IT'S OFTEN said that we are not a literary nation. I would dispute that. On the Tube last week I thought I had stumbled on an Underground book club - a man in his early twenties revisiting his teens with Junk by Melvyn Burgess was sitting next to an older woman reading Of Mice and Men; next to me was a man showing off his Foucault while two seats down someone too old for it to be an A-level text was half way through Brave New World. Another woman had folded over the cover of her book so it could have been that new book on masochism - either that or she was a masochist and it was a Jeffrey Archer.

Opposite me a young girl immersed in Animal Husbandry did not look at all happy when the heavily tattooed man with a fistful of gold rings next to her tried to strike up a conversation. "Good that book, innit? I've just finished it." Poor man, I'm sure it was only a bit of literary intercourse he was after but he should know that women do not like to be disturbed in the middle of a book. At least two of our book club members admit to carrying on reading while their husbands get on with their conjugal rights. Even if the book isn't any good. The joy of reading in flagrante is that it can be done in any position - but personally I find over his right hand shoulder the most comfortable...

AM VERY worried about my SLC6A4. This is only to be expected, I suppose, as SLC6A4 is the gene responsible for anxiety and pessimism - and I've definitely got it. But not as bad as the 11-year-old. The other day he brought back a medical form for me to sign - when it got to the question of whether he had a serious health problem, I momentarily hesitated, wondering whether the SLC6A4 counted, and he was immediately on panic alert.

This was final proof in his eyes that I have been concealing from him some terrible life-threatening condition. "Go on, write it down - I'll cover my eyes," he bravely declared. But at least it diverted him for a while from the long term worry of XF11: this is the asteroid that according to scientists is going to narrowly miss the Earth. Not that we believe them. "So, that's it then," sighed SLC6A4 junior, "I shall be 41 when I die."

I FEEL a bit like the wicked fairy in Sleeping Beauty when it comes to dealing out genes to the children. I've given each of them a really nasty one - my moustache to the oldest (but I suppose he'll grow in to it) and my ankles to the youngest.

I thought the eight-year-old had got away with only the charming bits - she can think herself lucky she's got my husband's bottom (and there's always waxing if it turns out be an exact copy later on). But then I heard her read out an essay in her class assembly and realised she had inherited the TPP (Tendency to Purple Prose) gene.

They had had to write a short piece on their favourite room and while others had chosen living rooms (because of the TV) and bedrooms (because of the TV), she had written an ode to the top bathroom. "I go there when I am sad and cry all by myself. Just me and my rat."

I could see the teachers exchanging "shall I call the social worker or will you?" glances, but I was captivated by the literary device of "Just me and my rat" sprinkled at intervals throughout the piece - and literary device is just what it was because she never goes near the rat. But when she got to the bit about the bathroom being like heaven "or when I'm angry just like hell" the mother two seats down from me could contain herself no longer. "That child needs counselling," she muttered out of the corner of her mouth. Huh! Jealous, that's all.