Christina Patterson: Family life? Give me a hangover any day

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The Independent Online

If you ever want a good reason not to have a family, then you should have seen Gorky's Philistines. But possibly not with a hangover. It begins (at least in Howard Davies's version at the National Theatre, which ended on Saturday) with a description of a headache so throbbingly accurate that the red hammers I'd spent hours trying to evict from my brain sprang back into action with renewed vigour. It continues with a three-hour depiction of the suffocating boredom of bourgeois family life which makes desperate daughter Tanya's mug of arsenic seem like a much better choice than the tea and cup-cake you were planning.

Gorky's study of a self-made tradesman and tyrant, holding forth to family and hangers-on as the rain beats down, is meant to capture a historical moment: a moment when both the middle classes and the self-made bourgeoisie struggle against the tide of social and political upheaval. In Davies's version, however, the social and political frictions fade into insignificance in the face of a single, overwhelming message. Which appears to be not just an anticipation of Larkin's pithy dictum on the legacy of parents, but a warning to all potential parties in parturition. Your children will cost you a fortune (penny-pinching paterfamilias Vassily keeps a mental ledger) and they will disappoint you.

It's a message currently echoed in this summer's surprise French bestseller. French women may top the European league in their ability to reproduce (a skill matched only by their ability to stay "effortlessly" thin by smoking like chimneys and eschewing patisserie their Anglo-Saxon sisters would swim the Channel to consume) but they're all flocking to buy a book which tells them that childbirth is "torture", looking after children is "boring and unrewarding", and that babies will "kill off your sex life". The book, by the Brussels-based writer and former economic consultant Corinne Maier, is called No Kid: 40 Reasons Not To Have Children. Even more provocative than its subtitle is the fact that the "No Kid" bit is in English.

"I often wonder why I had children," said Maier in a newspaper article yesterday. "I think it was because I am an only child I thought I would be less alone if I had a family. Now I've learned that being in a family can bring a new kind of loneliness." Anticipating the question which might not unreasonably follow, the mother-of-two volunteered this heartwarming glimpse of Maier life en famille: "People often ask me what my children think of the book, but they don't give a damn. They live in their own world and I live in mine."

In a world offering near-daily examples of mothers who pepper their children with cigarette burns or leave them to fester in their own excrement, it may seem like something of a nicety to quibble over the outpourings of an educated woman who presumably feeds and clothes and educates the offspring she so regrets. It seems more than likely, too, that the book has a certain je ne sais quois (namely irony) which the English article lacked. I have no doubt, in fact, that the whole thing is an entertaining enough riff on parenthood and its frustrations which aims merely to amuse and provoke.

Like so much in our attention-hungry culture, however, it reeks of having your tarte tatin and eating it, too. It's presumably why once-plausible feminists launch hysterically vitriolic attacks on long-dead princesses. It's why fashion editors-turned-columnists bore on for week after week, and month after month, about every twist and turn in the collapse of their spectacularly miscalculated marriages. It's why aspiring writers vomit forth the details of their broken relationships and then pose - with the products of those relationships - in colour supplements.

Coleridge's "emotion recollected in tranquillity" is clearly too much to hope for in the age of instant verbal diarrhoea, but there's still a lot to be said for the notion that the best place for angst is art. Yup, give me Gorky.

Out of sight, out of fashion

Naomi Campbell may be as well known these days for multi-tasking with a mobile as she is for legs as long as the list of disgruntled ex-employees, but it would be hard to deny that her latest outburst deserves attention. The supermodel has said that black models are being "sidelined" and that people "don't appreciate black beauty".

Even those of us who have little time for an industry constructed entirely around built-in obsolescence, or for the human clothes-horses who promote it, can't argue with its influence. Fashion doesn't just shift units at Top Shop. It also sets the tone for a culture. And a culture in which nearly 10 per cent of the population almost never features on a magazine cover is one that's seriously skewed.

* The Pope, hitherto most memorable for his vigorous defence of medieval anti-Muslim theology (and, to me, for looking alarmingly like an ex-boyfriend, digitally aged and festooned in a frilly frock) clearly combines a minute knowledge of sin and its sub-species with a hefty dose of commercial nous. He may (so far) have drawn the line at papal indulgences, but he has now introduced an exciting addition to the already extensive array of Vatican products - one which includes reproductions of 7th-century charts by Ptolemy and polyester satin tuxedoes. Yes, like Richard Branson, the Pope has decided to start a new airline.

Painted in the Vatican colours of yellow, blue and white, and bearing the slogan "Looking for your face, Lord", the Mistral Air planes will offer spiritual succour as they shuttle Catholic pilgrims to holy sites - Lourdes, the shrine of Fatima in Portugal - around the globe. There are, it seems, always methods for ensuring that all roads lead to Rome.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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