Harriet Walker: A cuts lesson from my one-year-old niece

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It's standard etiquette, I think, not to take things away from a child – unless of course they're wielding a chainsaw, or a spoonful of jam next to a white carpet. The big wigs know this as well as the rest of us. Last week saw the release of a government-commissioned report which found that early intervention in a child's development would break the cycle of "dysfunction and under-achievement". The early years of a child's life are the ones that count, in terms of ability to socialise, learn, communicate and, quite simply, to exist to the very best of their ability.

"If we continue to fail, we will only perpetuate the cycle of wasted potential, low achievement, low work aspirations, anti-social behaviour and lifetimes on benefits, which now typifies millions of lives and is repeated through succeeding generations," said the report. That's a pretty impressive list of problems that could be solved. It's certainly got my vote.

Why then, on the same morning of this research being released, did the Government announce that my niece's state-run nursery would close in May?

The Caversham Children's Centre in Kentish Town serves the needs of parents in the area who cannot afford the extra £300 per month that it would cost to put their children into private daycare. It is the smallest nursery in the borough of Camden, but it's situated in a highly populated area, surrounded by estates and private housing alike, and is phenomenally popular with the locals. And my niece Esther, who will be two in July, likes to go there to sing, paint and make a mess.

She has been taught signing as a means of communication, although her speech is also coming on apace – and well ahead of schedule. She enjoys the squidgy sensory corner, as well as the freshly cooked lunches. She has her own key-worker, whom she has got to know very well and likes to spend time with.

So why is this being taken away? With the closing of nurseries goes that very potential that the new report seeks to cherish. The cutting off of personal care and the shunting of children into much larger, more homogeneous environments is a scandalously laissez-faire approach to the most important years of a child's life. Nurseries should have the same importance as other education – they're by far the most influential in terms of shaping someone's life.

The report suggests "school readiness" be the aim for all toddlers in daycare. But without the correct attention early on, there is little point even considering success at school because the pattern of neglect will have already been enforced. It's Ayn Rand for beginners. Esther will be fine because she has wonderful parents who are devoted to her development, but not everyone has that privilege.

And speaking of privilege, it's interesting to note that the Government will be footing the bills for journalist Toby Young and financier Arpad Busson's "free" schools. If there's ever a call for early intervention, this is it: there is a clear ideology to the way education and children are prioritised and funded under the Coalition. And the likes of Esther don't even come into it. Too little in early life means that everything else, regardless of improvements to the education system more broadly, comes far, far too late.

Where is the RSPCA when you need it?

And now, a different type of education: a Chinese zoo is trying to sharpen the hunting instincts of its resident tiger cub by leaving in his cage a fluffy white rabbit. The photos of the stripy predator suspiciously approaching the sort of animal you'd more readily associate with a magician's hat are comically poignant. At the time of going to press, we remain in the dark as to whether the bunny got it or not. I like to think they made friends and are now sitting around singing Kumbaya together.

Alas, the likelihood is of course that Tony got hungry and Bugs was on the menu. Well, what do you think happens if you leave defenceless, twitching meat next to an entranced and toothy carnivore? It's like leaving Vince Cable in a bar with some young women. Except in that case, the tiger would just bore the rabbit to death.

When it's impossible to defend the defenceless

I devoured this week's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding the way a fat man would a tiny cupcake, and it left me similarly both desperate for more and full of self-loathing.

But the lure of a 17-year-old bride attempting to negotiate the aisle in a five-foot wide bespoke pink meringue decorated with robotic LED butterflies was too much to turn off.

Programmes like this invite contempt for its subjects and then give the scornful viewer a sanctimonious thwack on the nose just before the closing credits. "Well, how was I to know they'd all be evicted?" you ask yourself. "One minute it's a wedding, the next a bulldozer is clamping its jaws around someone's Portakabin."

The tone of these TV shows is definitely questionable, their very existence even more so. It left me uncertain of how to feel about this sub-sect of society, so goodness knows how anyone of a more traditionally puce-faced irascibility might react. I don't often go to bed feeling like Enoch Powell, and I'd rather it didn't happen again.

One scene showed a tribal elder looking fondly on as a gaggle of pre-teen girls in make-up and maribou trim pranced suggestively to a deafening Lady Gaga soundtrack; they claimed they learned their moves from MTV. "Oh, this a very traditional sort of get-together for us," she murmured nostalgically. Perhaps I'm thinking too laterally, but it strikes me that these people are so hyperbolically immersed in what we all call real life too that it's quite difficult to argue for their uniqueness any more.

And faced with trash couture and a six-year-old getting a spray tan, it's hard not to adopt a slightly purse-mouthed expression. Preservation of heritage, lifestyle and culture should be high on anyone's list, but how do you make the case for a way of life that seems to have at its heart an inherent lack of culture?

h.walker@independent.co.uk

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