Half-term … full time … and going round in circles

So, it was half-term and we went to London for a few days and we went here, along with just about every other family in the metropolis. And it was absolutely fab, although the queues for tickets were so huge that we just did the little slide and resolved to come back on the next inset day. That was the extent of our exposure to art. Strangely, the kids showed no desire to visit the rest of the gallery apart from the cafe and the shop!

We got talking to one of the gallery staff and she told us that people had been waiting outside since 7.00! And the doors didn’t open until 10.00. That’s some amazing devotion, don’t you think? But of course, it was half-term and parents wanted to give their kids some fun and something a bit special to do. The fact that this particular art installation had been featured on several kids’ TV programmes may have contributed just a little to it being the hottest hot ticket for the half-term break. In terms of entertainment, it has it all: culture, danger and contemporary – who could resist. And there were the parents, giving up hours of their time to queue on a chilly concrete ramp on Bankside so their kids could have a few minutes of whizzing round and round at high speed.

So how do parents who have proper jobs (unlike me) manage during the school holidays? Frankly, it must be a logistical nightmare, served up with double anxiety and a side order of guilt. And yet the recent report from the Equal Opportunities Commission into women and work was treated like it was news. Hold the front page! Working and looking after children is tricky!

No shit, Sherlock!

Hello? Is it just me or has this been a problem for years and years and years? And we’re only hearing about it now. Hmmmm. Am I sensing an agenda?

So here are the facts:

  • more than 400,000 women could be tempted back into the workplace, provided employers were willing to offer them more flexible patterns of work.
  • coaxing more women into paid work will be critical to defusing the demographic time-bomb and boosting economic growth in ageing economies.
  • the pay-off could be £20bn per year in the UK alone.

Well, now that making working life easier for parents (specifically mothers) is of benefit to the economy, I preduct a rash of initiatives that will certainly appear to help. But you know, I reckon that we’ll still be still be going round in circles.

And not just at the Tate.


Breastfeeding algebra (with the emphasis on the bra)

Okaaaay – so run that past me again. Breastfeeding doesn’t boost your baby’s IQ, you say? Hmmmm. Oh, I see, breastfed babies are smarter because their mothers are clever in the first place, not because of any advantage of breastfeeding itself? Have I got that right? And this fantastic piece of research is from where, exactly? Oh, it was the British Medical Journal study carried out by the Medical Research Council and University of Edinburgh. Right. And you say you analysed data from more than 5,000 children and 3,000 mothers in the US. And you found that mothers who breastfed tended to be more intelligent, more highly educated, and likely to provide a more stimulating home environment, and when this fact was taken into account, most of the relationship between breastfeeding and the child’s intelligence disappeared. I think I’m following.

Oh dear – so now it’s not even enough to breastfeed, you’ve got to work out if you’re the kind of person who breastfeeds. And how do you do that, I wonder? Hmmm – I guess if I were more intelligent, I’d know.

At least I can work out the possibilities. Two variables, so we must have four permutations. So here we go: let B signify ‘breastfeeding’, let NB signify not ‘breastfeeding’. Let K represent ‘the kind of woman who breastfeeds’, and let NK represent ‘not the kind ….’ – you get the gist.

B + K = more intelligent child (lets hope they get a good enough job to pay for your boob job in a few years time).
NB + K = just as intelligent child, and perky tits.
B + NK = completely traumatised mother, probably, and no increase in child’s intelligence, so you might as well not have bothered (but since you’re not very bright yourself, you probably didn’t think of that).
NB + NK = a complete waste of space.

Actually, before anyone starts throwing rocks at me, let me hasten to say that there are heaps of benefits to breastfeeding. For example, I never left my tits behind in anyone’s fridge by mistake when I went to visit. And I’m sure there are many more … please feel free to contribute.

Just two more things. The lead researcher on this study was called …. Mr Der!

And if you’re wondering why the picture of Mr Depp (and do I really need a reason?), just read this lovely haiku by Jenny, over at Jennyology, which inspired my rather random post. Since Jenny has gone AWOL, the link that was here doesn’t work any more, so I’ll perform it for you now. Are you sitting uncomfortably?

hem hem (clears throat)

To My Fallen Comrades

Breastfeeding is best
For baby, but not for breast.
Pirate’s sunken chest.

