And as if the Conran-isation - "rebranding" in Mandelspeak - of Britain was not bad enough, now comes the news that the Government is going to start monitoring the contents of packed lunches. This is scary stuff. I'm usually quite safe on the moral high ground when it comes to parenting skills - I limit the children's television intake, delouse them regularly and read them a bedtime story - but the lunchbox is where my standards slip. If I haven't had time to nip to Conran's Bluebird delicatessen for the right designer olive oil to drizzle over their grilled goats' cheese and basil salad, then sometimes they reluctantly have to put up with second best: golden syrup sandwiches, pickled-onion-flavour Monster Munchies and a Penguin, washed down with Ribena. But at least I have taught them to think of those less fortunate than themselves; my daughter always asks for two Penguins - one for a friend whose mother can afford to give him only home-made pasta salads, fresh pineapple and lichees. Of course, I've never told her about these acts of charity - we like to do our bit in our own quiet way.
Competitive parents now have a new yardstick by which to measure their own against other people's children - Base Line Assessment. Reception children are assessed on their numeracy, literacy, social and physical skills, using a grading of R, 1, 2 or 3. This is a useful tool for measuring a school's "value-added" input later on, but of course ambitious middle- class parents see it merely as the first academic hurdle for their little ones. (Mine didn't do too well on the hurdles; she got a 1 for gross motor skills, but I'm pleased to say she got a 3 for her vocabulary, which is quite gross enough thanks to the input of older brothers; with such a knowing child we could never have one of those big designer fridges by Smeg in the house ... now there's a classic case for rebranding). It's going to take a while for them to get Base Line Assessments right, but the Department of Education might like to rethink the R; it stands for "ready for reception" but this won't wash with uptight parents. "Oh my God, he got an R - that means Retarded" I heard one mother say to her friend. "No, it doesn't" reassured her friend, "it means Reject."
Early last week I was photographed by a tabloid newspaper sitting in the kitchen sink, dangling a pair of strappy high-heeled shoes from my little finger; having taken shots of me running for a bus and hanging the washing out in stilettos, the photographer had run out of suitably tacky ideas. Fortunately the story about squish videos - snuff movies involving small furry creatures and women in stiletto heels - had not broken, or I fear Dennis and Napoleon, our darling pet rats, might have come to a squishy end.