Horrible Histories and Tracy Beaker.

There are endless books on dinosaurs, Star Wars, ninjas, Spiderman, Disney characters, Hello Kitty and Peppa Pig.

How more cool does the subject matter need to be?

The trust says only 33.5 per cent of children surveyed agreed that reading is 'cool' with the figure falling to 14 per cent among boys aged 14 to 16.

And 17 per cent admitted they would be 'embarrassed' if their friends saw them reading.

There has even been a drop in the number of magazines, comics and websites being read compared with seven years ago - witness what recently happened to the print edition of The Dandy, Desperate Dan has now been consigned to cyberspace.

The trust is asking parents and teachers to spend a minimum of ten minutes a day reading with children, but I don't believe that will address the key issue of peer pressure, particularly among boys.

Reading was everything to me when I was a child - a comfort, an adventure, something I could do with other children and on my own, something that opened up a universe of which I had no concept, which taught us about Olga Korbut, fuelled our junior school obsession with Abba and sparked off my journalistic nosiness. I blame Cathy and Claire's problem page.

The library was my favourite haunt, the place I discovered Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle, and later Edgar Allan Poe and the sci fi of Frank Herbert.

Because then it was very much a cool thing to do, this reading lark. Maybe it was also a girl thing.

Watching my younger relatives, my friends' children and my god son, has brought it home to me that the way to get boys, in particular, reading is through their passions - football, rugby, the Olympics, Top Gear, Wheeler Dealers, Dr Who, Star Wars and Ben 10.

How about the weekly junior sport section in the Argus? The latest reports on Wales or County or the Dragons?

If there's one thing you can guarantee about small children, it's their ability to grasp onto what they like with a passion the more mature among us can merely envy.

And the buzz about reading about it will surely follow.

No matter how much mums and dads and teachers encourage children to read, nothing is better than the knowledge from one of your friends that there's a great book out there on velociraptors or the life of Bradley Wiggins - and you just have to read it.

In my experience, that also applies when you're middle-aged.




GEORGE Osborne could do something to increase his popularity. He could release a David Beckham-like fragrance. And call it 'Boo!'




THE deep fried Mars Bar was last week declared the world's most unhealthy snack - prompting newspapers to send their unsuspecting hacks into chip shops across Scotland to risk their artieries by trying one.

May I humbly put forward a Gwent alternative, a 'snack' so unhealthy even talk of it makes one's fat cells jump with antici...pation, conjured up by a certain citizen of Risca whom I shall not name for fear he will be hounded mercilessly by the paparazzi.

The pasty sandwich.

A traditional Cornish pasty, lovingly placed between two thickly-buttered slices of cheap, white bread.

For the gourmet reader, its creator recommends a generous dash of tomato ketchup or Daddy's Sauce to taste.

Strangely, it's not yet on the menu at the Abergavenny food festival. Can't think why.