Curtseys daintily. Thank you … thank you all …

The Ministry of Happiness

Lord Layard, Emeritus Professor of something terribly brainy at the LSE, is popularly known as ‘the happiness tsar’, because of the sterling advice he’s provided for the government on the vexed question of happiness – or more precisely our apparent lack of it.

Now he’s going to be chairing The Good Childhood Enquiry, a two-year national independent investigation, managed by The Chidren’s Society, into exactly what constitutes a ‘good childhood’ and which ‘aims to renew society’s understanding of childhood for the 21st century, to inform, improve and inspire all our relationships with children’. Apparently this is neccesary because Britain’s 12 million children and teenagers are the unhappiest and unhealthiest in any wealthy European country. So it seems money can’t buy you love – who could have guessed?

Gosh! Is it just me, or is there just a tang of 1984 about all this? Legislating for happiness – even quantifying it – how’s that going to work, I wonder? It’s clearly no laughing matter. And who’s going to head up the Ministry of Happiness – cos it’s only a matter of time til they set one up? Could I nominate Jack Dee?

One thing they are doing in this enquiry is taking evidence from interested parties – parents, professionals and children – into what constitutes a good childhood in today’s society. Hmm. Hope they don’t ask my kids who, last year, said they wished they could go to live in a children’s home because on the TV show ‘Tracy Beaker’, Justine got to have a TV in her room – unlike them, poor, deprived little mites.

I’m sure this all very worthy and necessary. But legislating for happiness? Heck even trying to analyse it seems a tiny bit like pulling the wings off a bumble bee to see how it flies. I wish Lord Layard and his exalted colleagues the best of luck. In the meantime, here is a link that might make you laugh .

Have a happy weekend!

I love Madonna ….. but honestly!

I admit it. And this is no passing fancy. I’ve felt this way ever since the long-ago days of Desperately Squeaking Susan, and even before, and have watched with dazed admiration her metamorphosis into the muscle-flexin’, Kabbalah-adherin’, children’s-book-writin’, leotard-wearin’, baby-adoptin’ sex tigress/matriarch she is today.

So it is with sadness that I have to admit my reservations about the recent actions of my same-age-and-therefore-constant-thorn-in-flesh idol. Click here to read the sorry tale. Now I’m sure that you – like me – have watched news programmes from the trouble spots of the world, seen people forced to the very brink of survival, and suffering that no living creature should ever have to endure. And I’m sure you – like me – have all looked around at your over-materialistic lifestyle and felt that awful creeping guilt. And I’m sure that you – like me – have thought, ‘God! That poor little kid. I’d just like to scoop him/her right up now and just make everything better!’.

And that is the point at which we get a reality check, go online to this or indeed some other charity and see, with amazement that for £20 a month, we could feed an AIDS orphan in Malawi for three and a half months. And that’s what we do.

Now, I think it’s great that Madonna has pledged to raise squillions of pounds to help AIDS orphans in Malawi. But whisking the little boy off in a private jet (thus contributing to climate change that keeps Africa hungry) – why? Do people lose their reality check once they can afford not to have one?

Anyway, the whole media circus surrounding the story is making me deeply uncomfortable. The newspapers must be making a fortune out of it. And I couldn’t begin to speculate what young David – or whatever his name is – will have in his nursery, or indeed how much it’ll all cost – but I bet it’ll be a bit more than twenty quid. And doesn’t that just underline the gap between the developed and developing world? Too much for too few – and next to nothing for the all rest.

Meanwhile, a court case is being prepared, it seems, to contest the adoption. Maybe it’s a principle worth defending – I don’t really know anymore. But one thing I’m pretty sure of – certain fat-cat lawyers will get both fatter and catter. Madonna will get hassle and publicity she could probably do without. A little boy will be followed round by a news story for the rest of his life. Let’s just hope the AIDS orphans of Malawi get something out of it.

Confused? You will be ….

Well, after a cubic shedload of publicity this weekend – Times extract and interview, Observer and Sunday Express – to co-incide with the publication of the book (see right), things have quietened down a bit. I think there’s an article in the Express soon (thought it was today actually, but apparently not) and the FT on Saturday, plus a couple of magazine articles coming up and some radio. Most of the coverage has been on target. One or two articles spectacularly off – by journalists who hadn’t even got a copy of the book … but thought they’d write about it anyway. They’ll obviously put it right once they actually read the book – I’m sure they will.

