Tom Sutcliffe: Turfing out your kids – an official guide

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The Independent Online

You wonder what the thinking was behind the publication date of Parent Motivators, a pamphlet from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Did they think "Well, New Year's coming ... traditional time to make resolutions and put one's life in order. We should find an amenable audience for a checklist guide to action"? Or did they calculate that most families will have spent the last few days in the domestic airlock of the traditional Christmas and be climbing the walls round about now? I suspect that it might have been the latter.

This is, after all, a slightly unusual enterprise for a government department – a glossy 18-page brochure, written by a chartered psychologist, which expressly sets out to break up nuclear families and crush youthful aspirations. The subtitle might be "A Parent's Guide To Helping Graduates Find Work". But the subtext is "A Parent's Guide to Getting Your Children to Leave Home". We live, it seems, in the age of the boomerang and the kipper – the latter being a half-acronym for "kids in parents' pockets" – and this is assumed to be a bad thing.

I'm exaggerating a bit with my précis, I confess. Nowhere is there a suggestion that you should sneer at your children's ambitions until they just can't take it anymore and stalk off into the night with their belongings on their back. The brochure talks of encouraging people to "be realistic", rather than advising open mockery of their dreams, though it does go on to point out that while some people will make it as an actor or a scriptwriter, "many just waste away the years".

And it's pretty clear what lies behind its description of the "tough love" it recommends. "If you are providing free board and lodgings, a well-stocked fridge, washing and ironing done, plus an allowance, there's not much drive there. So cut back to help increase their motivation." Don't nag, the advice runs, just wage a silent war on their comfort until they decide they'd better get out of bed and cobble together a CV.

Whether you can do this without making life intolerable for yourself at the same time is a moot point – one envisages fridges with combination locks and the thick miasma of unwashed clothes – but the essential logic seems sound. If "realism" means anything, it must include the realisation that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Two thoughts occurred on reading the brochure, though. The first was that on any historical view, the idea that having children remain in the family home might be construed as a kind of failure is a relatively recent and slightly peculiar notion. The very rich might have assumed that their children would automatically each set up an independent household of their own, but for pretty much everybody else it will have been the exception rather than the rule. The point of children, indeed, was that they stuck around so that they could contribute to the upkeep of a household that already existed, and their departure may have represented an economic catastrophe. And at a time when rents are high and resources are supposed to be husbanded, there might be good reasons for government to encourage the return of such an assumption. So, charge your children rent, by all means, but think about building an extension to house them.

The second thought was that if you leave it until they're 23 before educating them in the sharp realities of survival, you've probably left it too late. My own children are still many years away from graduation in most cases, but – alerted by the DBIS pamphlet – I can see that they're already developing worrying signs of benefit dependency.

I would write more, but I'd better turn my attention to pricing up tonight's supper menu, and working out a manageable piece rate for the ironing.

Theatre world to the rescue of Chekhov's dacha

Cultural geopolitics can be an odd affair. Take the current plight of the White Dacha, the house in Yalta where Anton Chekhov, right, wrote The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters. The house was preserved as a museum by Chekhov's sister Maria, who kept it going in the face of earthquake, bomb damage and German invasion. But the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of an independent Ukraine proved more problematic. Russian cultural funding ceased and the Crimean cultural ministry, which took over responsibility for the museum, is extremely short of money.

A campaign to save the house from irreversible decay fell short of its original target – to have restoration work completed by the time of the 150th anniversary of Chekhov's birth in January of next year – but hasn't faltered despite that.

I bumped into the actor Michael Pennington the other day, who is working on a week of shows at the Hampstead Theatre to raise money for the restoration fund. Highlights promised include Michael Frayn and Miriam Margolyes on Chekhov's Vaudevilles, David Hare talking about The Lady with the Lapdog, Richard Eyre on the major plays and Pennington's own one-man show about Chekhov.

I suppose there's a certain irony to all this energy – given the helpless sense of torpor that prevails in some of the plays – but it would be a terrible shame to let the great writer's home slide into the crack that's opened up between competing patriotisms – and what you get for your donation will be a lot more entertaining than a lapel badge.

Books will survive the rolling obsolescence of technology

I confess to a fanboy's excitement about the Apple tablet, above, which is supposed to be unveiled sometime this January. And having seen mock-ups of what magazine publishers have planned for devices like it (search for "Sports Illustrated – Tablet Demo" in YouTube if you're curious) I'm pretty sure there'll be an eager market for electronic editions of established titles.

But I'd be astonished if books disappear from our lives any time in the current century. Jeff Bezos of Amazon – a keen apostle of the electronic book – inadvertently made a case against them in a recent interview arguing that ink-on-paper will eventually go the way of the pony and trap.

Acknowledging the extraordinary success of print technology to date he pointed out that "if Gutenberg were alive today, he would recognise the physical book and know how to operate it immediately". Compare that to the rolling obsolescence of modern technology, with its tangle of incompatible operating systems and incompatible charger cords.

Clearing my desk the other day I found some floppy discs that would now require a specialist service to access – but I can wander into a second-hand bookshop and dip into any title they have with my fading but still serviceable Eyeballs 1.1. I don't doubt for a moment that Apple's new machine will be the next big thing – but the certain knowledge that it will be replaced by an even bigger thing 18 months later remains the Achilles heel of electronic publishing.