Janet Street-Porter: Not all of us want children, but there are some people who are too frightened even to talk about it

I don’t miss having kids. Men are far more demanding

 

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I’ve been married many times, but haven’t had children. Is that because I’m selfish? Did I always put work first? Or did I pick men who were (how can I put this tactfully) very demanding?

One husband already had a 10-year-old son who died of cancer, and profound grief meant that he couldn’t be near children for years afterwards. Another husband came with a small son who turned out to be far more adorable than his dad.

In total, only two out of my eight former partners have had children, and half of my girlfriends are childless. Sometimes this will be by choice, but I know that some feel regret that they spent so long working and earning and clawing their way up the pyramid of power, that by the time they could afford kids and had the right partner, it was too late.

Britain has a huge number of childless women – more than one in five, the third highest rate in the developed world. The Office for National Statistics says the number has doubled in a generation. Unlike in my grandmother’s time, when you were thought weird if you hadn’t popped out a sprog by 30, today there’s no stigma in choosing not to breed. How do we find the time?

At work, 80 per cent of the new self-employed between 2008 and 2011 were women. That means we are setting our own hours, our own goals and taking a lot of responsibility. Working for yourself sounds flexible and family-friendly, but many women discover that it means you never leave work behind; you are staring at a computer screen late at night, and answering emails every hour of the day.

I don’t miss having kids. Men are far more demanding – especially creative, imaginative men who live in their own heads. I have certainly enjoyed the dramas and the delights of their company, and I wouldn’t swap a smart man for a toddler or a goldfish.

New research also shows that both sexes shy away from discussing children. A survey by Middlesex University discovered that as many as four out of 10 childless couples had only discussed starting a family once, if at all.

What an amazing piece of information, and how revealing about the state of modern relationships. Is it because we fear that articulating our desire to procreate or not will drive the other person away? Babies have become the elephant in the room, the B-word we can’t face mentioning. We can talk about diets, sexual positions, waxing and plucking, but not babies.

I admit to being in that camp. I can mouth off on almost any subject, but would have found it painfully embarrassing to admit to a lover that I didn’t want kids. I’m intelligent, driven, organised and focused, so why the reticence? How many of my female friends didn’t ever get around to bringing up the subject?

It’s not just women who might secretly want to have kids. A friend of mine became a father in his late fifties after divorcing – his former wife had never wanted children. He didn’t marry the boy’s mother, but has built his life around seeing his young son at every opportunity and is the happiest he’s ever been. So let’s not forget the silent men who yearn to be dads, confronted with modern women who may have a different agenda.

Less fun in the sun – more doom and gloom for some

In their later years, my parents bought a retirement flat in the Canary Islands and bragged about how great life was in the sun, playing cards with their mates and drinking cheap vino. But then something interesting happened. Mum gradually tanned herself to the colour of a well-worn leather handbag and took up body surfing and yoga. Dad, however, began to spend more and more time back in Blighty, playing golf on a windy and damp course outside Llandudno, eating carb-laden meals for one, and watching his beloved football at full volume at their flat in North Wales.

Dad hated their new life, and new research indicates that he wasn’t unusual. One in four (nearly 88,000) British expats have left Spain and come home in the past year – for health reasons, or because the cost of living has gone up since their severe financial recession.

A professor at Leicester University has also discovered that people who leave northern climates for sunnier countries in the Mediterranean aren’t necessarily any happier than if they’d stayed at home. They scored 7.3 on the happiness index, less than the 7.5 scored by the people who remained in their home countries.

The Brits often didn’t feel part of their new communities because of their reluctance to learn another language, and they missed their friends and family. My dad died in Spain on a rare visit to Mum, while he was playing cards. I flew out immediately and arranged the funeral and burial and chose the coffin because, in spite of spending six months of the year in Tenerife for 10 years, my mum could do only shopping-and-menu Spanish, whereas I am proud to say I passed my O-level in the subject. I was disgusted and embarrassed.

Falling property prices and fear of intrusive development also give expats huge worries. Every time I look at French or Italian property porn, I keep that in mind. It’s always best to rent. Then you can blame someone else when the toilet stops flushing.

Wit and rudeness in equal measure – that’s Rupert

Rupert Everett is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. His two volumes of memoirs are touching, excruciatingly honest and very very rude, all at the same time – the perfect bedtime read after you’ve wasted an evening on a mindless telly detective.

Ten minutes in Rupert’s world is worth five weeks with Brenda Blethyn’s dreary Vera in her sensible mac – what a waste of a wonderful actress. Rupert simply doesn’t possess an “Off” switch in his head. He just says exactly what he thinks, which is a bit terrifying after you’ve spent an evening with him as you fear he’s going back home to write down all sorts of merciless observations in a notebook for volume three.

Last weekend he was supposed to be talking to a magazine about his new Channel 4 documentary Love for Sale, looking at connections between prostitution and the Bible, but he couldn’t resist having a pop at Beyoncé, picking on her “elephant ankles and gigantic arse”. According to Rupert, “it’s terribly ‘in’ for women to have these huge great legs with massive thighs”, citing Rihanna and Kim Kardashian.

Is Rupert being funny or offensive? Does he get away with such ferocious rudery because he’s gay and you can imagine him saying it in a Noël Coward accent? Kim K and Beyoncé both seem pretty weird shapes to me, and if I had a backside that rounded I wouldn’t be in a leather bodysuit, but they are the multimillionaires, so what can we deduce from that? Rupert and I are both small-minded bitches.

Goodbye liquid lunch, hello powdered alcohol

 Powdered alcohol has just been approved for sale in the US. You can add the powder to mixers such as tonic or soda to make cocktails, bung it in food, or snort it. The inventor claims that the powder is far easier than the old-fashioned bottled stuff to carry around, and much stronger. As powdered booze looks like some of the class-A drugs the Government spends so much money trying to ban, will the nanny state intervene? It is going to be very hard to police consumption. Alternatively, it could be a chance to decriminalise some drugs such as cannabis which arguably do less harm than booze.

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