Dilemmas: My daughter wants to be with Swampy

This week: Zoe's 16-year-old daughter has a crush on Swampy, the protester and tunneller at Manchester airport. She wants to spend a week with him in the Easter holidays. Zoe's worried. She wants her daughter to work for her exams, isn't certain of her reception and is anxious that she'll drop out and join the activists. What should she do?

Virginia Ironside

When I recently visited the part of Manchester airport where about 60 people are protesting about the building of a second runway, there was a list of what was wanted and what was not wanted. Included in the Wanted category was "Money, vegan food, people" and included in Not Wanted was "Alcohol, baked beans, meat, sneaky journalists" (whoops) "and Swampy groupies". However, they're keen for anyone to come along, though they all have to take responsibility for themselves, and presumably Swampy is too busy burrowing to have time for goggling teenage girls. (Although now it seems he may be too busy being arrested.) He is, after all, a political protester, not a rock'n'roll star. To be of any use she would have to be interested in the reasons behind it all, not just goofy about one member.

Personally I would be all for my daughter going along and visiting, though I think Zoe might make it clear she'd prefer her to go with a friend. For a start perhaps they could all go - including Zoe, who'd find it fascinating - on a Runway Walk (next ones are on Saturday 22 March - a Funday - and 6 and 20 April; for more info ring 0161 834 8221) where they'd be shown the various camps and a protester would explain the campaign. It's rather creepy when airport security staff line up on the opposite bank of the river and stare pointedly and intimidatingly with binoculars.

As for her GCSEs - since it seemed to me that most of the protesters were knee-deep in GCSEs, A-levels and degrees themselves I doubt there'd be pressure on her to drop out of exams. More likely, there'd be pressure for her to keep in touch but stick with her education. And I should think a week in the rain and mud would be quite enough for her; it's hard work and there isn't a bathroom or a loo for miles. As for safety, nobody on the protest is dumb; they don't want to get killed and they're fully kitted out with ropes and bits of mountaineering gadgetry to ensure that they don't crash to their deaths.

Personally I think that every sixth form in the country should be taken to see what's going on at Manchester. This kind of action is now part of our political system, as it is in Germany and France where protesters use similar methods, and I think it's important for children to see this as well as the stuff that's been around for hundreds of years. A visit to the House of Commons is practically de rigueur for most schoolchildren, so why not a visit to a very interesting and stimulating area where they can see first-hand how it is possible for people to take power into their own hands and have a real effect? It would teach them that nothing is too big for even the littlest man or woman to tackle directly, if they have the will.

Surely she must encourage her daughter not, perhaps, to break the law, but at least witness what is happening? She should be delighted she has a daughter who's so interested, and not one who just wants to stare at soaps all day. She may be a bit of a fan, but at least she's got her sights set on someone admirablen

What readers say

My husband and I think the 16-year-old should be persuaded to study over Easter, then take the GCSEs and join the protesters in the summer holidays. She will be a much more welcome protester with exams, than as a drop-out.

This will be difficult for the mother, we know, as teenagers nowadays have great independence. But a few more months of discipline and study should make her more mature and able to deal with the people and situations she will meet underground.

C & R Glover (ferry, St Malo to Portsmouth)

She certainly should go; it will be a disillusioning but valuable educational experience. Otherwise her crush will drag on without useful consequences. By contrast, exam grades guarantee nothing and certainly won't help to protect our future from the greed of big businesses. What ought to worry Zoe is that she isn't going herself. As Edmund Burke wrote: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men shall do nothing."

Robert P Clarke

Go with her. Eco-warriors are just as friendly to middle-aged women who can cook, as to pretty young girls who can't (maybe more so). Take lots of lentils. You'll have an amazing time (I promise).

Judith Berns

As I'm a nose-pierced, stripy-jumpered "tree climber", my advice would be to get yourself a dyed T-shirt, a sleeping bag, a packet of king-sized Rizla and some chick peas and get yourself up one of those trees! They are nice people. To meet them yourself with your daughter is one way to be certain. She may be pleased if you take a positive interest. People like Swampy may come across as extreme but it is often hard to get people to listen to issues that are important. If your daughter is as responsible as you say she will finish her GCSEs. If she really is eager to follow through seriously with green issues, then, maybe you should both discuss her continuing her education in the field.

Jenny, Leicester

My husband's reaction was: "Of course, they'll have to let her go"; mine was: "My God, I'd make her pack two dozen condoms". He was horrified, but we both agreed that Swampy is probably a sweet boy who is far too busy, too engrossed with his cause to have sex on the brain - it is the 0.5 per cent of his companions who may be persuasive and relentless in chasing a 16-year-old. A mother always hopes, as she sees her ewe lamb going off with a tent and a youth with acne, that the weather will be ghastly and she'll be home soon, but fate will see to it that the weather is divine, the countryside idyllic and everyone's hormones are at boiling point.

What about getting all the studying done the week before she departs?

If Zoe is really worried she could stay nearby in a B&B and tell her daughter the phone number so she could join her mother if it is too horrendous.

What about taking a male cousin or a girlfriend?

Dawn Muirhead

Wimbledon, London

Next week's problem: My glamorous sister has fallen on hard times

Dear Virginia,

My sister Suki, beautiful, brilliant, talented, fascinating, is nearer to a film star, or Becky Sharp, than anyone I have ever met. With ruthless egotism and ambition she has been through three husbands, innumerable lovers, huge houses, stables, yachts, pools, etc. My husband and I, a schoolmaster and a nurse, have always been the poor relations. Now at 60 the husbands and lovers have all gone and Suki is on income support. We are now comfortably retired; the position is reversed. And I feel strangely guilty, and don't know what to do. Should I offer my sister a monthly allowance, which I could ill afford? It would never be enough for her. It's awful - she's always run around in a Porsche and now she can't afford the train fare to anywhere. What should I do?

Yours, Pippa

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora.

Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share, let me know.

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