I'm rather thrilled to be writing this. Three mornings ago I woke up feeling I'd never get out of bed again. The odd thing was that the previous evening had been restful, nothing more debauched than a simple supper with a glass of wine. A night's sleep later and I felt as if I'd been knocked over by a bus.

I was mentally running through all the life-threatening diseases that turn one's limbs into lead and one's head into bedlam when a neighbour who works as a practice nurse at the local GP's surgery rang, to call off an arrangement involving children. The reason? Her daughter was ill. "So am I: it feels terminal," I replied, running through a terrifying list of symptoms. She laughed. "You've got the summer flu, we've already seen lots of it at the surgery".

I immediately felt much better - though the flu hung around for three more miserable days, and I have dragged myself back to work reluctantly. Mystified though, that the flu has become an around-the-year bane, as ineradicable as ground elder or brambles in the garden of life.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The main result of having flu is that I've been lying in bed, free to read a new book. Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Thames and Hudson World of Art, pounds 6.95) takes a scholarly swipe at the myth that the Glasgow architect was rejected in his lifetime. It also points out that some of his famous furniture was not very well made or comfortable (having once suffered a meal a la Mackintosh I certainly back that). The author, the unassuming architectural historian Alan Crawford, is a long-standing friend and not unused to controversy - in the Seventies we campaigned successfully to prevent the demolition of Birmingham's Victorian central post office.

He wants to make sure the public isn't gulled by the Mockingtosh gifts industry, creating "gross distortions of his work". There are Mackintosh picture frames, Mackintosh wool cardigans and Mackintosh silver jewellery, though the arty Glaswegian actually made none of these articles. So I asked Alan which were the most faithful buys, for those of us who can't afford pricey copies of his chairs. For a pure Mackintosh experience he advises reproductions of his flower drawings and French paintings, sold by the Hunterian art gallery in Glasgow, which holds the biggest collection of his work. The price? A modest pounds 3.50.

Lying in bed, feeling weedy and helpless, I was idly listening to Woman's Hour about an experiment in bringing up a girl without sexual stereotyping. One of the key things seemed to be encouraging her to be adventurous and to use tools.

I think this is far more widespread than many people suspect. I belong to a generation of women who have to call the AA every time a tyre goes flat. Nor have I mastered the black art of changing a plug. But my daughters are extremely handy, thanks to their schools' technology lessons. While my nose was buried in the Mackintosh book I heard a strange clanking going on downstairs. An American kettle barbecue had been languishing in a box ever since I bought it. The instructions looked daunting and my husband hates barbecues. But my 12- and nine-year-old daughters fell upon it, unsupervised, and put it together before I could say "We have no charcoal anyway."

My only quibble is that their schools seem to have abandoned lessons in needlework and cooking, while knitting and crocheting are unknown skills. I suppose it is down to me to pass on these homely practices. Just as my father was lumbered with putting on all those plugs, I don't want to be the only one, in a household of six, able to sew on a button.

Much hand-wringing goes on over the unsuitable television programmes children watch. But there is a little-explored reverse phenomenon: all the programmes adults don't watch because there are children around. I'm not only talking about 18-rated films, post-watershed dramas or serious documentaries unfortunately screened when they want to watch Animal Hospital, or the latest passion, Bugs.

I mean soaps. I would love to be able to join in the Brookside debate about Mandy and Beth Jordache's sentence and feel free to imbibe a bit of inner-city depression from EastEnders. But I know my children are longing to expand their list of approved viewing into all the soaps (bar Coronation Street): they simply need me to make them legitimate by watching first. But I am so appalled by the nightly hold Neighbours has over them that I refuse to be tempted.

When would they do homework, music practice, or simply talk if they watched two or three more soaps each night? When I'm around I stage crafty diversions to see if I can make them forget Neighbours has started. The first barbecue, with them glowing at its success, achieved just that.

Are we really all going to buy our wine on the Internet? What I'd really like from home shopping is a weekly delivery of all those basics the supermarkets expect us to drag home. If you could put in an order from your computer screen for boring things like kitchen paper and mineral water, it would be fine. It would also free one to go shopping for the nice things - such as clothes. For a month I have been trying to find the time to buy a swimsuit - in the end I ordered one from a mail-order catalogue. Under-shopped women condemned to frustration would be a thing of the past.

"I nearly bought the chipmunk," said my husband. "It was so sweet. But the shop said I shouldn't. The assistant said they were very fast and needed to be kept in a special shed."

Well, thank God for small mercies: had the great animal hater gone soft? While the eldest girls were at a gymkhana and I was sleeping off the flu he had escorted the six-year-old to the pet shop, to keep the promise that she could have a real pet to live in a real cage. She wanted a snake. I said she'd have to join another family if one came home, and suggested another hamster. But the last short-lived one made a bad impression by biting her.

So we are now the owners of two gerbils, Lucky and Licorice, who squeak and run around the carpet inside a perspex ball, but whose life expectancy has me worried: one already seems to have a wonky leg. A friend came round to inspect them. "Mine has just starved to death," she said. "It ran behind the washing machine and wouldn't come out. Then we found its body weeks later."

I tottered round for some sympathy from a friend but found her children and husband have just badgered her into accepting a puppy (she is at home all day). Hateful pets, we agree.

But within five minutes the puppy is sitting on my knee and biting fingers in adorable puppy fashion. "If you ever want to leave him with us just bring him round," I find myself saying.

What if he caught the gerbils?

A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape