For various logistical reasons I had to take my 11-year-old with me to a lecture by the children's author Michael Morpurgo. I had hoped it might prove a formative intellectual experience for him, particularly after we'd cleared up the misconception that a lecture meant Mr Morpurgo was going to tell us off. Also I must confess that I thought it might be valuable ammunition in the parental competition stakes at Christmas: the Posh Cousins are bound to be booked up for Stravinsky workshops. Ultimately, though, I don't think he was impressed. "I was a bit disappointed," he reflected on the way home. "In what way, darling?" I prompted, hoping for a sort of junior Bragg-esque critical analysis of the evening that I could repeat verbatim to my brother-in-law ("well, of course, this is the sort of intellectual audacity that you get from the state-system if you don't fill their heads up with times tables and spellings ..."). But it was the refreshments that had fallen short of his expectations. There were no crisps.

Not that the evening did much for me either. I remain a firm fan of Morpurgo, but anecdotes of his childhood - ritual humiliation at boarding school, a father who walked out on him as a baby - confirmed what I have long suspected. A happy childhood is a useless grounding for a creative adulthood: most of the best children's writers had early lives which were scarred by the loss of a parent and marked by constant uprooting. The closest my children have ever come to misery is being denied a Nintendo. Am wondering if we should divorce for the sake of their creative development. Otherwise risk raising a clutch of bank managers.

And now they won't even be able to look back with loathing at the memory of oxtail stew (am convinced it was the childhood trauma of neck of lamb with pearl barley that came between me and accountancy). There was a wonderful back-of-the-bike-sheds camaraderie around the beef counter at Waitrose last week: felt a definite French Resistance style frisson between me and the man who was rooting around for bones among the packets of chuck steak. But actually it was news to me that oxtail came from a cow - I thought that it belonged to the ox. It had always seemed to me slightly immoral that we killed a creature simply for its tail and kidneys, but to be honest I had never stopped to wonder why you didn't ever see fields of oxen. This double shock - the non-existence of oxen, and the non-availability of their tails - maybe just what I needed to kick-start me in to writing that novel.

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