Search Engines: Second site: What a lot of Pooh

FOR DIANDRA, the spell has broken. "Hi welcome to my Winnie the Pooh Page that really sucks," she blurts. "It's true, my page sucks, I have to admit - I've just outgrown Pooh. I don't like Winnie the Pooh anymore ... but I'm going to keep my page up, for the Pooh fans." Why she should feel so obliged is a mystery, since hers is hardly unique. There are several Web-rings of mutually affiliated sites, with capering animals, tinkly renderings of the Pooh signature tune, pictures of the real Hundred Acre Wood in Sussex, and backward `s's in the AA Milne typographic tradition. Diandra's confused outburst is a welcome breath of fresh air, for otherwise, like Dorothy Parker reading The House At Pooh Corner to review it for the New Yorker 70 years ago, Tonstant Surfer is likely to Fwow Up.

One of the odder things about the authors of these Pooh sites is their readiness to embrace the two Poohs. There is Classic Pooh, as graphics in the style of the original artist, Ernest H Shepherd, are known. Then there is garish Disney Pooh, which parents raised on the books often shudder to endure. If ever there were cause for sectarian conflict, this is it, but the kind of people who put up Pooh sites aren't the kind to get into flame wars. These are people whose idea of cut-throat competition is a game of Pooh Sticks, and now, thanks to a British programmer called Graham Simms, they can play it on-line. Simms has devised a Web interface for the game properly played on a bridge over a stream - and the Pooh punters are queuing up. After registration - in which one specifies the shape of one's stick and one's preferred position on the bridge - would-be players wait until a quorum has formed. There were 20 names on the list when I joined (the server seemed to be on the blink) and six more when I checked back about 15 minutes later.

Pooh Sticks as data processing is a world away from the image in the book, in which we see Christopher Robin standing on the rail of the bridge's parapet, gazing down at the water, with Pooh and Roo by his side. Their backs are to the viewer and they seem to be in a land of their own, outside time. This was the endless summer of England between the wars - a golden age which we want to believe our children may enter into, although the door shut for us long ago.

The bouncy Tigger makes an entrance towards the end of the tale in which Pooh makes the historic invention of Pooh Sticks. Initially irritated by his elastic antics, his fellow animals eventually accept him for what he is. Tigger is all right really, and so is everyone else. The moral could not fit better with Disney's mission to inculcate laudable values in its consumers, and it forms the take-home message of the new Pooh CD- ROM, Disney's Story Studio: Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (Windows and Mac, pounds 30). After we see the chums hiding from Tigger, and various examples of the tiger's bumptious behaviour, the last scene in the story shows everybody bouncing along with Tigger. This extends the moral, introducing the multiculturalist suggestion that if you try the ways of those who are different from you, you might find you enjoy them. In the real world, the wretched beast would just be diagnosed as hyperactive and put on Ritalin.

Ms Parker didn't have to meet a child's literary sensibility half way, so did not appreciate the way that children can be carried into Milne's world on gently descending sentences, without having to understand them word for word. Children don't get anything like that in Disney's plain vanilla prose - but they may find it more useful in helping them learn to read. While the books offer parents a vision of childhood in Arcadia, the CD-ROM offers a more realistic vision of childhood in the 21st century: alone in front of a screen, multi-tasking education, ethics and entertainment at a rate of megabytes per second.

Visit www.poptel.org.uk/secondsite for links to pages mentioned or contact Marek Kohn on secondsite@poptel.net

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