While baby's asleep, I'm catching up on the future

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the most interesting things about giving birth - and I write this with a two-week-old son sleeping peacefully by my side - is that it makes you think more deeply about what the future holds. Much of our daily life is shaped by choices made in the past: where to live, what career or job to pursue, who our friends are.

A new baby, with all its life ahead of it, shakes up your life and projects you forward. On a mundane level, I am sure this helps to explain why new parents either embark on home improvements or call in the decorators just at the point when they are most stretched. It is a kind of madness and only understandable in the context of having to make change. In my life I have had a new baby, new kitchen and new bathroom all at the same time.

More profoundly, I have found myself doing some odd calculations of late: when my son reaches maturity at the age of 21, it will be the year 2014; and the 21st century, with whatever it may bring, will be well under way. When he is 30 I will be an old-age pensioner, travelling to see him on my cut-price Railcard, should they still exist. Giving birth, in short, makes you seem suddenly and terribly mortal.

When I think in these terms I get anxious about the fate of the Grimsby sextuplets, born to an unmarried couple last week. It is scandalous that the Government should be using their births cynically to curb NHS fertility treatment. But the public is entitled to ask how so many vulnerable new beings, a medical mistake after all, will be cared for in the long term.

This is not solely a financial question but also one of long- term rearing and nurturing. I know at first hand - and my marriage is completely conventional - that one new baby is incredibly time-consuming. I can only say I am profoundly grateful there are not five more small faces next to me.

I am not a great believer in Wordsworth's theory that babies arrive 'trailing clouds of glory'. But the other day I looked up a strangely sweet, if pompous, letter to 'My New Born Son', penned by William Rees-Mogg in 1966. He was marking the birth of his son, Thomas, and anticipating the child's future.

With the Sixties in full swing, Rees-Mogg wrote of his hope that his son would grow up to be an independently minded gentleman scholar. But not prime minister - 'a much overrated job'. He wishes his son to be comfortably well off. 'It is, I think, a great mistake to become very rich . . . the social life of the very rich is often inhibited by the fatuous quality of their customary entertainments'. He hopes Thomas will enjoy Somerset, the solid foundation of Rees-Mogg family life. God matters, so does Shakespeare and, most probably, cricket.

The strange thing about this touching piece is that the son is expected to be so like the father. You almost suspect that the writer is unconscious of this.

My hopes are a little more modest. If my son wants to become a politician, let him think not of Westminster but of Europe. I doubt that any offspring of mine will be truly scholarly, but I would be delighted if someone closely related to me could add up and were not frightened of figures. How useful to be a happy computer-literate, without being obsessive.

If I could brief the good fairies at his christening, I would ask them for the gift of languages, as many as possible, and certainly the main European ones. For who can feel confident of building a prosperous British-based life in the 21st century? I do not know how grim or pleasant the next century will be, but I certainly do not hold with the trendies who say that history is dead. So a strong grounding in international affairs is essential

I hope above all that Aids will be conquered before it reaches epidemic proportions, and that it does not blight and threaten the social life of the next generation as it has the present one.

I also hope that my son likes Wales. One of the private joys I have is seeing my daughters negotiate barbed-wire fences on horseback without batting an eyelid during holidays there. Whenever they are able to do some horseriding they gallop as fast as they can at any alarming- looking fences.

On the domestic front, I hope my son will be able to perform a task that still eludes most modern men: iron his own shirts.

As a postscript, I rang Lord Rees-Mogg to ask him how Thomas, now in his twenties, had turned out. It seems that he is no scholar, but a busy local government Conservative politician in Somerset, who also deals in antiques for a living. 'So far, so lovely,' sighed a contented father.