Tales of the City: Where did daddy's girl go?

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The Independent Online

Dr Robert Shaw, a Californian family psychiatrist, has set the pussy among the pouters by publishing The Epidemic (out from HarperCollins on 1 May) which isn't, but should be, subtitled "How Not to Bring Up Your Children". It's a counterblast against everything modern parents assume to be necessary in kid-rearing. Like being nice to your offspring, treating them like friends, asking them politely to come to supper, giving them personal stereos and mobile phones, endlessly assuring them of your uncomplaining love and boosting their self-esteem....

That's quite enough of that mush, says Dr Shaw. Pursue this sentimental PR-parent course of action, and you'll end up with a brood of nasty, pampered, ungrateful, selfish, grumbling, out-of-control little sods who want more and more stuff and understand less and less about their place in the world. In the professor's view, children are programmed to extract everything (clothes, sleepovers, Resident Evil 3, love, shelter, sustenance) from their parents before tossing them, Darwinianly, aside; and they use blackmail strategies to make sure the parent feels terrible if they don't get what they want. The parent is drained by the lust for acquisition (not to mention the make-feel-bad tactics) but learns that materialistic things stop the bloody kid complaining - and so the age groups grow more separate and hostile.

A sad prognosis, but not an unfamiliar one. My children are (naturally) angelic, brilliant, adorable, talented etc, but I've looked on in puzzlement as they've turned, on and off over the years, into the kids from Village of the Damned: their uncomprehendingly hostile gaze when told to go to bed at 8.30, the ferocious demand for a Nokia 6600 as if it's a legal right, the death of the idea that it's only at birthdays or Christmas you can expect to get a hi-fi or a Game Cube... When did all this happen? When did children, on learning of their father's disapproval that the playroom is knee-deep in dirty plates, chips, playing cards, X-rated videos and my favourite silk tie, instead of trembling with anticipatory terror, start saying: "Chill out," or: "Great, Dad, now you've gone and hurt her feelings."

My parents weren't terribly strict; they didn't need to be. Unlike us, they didn't feel guilty about bringing up delinquents. They had religion instead (in spades - they had Catholicism) and their energies went into bringing up God-fearing little papists first, and human beings second. Having lost that impulse, we're floundering in vague secular desires that our children will be healthy, intelligent, socially flexible and not a prey to neural disorders. But we haven't a clue whether this will be achieved by the influence of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Xfm, their schoolfriends or us - the overworked husks of mankind who stay out at parties on too many evenings.

Dr Shaw's solutions to the parenting dilemma - zero tolerance of mess, tardiness, fussiness and not going to bed, no protection from humiliation if the children are crap at exams, no TVs, one parent to stay at home all the time - seem a little too bleak to be workable. There is, surely, a trade-off to make between your children's languid modern-ness and your parental desire to introduce them to a wider world of influences than Sugar and 50 Cent. My personal solution is talk - encouraging the children to chat with you on the sofa or bed or kitchen floor, about absolutely anything that occurs to them, uninterruptedly, for ages, until you're all delirious with words and the revelation of how interconnected our minds are. It won't necessarily be as good as hanging out with their friends, but the verbal exchanges will be better. And it needs time, the thing parents routinely deny their children.

Coincidentally, the government is now proposing to give fathers a month off after the birth of each of their children - what's called in Sweden a "daddy month" - so that the new paterfamilias can bond with the new arrival. I suggest all fathers, new or old, should be given a "daddy month" once a year - or a daddy week every quarter - in which to hang with their children, spending - not quality - but completely ordinary time together. And it should be compulsory. The moment when the father approaches his family and says, "I'm bored - what shall we dooooo?" rather than the other way around, will be the start of a considerable learning curve.

The name's Bond, plain Bond

Anthony Lane, one-time literary apparatchik at this newspaper and, for the last decade, film critic of The New Yorker, is clearly a man with rare clout and leverage. At the end of his review of Die Another Day, last year's Bond movie, he urged the holders of the 007 franchise to stop fannying around with sub-Ian Fleming scripts and unfeasibly huge budgets, and embrace a simple idea: dig out the first-ever novel of the sequence, Casino Royale, stick faithfully to the plot and make a real James Bond movie like in the old days. It's only taken a year but now someone's picked up his suggestion (unacknowledged) and run off with it. No less a man than Quentin Tarantino has been trying to persuade Pierce Brosnan to join him in making a low-budget adaptation of the prototypical spy adventure pitting the Scottish naval commander JB against the evil, garlic-scented Le Chiffre. ("Wouldn't it be great to have a James Bond movie that didn't cost $115 million and only cost $40 million or something like that?" he allegedly wheedled. "Maybe we win the critics this time, then you're back in business the way you were before.") Very plausible, Quentin. Closet Bond fans (like myself) can advise Pierce that the history of Casino Royale is not a bowl of cherries. An absolutely dire spoof version was filmed in 1967 by six directors (including John Huston) and starred, unbelievably, David Niven, Woody Allen, Deborah Kerr and Orson Welles. But much earlier, in 1954, just a year after the book was published, CBS broadcast an hour-long TV version of Casino Royale with our hero transformed into an American card hustler called Jimmy Bond (played by Barry Nelson) doing battle with the whispering, bug-eyed Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre.

A stripped-down Bond movie is clearly an idea whose time has come. Followed by a low-budget Alien movie, featuring a magnified praying mantis, and a low-budget Lord of the Rings with a cast of, ooh, scores.

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