Simon Carr: Save us from this plague of 'experts'

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The Independent Online

It's not that the tele-nanny has beefed up her credentials. It's that so many parents are willing to believe such credentials make experts. And that the rules these experts lay down are to be followed. How have we become so degraded?

Should babies be cuddled for 10 minutes a day? I don't know the answer to that, and neither do you, and nor does anyone else. Some babies should be, some don't like it that much, and is the parent enjoying it?

These are all crucial qualifications to any answer. Should babies be thrown in the air until they squeal and possibly throw up with excitement? Obviously. Obviously not. There is no rule.

And anyway, what experts lay down changes as fast as hemlines. How should babies sleep? On their backs? Their fronts? Their sides?

Answer: all of the above, depending on when the question's asked. No one has yet suggested they be put down at a 45 degree angle with their heads below their feet – but it's only a matter of time.

What about letting baby sleep with you in bed? You can find research arguing that to do one or the other will kill it.

There may also be an underlying suggestion you're heading towards the underclass if you allow it. Or that you're a crypto-Nazi if you don't.

Smoking and drinking during pregnancy? My elder son's mother managed to restrict her intake to just the one bottle a day during the first six months of pregnancy, and she managed to keep herself to under a pack during labour itself.

The obstetrician told her: "You could have had the baby under a bush."

The magical product of this toxic diet, 25 years later, has just started his PhD with a string of undergraduate firsts.

Here's a rule. A rule from a babycare expert has the same status as a marketing device.

But the factionalism these precepts create is marvellous. The abuse, the venom, the spitting! It's what we have instead of religious wars.

But why are parents so fragile, suddenly? Something very odd has happened in the past decade or so. Some sort of collapse of distance in the family has created a new, many-headed monster. What is it? Why do parents expect so much more from their children?

Maybe we live in an age of marital uncertainty and we can only be sure of salvation through our relationship with the little ones. Maybe it's guilt, because of our careers? Maybe we're trying to make up for the fact that childish conversation is so often so inadequate?

Whatever its cause, a big shift has happened. I noticed it first five or six years ago: a woman in north Oxford pushing her pram into the road without looking to see if there was traffic.

"Get out of my way, I'm a mother!" she seemed to be saying. More and more, you can see parents in public in a bubble with their children, talking to them as if no one else could hear. Their little group is the world and everything in it.

And at little social gatherings, the mother allows herself to be crawled over by her children while trying to conduct a conversation. The father breaks off to attend to some small want of his child. "We are more important than everyone else here!" is the message. "No one messes with our family!"

No one, that is, except the million mutually contradictory experts who have sprung up to service them.

I could be an artist, me

The avant garde used to produce art that you didn't have to see. The way that pile of bricks was arranged had nothing to do with what the bricks meant.

Where do you go from there? Rather brilliantly, to art that you can't see at all (that empty room with the light going off and on). Who knows what art is? A curator explained: "Art is what artists do."

Sarah Maple's Saatchi prize-winning poster, doesn't seem to be art at all. I'm annoyed I can't enter my Sketch into a Saatchi competititon. Maybe I could? No, I'm not an artist. An artist would have to do it for me. Think of the boost to my reputation!

But then I don't suppose the baby that helped with the nappies got much recognition.

* In the Albert Hall last Wednesday, Imperial College held its degree presentation. There was enough brain-power there to lift the building off its foundations and spin it like a roulette wheel.

Row upon row of gowned young men and women watched by their dewy-eyed parents.

At the end, the orchestra played the "Hallelujah Chorus", and many parents must have sung along a bit because whatever it cost us indigenes, it cost our overseas confrères 10 times as much.

The hero of the day was the gentleman who read out each name as the graduate approached. "Prongfa Uennatornwarangoon!" he said authoritatively. And then, "Phiraporn Mimi Phiriyavityopas!" There was Wing Fat Yung, and Porsche Ko, and Ana Mercedes Victoriana Sumbula.

But one name there was that created a sudden need to cough, blink rapidly and lift my chin: "Hugo. Philip. Irvine. Carr."

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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