The Week That Was: Kids and being kidded

Believe it or not, having a huge family doesn't necessarily make you a lying scrounger – leave that to those who'll be begging for your vote this week

The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington, took to the airwaves last week to announce that the world's population is currently increasing at the rate of six million people a month. By May 2010 our already overcrowded planet will have had to find space for another 72 million human beings. By chance, only a day or so later, my local paper, the Eastern Daily Press, brought news of a couple who are doing their philoprogenitive damnedest to keep these figures on the up. Dax and Susie Christian of Norwich – he is 25, she a year younger – have so far produced seven children since she first "fell pregnant" – that terrible phrase – at the age of 15, and are looking forward to No 8. Mrs Christian remarked: "I like being pregnant and I like having babies. Being part of a big family is fun and it makes me feel needed and loved."

The interesting thing about this resolute determination to make motherhood a full-time career was the faint air of defensiveness that attended it. The newspapers of my childhood were full of stories of this kind, in which exhausted and dropsical-looking women stood proudly regarding the forest of hands tearing at the playpen bars, and worried fathers of 10 went off to check their insurance policies, and the general reaction was nearly always approving. Back then the urge to procreate, even beyond utility, was seen as a sort of primal force, if not a basic human right. Now self-justification lurks behind every disposable nappy-sack. The £24,000 a year that the family receives from the state is clearly preying on Mrs Christian's mind. "Everyone has the right to a big family," she declared, "and I shouldn't be criticised for being on benefits."

The temptation to write this down as a pattern example of state-funded young persons' fecklessness is irresistible. At the same time, Mrs Christian turns out to have both an A-level in childcare and a nine-month stint as a special needs teaching assistant under her belt: in fact, she sounds like an exemplary parent. As so often in our vexatious age, a moral judgment hangs worryingly out of reach.





A couple of years ago Radio 4 produced a mesmerising account of the conduct of parliamentary by-elections, in which a succession of party activists lined up to reminisce about all the dirty tricks in which they had taken a hand. The highlight of this catalogue of sharp practice – opponents' advertising posters being torn down, spirited intrusions into candidates' private lives and so on – was the united front maintained by Labour and Conservative witnesses. All had been guilty of the basest subterfuges in the prosecution of their party's interests, they cheerfully admitted. But if you wanted some real skulduggery, you should go and talk to the Lib Dems.

I remembered this accusation only the other day when a publication called Eaton Focus fell on to the doormat, urging me to support the Lib Dem candidate Mervyn Scutter in next week's county council elections. Mr Scutter is an excellent councillor, always answers emails and has my eternal gratitude for getting the speed limit reduced at the point where the A11 runs into Norwich, but the document sent out in his name is deeply misleading. "It's the Lib Dems or Conservatives in Eaton", runs the headline, next to a bar chart of "How our area voted last year", demonstrating that the Lib Dems picked up 1,950 votes, and the Conservatives 1,523, with the Greens and Labour a negligible third and fourth on 375 and 324 respectively. The implication is obvious: a vote for Labour is a vote thrown away. And yet a little research reveals that this is not a like-for-like comparison. In fact the "How our area voted" statistics are taken from the 2008 city council elections. In the previous county council contest, Labour did rather well, took 939 votes and ran the Tories a close second. Next morning came a circular from the Green Party, with another bar chart showing the Greens on 29 per cent, followed by Labour on 25 per cent, the Conservatives on 23 per cent and the Lib Dems on 21 per cent. This, too, had no bearing on the county council vote or even the European elections which take place on the same day – it was a representation of how votes had been cast across Norwich in 2008 – but at least the Greens took the trouble to label it as such.







The really depressing thing about the age one has reached (48) is how old the people you admired when you were young have suddenly become. Morrissey, I discovered to my horror this week, has just turned 50. Siouxsie Sioux, a daily newspaper revealed, is now an implausible 52. I took my 16-year-old son to see Martin Amis at the Norwich Playhouse the other week and watched in stark bewilderment as a grey-haired old party of 59 shuffled uncertainly to the lectern. All this provoked the question: is there any environment in which the late forty-something still feels young?

Happily, the answer is yes. I felt remarkably youthful at a Magazine reunion concert earlier this year, hunkered down amid the rheumy-eyed old gentlemen in black leather jackets. Half an hour at the AGM of the Royal Society of Literature is enough to transform me into the blithest of young shavers, ever fearful that some vigilant commissionaire will turn me out for trespassing. Meanwhile, the sleek conveyor belt of the professional future gleams ominously on. Even if one is still around in 30 years' time, and even if there are still books, what on earth will there be to write about? At any rate, I am keeping up with my bogus literary diary ("Salman R____ rang, terrified that our affair will become public ... To dinner with Anita B____, who cheated at Scrabble again") – a dead cert for the bestseller lists of 2040.







The most amusing aspect of Conservative complaints about the education system is that many of the outrages being complained about tend to have their origins in bygone Conservative education policies. All those gargantuan pass rates in GCSEs, with 60 or 70 per cent of the candidates routinely sailing through? It was the Tories, alas, who abolished the old normative rate. The granting of full university status to former polytechnics and the (presumed) decline in standards, degree courses in golf course management and so forth? That, I seem to recall, was the fault of nice Mr Major. Those eternal laments about the number of secondary school pupils who give up history at 14? The Tories, again, who made the subject optional for GCSE.

Point-scoring aside, the jeremiads about the average child's lack of basic historical knowledge, which surfaced again this week, are painfully accurate. Running a church youth weekend last year, I was taken aback by a question and answer session in which a roomful of teenage boys was invited to choose between a series of polar opposites (hot/cold, sweet/sour and so forth). Seeking to ginger things up a bit, I asked the 15 year-old standing next to me, "Cavalier or Roundhead, Tim?" Tim look puzzled. "Well then," I breezed on. "Charles I or Cromwell?" Still Tim looked shifty. It was all too much for my steely-eyed 17-year-old assistant, who clearly attended a very good school. "Oh come on," she bellowed, "you can't not know that." It was worse. Tim had never heard of the English Civil War. Meanwhile, sales of games consoles are rocketing.







Ghastly as Mr Nick Griffin of the British National Party undoubtedly is, I was a bit puzzled by the outsize furore kicked into gear by the news that he might be attending a royal garden party as the guest of a colleague (in fact Mr Griffin has now declined the invitation, on the grounds that he "did not want to embarrass the Queen"). When one thinks of all the truly dreadful people with whom Her Majesty has been forced to shake hands in the 57 years of her reign, the BNP's finest seems rather anodyne. Mr Griffin might be a fascist goblin, but at least – unlike those fellow-travelling Labour MPs of the 1950s or the late Anthony Blunt, Keeper of the Royal Pictures – he doesn't take his orders from the representatives of a rival power, whose interests are diametrically opposed to our own.

If it comes to that, the Queen was recently obliged to hold a state banquet for the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao. If half the public outrage focused on the prospect of Her Majesty enjoying 30 seconds' conversation with one sad home-grown bigot could be transferred to the spectacle of this state-enjoined feasting with tyrants, then human rights agitation might really start to get somewhere.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own