Naughty parents? It's the children who are to blame

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Everyone must by now be aware that Patricia Morgan of the Institute of Economic Affairs believes young children should never be allowed out of the house, and that they should be cared for, as in the old days, by their terminally bored mamas.

Today I offer you the thoughts of the lesser-known and more obscurely financed Patrick McMorgan, a good sport who feels that parents may also be spending too much time in large institutions run by strangers. He blames this not on feminists but on the work ethic:

"The ubiquitous notion that work is necessary and important and that salaries count for something has caused parents untold damage over the years. Studies reveal that parents who spend long hours at the office are persistently aggressive, disobedient and sometimes not even very appreciative of expense-account lunches. IQ rates, mental stability and sense of well- being are all affected by being deprived of quality time with their children. We should be particularly concerned about the social, emotional and intellectual development of fathers. Torn unwillingly from their children's arms every morning, fathers grow listless and can be found on trains and buses suffering from a lack of concentration, their mouths sometimes lolling open in a hazardous manner.

"To develop properly, parents need consistent and affectionate care from a small and stable number of interested and involved children. These conditions are most frequently met in the parent's own home. Ideally, parents should leave work by 3.30pm and be welcomed home by their offspring with a glass of milk and a biscuit."

(McMorgan, 'Parents Need Children', 1996)

I wouldn't mind Gillian Shephard's gaffes, if they weren't committed on Radio 4's Today programme. There's a conspiracy afoot to persuade us that this third-rate news jumble is a programme of some seriousness and significance. Not only are we told that Today's existence is all that stands between us and nuclear annihilation, but that John Major, obviously an avid listener to its stream-of-consciousness trivia, makes all important policy decisions on the basis of what was said on Radio 4 that morning. This is surely where he got his idea for the Dangerous Dogs Act. It never seems to bother him that the programme is criminally dull, and that the famed presenters can't even get the time right. The one thing an early morning news programme must do - tell you what time it is - they can't do. If they say it's 9.22 you can be pretty sure it's 7.22. And yet they're so pleased with themselves.

On Friday they interviewed Albee Fox, chairman of the newly formed Sportsman's Association, on the issue of gun control. He attempted to make his point, the woman interviewing him made hers. Again and again. "Mr Fox, you want no change at all ..." This he repeatedly denied. In fact he wants the change that any person of normal intelligence wants: increased restrictions enforced by the police on who receives a gun licence. He had asked for the same change after Hungerford, with no effect.

"If they don't change the certification procedure, the people who are still getting other guns can still get through the net..."

"You just basically want handguns to be allowed,'' she interrupted again.

"No, I want them to change the law to ensure that people who have legally held handguns are unlikely to be a danger to the public."

This is not a discussion. It's a blatant attempt to make us choke on our cereal with fury.

I finally saw The Bridges of Madison County, directed by Clint Eastwood, based on an American best seller. It's now out on video, which saves you the mortification of viewing it in public. What a movie. Never was so little said by so few at such length.

Meryl Streep with yet another funny accent. Eastwood who, without a horse and a gun, is nothing (a tripod is no substitute). And there weren't even any of the eponymous bridges. Well, one. It looked like the remains of an old freight car, dumped across a dried-up river bed. In fact that's also pretty much how Meryl and Clint looked in the sack. All of this might have been bearable but for the adult children mooching mawkishly over their dead mother's diary of the affair.

The scary thing about this is that everything American is eventually adopted over here. We've had hot dogs, guns, violence, and diet soft drinks. So are we also to endure an invasion of schmaltz? I need to find another habitable planet quick.

A young British student has proposed himself as the national poet of Kiribati, which he can't even pronounce (it's pronounced "Kiribass", but in his job-winning poem he rhymed it with "see"). He simply saw it on a map somewhere in the South Pacific, realised there would be women there, and wants to go.

But travel is not all it's cracked up to be, and the best trips are really in your head. What comes into mine every year at this time is going to Mexico for the Day of the Dead. They really know how to deal with death in Mexico. Make jokey papier mache skeletons and cook food for your dead relatives. It's the only way to stop worrying about them. This is nothing like our pumpkins, sweets and plastic fangs. "Death revenges us against life,'' according to Octavio Paz, the writer, "stripping it of all its vanities and pretensions and showing it for what it is: some bare bones and a dreadful grimace."

This is the trip I'll do some day, dead or alive.

Hernando Cortes, who destroyed the Aztecs in the name of Christianity, was "greedy, debauched, a politician without scruples, but he had his quixotic moments, for, despite his weaknesses ... he had deep Christian convictions" (Robert Ricard). Sounds familiar.