Tom Sutcliffe: Manna from heaven for us 'selfish' adults

Share
Related Topics

It was an odd piece of timing really. On the Today programme and in the morning papers yesterday, the publication of the The Children's Society's Good Childhood Inquiry was being summarised with headlines such as "Selfish adults 'damage childhood'". The picture was straightforward and depressing. Thrusting, workaholic acquisition-monsters were neglecting their children in favour of another two hours at the office.

As a result they were creating an exceptionally anxious generation, young people whose model of worldly success was entirely bound up with material things. And this distorted view of the good life was being compounded by the stresses of excessive testing at school and over-cautious restraint at home – again driven by a solipsistic adult notion of what was best for grown-ups.

Being a biddable type I tutted and thought, "That's awful ... we really should get our values in order". And then, school having been cancelled, I went out to walk the dog in the snow with my three children. And everywhere I looked I could see "selfish" parents doing something similar.

They didn't appear to be hunched over their Blackberries, trying to salvage that day's meetings or scowling at the hurdle that nature had thrown in the way of their fierce ambition. They were throwing snowballs, building snowmen, and taking advantage of the tiniest incline for a bit of sledging. What's more, everybody was smiling.

No great surprise in that, of course. An unexpected snowfall (and is there any other kind in Britain, however accurate the forecast has been?) is better than a public holiday. It's a furlough from routine that comes without the downsides of Christmas or Easter. There's no performance anxiety about whether you've planned well enough and no sense that you have to spend your way to a good time. Transformation simply falls from the sky, gratuitous and excessive. And, yes, I know it can be a nuisance (or even worse) if you're unlucky. But if you're not it's wonderful.

What yesterday morning's unusual light threw into sharp relief was that "selfishness" had less to do with the problem (if it genuinely exists to the degree that the Children's Society claims) than timetables. Our lives, both adults and children, are now pre-booked to an extraordinary degree. To be fair this is one of the report's points – that UK work hours (longer than any other country in western Europe) are partly responsible for the strains on family life. But I doubt that greed or blind self-advancement are at the heart of that fact – as much as a confused attempt to do the best by one's family. What's more, it isn't always easy to distinguish between a pressure that is in a child's interests and one that might be damaging.

Waking to the sight of six inches of snow I vacillated for a time between pressing on with the school run or calling it a day early. What would truly be more conducive to my children's long-term happiness? The sense that it was worth persisting in the teeth of adversity to meet one's obligations? Or the delight of a wish fulfilled? In the end, I'm glad to say, the schools got me off the hook – and we could all relish the all-too-rare delight of genuinely free time. And if you think the foregoing could have been better expressed – all I can say is that I can think of something better to do than perfect it. I'm going out again to throw snow at my daughter.

The 'gay milestone' is a long way off

There's something odd about the phrase "openly lesbian", which appears in virtually every news report about the new Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir.

One understands that reporters need a way to acknowledge that this might not be a first at all – what, after all, do we truly know of the sexuality of Indira Gandhi or Mrs Thatcher? But the adjective still reinforces a prejudice rather than disrupts it, with its implication that being left in a state of ignorance about the sexual preferences of a political candidate is a kind of concealment rather than a perfectly desirable state of affairs.

Add the phrase "openly heterosexual" to any of today's newspaper reports on Gordon Brown and you get some sense of how odd these sentences will one day come to seem. Sigurdardottir's election has been described as a "gay milestone" in some quarters. But the real milestone will come when nobody thinks it's worth mentioning at all.

One tiny human error was all it took ...

I spent an anxious half-an-hour this weekend convinced that my computer had somehow been infected with malware – thanks to a cock-up on Google that resulted in every site being flagged up as a potential hazard.

Later in the day Google revealed that it was down to "human error", an employee having inadvertently added every website in existence to a cyber blacklist. And given the phenomenal gearage of the internet, that moment of inattention must have been converted into a prodigious quantity of low-level anxiety, irritation and inconvenience across the world. Did it set a record, I wonder, for the greatest ratio between the smallness of the error and the global scale of the consequences? And if not, what beat it?



*I'm not sure I agree with my colleague Philip Hensher, writing on this page yesterday, that the Poet Laureateship is a desirable part of our poetic culture. It's true that the idea of a good poem on a royal or public occasion isn't necessarily a contradiction in terms – but should any poet feel moved to write one there's nothing to stop him or her. But I wouldn't want the post abolished just yet because I harbour a fantasy that someone will one day exercise it in a calculatedly subversive manner.

Wendy Cope would have been both entertaining and wise in this role but sadly I think she's too courteous – in the best sense – for the mild deception that would be involved at the moment of acceptance. Failing such infiltration, I think we need to appoint a Counter-Laureate. Perhaps some paper with a tradition of scepticism about royal stories could oblige.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

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...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

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

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
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