THERE cannot be a parent in the land who doesn’t know that today is World Book Day. I have known this for a while. Mistakenly I pushed it to the deepest recess of my mind, from which it was rapidly and forcibly recovered while I was shaving on Monday morning half listening to the Today programme on Radio 4.

I recalled, from an adjacent recess, the letter from school inviting children, staff and parents (presumably with exhibitionist tendencies and copious spare time) to dress up as their favourite book character for the princely reward of a £1 book token.

I also remembered, with growing horror and feelings of parental inadequacy, a conversation with my son who, studying Shakespeare at the time, had said that he quite fancied going as Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. A brief internet trawl of character photos confirmed the impossibility of knocking up a Shylock costume the night before. The only thing that came to mind was the provision of a bag containing a pound of flesh, though I have no idea what health and safety at school will make of a pupil turning up with a pound of raw meat in a plastic bag.

Regular readers will recall previous curmudgeonly rants from me about office Christmas parties, Valentine’s greetings and other so-called ‘celebrations,’ which are, in fact, thinly veiled occasions to oppress, ‘guilt trip’ and humiliate the general population; parents in particular.

World Book Day is no exception. Whilst I consider laudable any attempt to get the nation’s offspring to switch off their digital devices and open the pages of a good old fashioned book (or to at least momentarily swap their Xbox for a Kindle) I struggle to see how fancy dress achieves that.

A teacher friend of mine tells me that in her school staff are allocated a character from a list posted in the staff room. ‘I’m Rita Skeeter’ she told me. ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘The journalist from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,’ she replied. ‘I’ve no idea what she looks like, I’ve not seen the films’.

The distance from actually encouraging children to read widens yet further. Most people will be dressing up, not as characters from books, but as characters from film adaptations from books they have never read. What started as a celebration of imagination has degenerated into an orgy of imitation and emulation. A view confirmed by hire shops advertising as World Book Day offers costumes which are mainly superheroes, characters from films and items authenticised by the Horrible Histories franchise.

I resign myself to placing an order for a pound of stewing steak from my online grocer and picking up the phone to see if costume hire shops can come to my last minute aid.