Tom Hodgkinson: Home-baked bread made my son weep

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The Independent Online

The summer holidays are here, the sun is shining, and my children are doing what they like best: sitting on a pile of sleeping bags and watching television. Sometimes you feel like giving up being a free-range, organic, anti-consumerist parent. It's too much like hard work.

We moved to the country partly so our children could experience an idyllic childhood. They would leave the house at eight armed with a hunk of bread and a piece of cheese. With this rustic meal bound in a spotted kerchief, they would saunter down the lanes whistling and spend the day communing with nature before returning at six, tired and happy.

What we get instead is fighting, jumping on the furniture, whining, passive consuming, unbridled materialism and a fierce hatred of anything home-made. Every week Victoria or I make delicious bread with the finest stoneground flour, and every week they say: "It's dis-gus-ting."

When we gave Arthur nutritious sandwiches made with home-baked bread for his packed lunch, he actually wept. All his friends eat tasteless, over-processed non-bread made with the Chorleywood bread process. That and processed cheese and meat products. That's what they want.

I don't even really know how our children manage to watch television, since I threw it out five years ago, in an organic rage. They seem to use the internet to find all their horrible programmes. They're clever, you know. The problem is, it seems like too much effort to give them a proper childhood, because they resist our efforts to give them freedom with such determination.

And so eventually I cave in. Their methods of persuasion – screaming, wailing, repetition – are highly effective. I sometimes wonder whether they've all gone on a "how to get your own way with parents" course. And even when I do summon up the energy to tear them from the screen, they somehow manage to find another: this morning, I strode in to the sitting-room and told them to get out. An hour later, I found them in another heap in the barn. They'd surreptitiously moved the technology out there.

And when they commune with nature, they commune with it in the wrong way: I just looked into the garden and was delighted to see my eldest son tripping among the daisies. But my delight turned to rage when I saw he was shaking unripe apples from our beloved apple tree.

Last weekend the weather was rotten, so I gave in and allowed them to enjoy their fantasy weekend: Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Cascades and Funderzone. Cascades is an indoor water park on a holiday resort near where we live. The resort is peopled mainly by working-class Welsh families, and I felt like a real ponce as I was the only adult in there without tattoos, and that includes the women. Every human being in there, from 16 to 80, sported at least two impressive examples of body art. I was mercifully released after an hour-and-a-quarter of extreme boredom, then had to suffer stinging eyes for the rest of the day thanks to the levels of chlorine – that chemical used as a poison in the First World War – in the water.

Am I alone, or is the despair of the organic parent a common phenomenon?

Well, one mercy for our kind has been the rise of the festival. We are going to four this year, generally running an Idler Academy tent. Festivals are full of friends, sell real ale and organic burgers, and are car-free. And your children can run reasonably wild.

At Port Eliot in Cornwall, we hardly saw our children. Henry in particular went feral, and succeeded in his plan not to wear shoes for the entire four days. We camped in a large group, so there was plenty of company for the adults and plenty of company for the children. The adults chatted, cooked and drank while the children played in gangs, and we all got a break from the claustrophobia of the nuclear family. My fantasy of childcare is drinking real ale in a field while my children play somewhere in the distance, and this dream can become a reality at the modern festival.

Running a tent, though, is hard work, and Victoria and I have to put up with being teased about being very diligent for those who profess to promote idleness. At his gig in our tent this year, the performance poet John Cooper Clarke came up with the best version of this gag I've yet heard: "Tom and Victoria, relax!" he said. "Get a job!"

Tom Hodgkinson is the editor of 'The Idler'