Won’t they?

A bit of a shame about all those people who’ve been given completely the wrong impression about the book in the meantime though.

Anyway, one interesting thing that has been highlighted is how incredibly contradictory most parenting information is. No sooner has one theory been publicised than another one – equal and opposite – comes along. Breast feeding confers benefits. No it doesn’t – it’s just that the kind of people who breast feed have children who do better. (No class assumptions or value judgement there, then!) Over-scheduling your kids is bad. No, it’s good – because the kids are more successful and better adjusted.

So what’s a parent to do? Anxious – nay desperate to do the RIGHT thing (cos there’s only ONE right thing – right?), we flip-flop between strategies, getting our knickers thorougly in a twist as we do so. And then get blamed for it (cos we all blame the parents – right?).

My theory is that there are too many theories. Probably because there are too many academics out there trying to get tenure, so the only good theory is a brand new, contentious theory. Something that’s bound to get published in a scientific journal and discussed at conferences from Davos to Denver (see, I know something about the lives of academics), then broadcast in reduced form in this week’s papers.

Meanwhile, we’re dazed, confused, stupid and contagious. Well, maybe not contagious – although, considering some of the venom in the media directed at parents lately, you’d think we were!


Yes, it’s good news at last for parents. A report has come out that doesn’t conclude that we’re a bunch of irresponsible feckless losers, incapable of finding our own bottoms with both hands and a compass. Mind you, it wasn’t signed by 110 experts, -ologists and authors, so maybe it doesn’t really count. But it cheered me right up.

It’s from the improbably named ‘Future Foundation’ – a government think-tank – and according to its findings, parents today are spending far more time actually doing stuff with their children than our parents did with us. I believe this is what is known as ‘quality time’ – a phrase which, for obvious reasons, conjours up images of strolling along in a crinoline being fed triangular pralines wrapped in green foil by a dashing white sergeant (think Terence Stamp in Far From the Madding Crowd). Or is that just me?

Anyway, according to the report, 30 years ago, our parents would have had just 25 minutes left over each day after all that proper cooking and ironing they used to do, compared with our lavish 99 minutes, after nukeing a ready meal and merely folding our non-iron shirts (yeah, right). So we have all that extra time to spend being fantastic parents. And apparently, parenting is now our favourite hobby.

So what exactly are we doing with our extra 74 minutes? Well, extensive research at a secret location (oh, all right then, my place) reveals that 74 minutes is just long enough for two children to barge their mother off the computer to check their e-mails, for said mother to turn the computer off forcibly, hear tables, explain reflexive verbs (again), check two homework diaries and shout a bit, fail to get two children to do any music practice, hunt around for the TV remote control, then turn on the telly and watch one episode of The Simpsons en famille. And that, my friends, is sheer quality!

I’m an idiot

Okay, so this may not be breaking news to anyone who knows me – even a little. But it’s official now. I’m also a couple of other things, although delicacy prevents me telling you what exactly.

Oh, all right then. I’m a tosser and an a***hole. It must be true, because the Blessed Jamie Oliver says so. But I bet you are too. And you know what my qualifications are for this distinction? I’ve had the temerity to give my children crisps, fizzy drinks and – on occasion – even chocolate! Shock! Horror!

Yeah, yeah, I know. I think he may be losing the plot a bit too, but this packed lunch business is quite interesting. Like most parents, I try to strike a balance between what I would like my kids to eat (in my dreams) and what they actually will eat (in the real world).

But it seems that many school kids are simply throwing away anything in their lunch box that they don’t feel like eating – either because they don’t like it, or because of peer pressure. My daughter asked me not to give her tuna/mayo any more because her friends didn’t like the smell, and my son turned his back on bacon and egg sarnies for the same reason. And this is going on in schools all over the land.

So into the pig bin go the carefully sliced carrot sticks and organic apples, the home-made flapjack and the hummus on wholemeal. The result? Pigs are eating a fantastic diet. Far better, in fact, than that of our cherished darlings, who are are getting by on scraps of doughnut begged from their more fortunate school friends whose mothers aren’t manic organics.

And what conclusion can we draw from all this? Apart from the fact that being a parent is sometimes a completely thankless task? And that whatever you do, someone, somewhere is going to slag you off? And that Jamie Oliver should wash his mouth out with soap?

Why – eat more bacon, of course.