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

Share
Related Topics

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

React Now

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

Research and Insight Analyst (Mathematics Graduate)

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40 - £50K first year: SThree: SThree Group an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: genius of Apple, fools and commercial enterprises, and the Queen

John Rentoul
Tory whips were anxiously ringing round the “usual suspects” following Douglas Carswell's defection to Ukip  

i Editor's Letter: Douglas Carswell's defection

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone