I am always really put off when I hear people saying things like “Oh”, (they always start off by saying “Oh”) “Oh, I did a Delia” when they mean “I used a recipe from the latest Delia Smith cookery book and it turned out really rather well” or, when having a baby, “Oh, are you doing a Gina Ford/Jo Frost?” to explain the method of childrearing they are planning to adopt. The same people will also loudly insist on “Doing a tray bake!” for the school cake stall, when it would have been perfectly adequate to simply volunteer to chip in with a cake or two.
My regular readers will have begun to notice that I have the capacity to be an inveterate bigot on occasion. I see this kind of loud allegiance as middle class gang culture. The culture extends way beyond cookery and child-rearing (take it as read that it includes cars, clothes, cafes, tutors and children’s parties to name but a few). The middle class school playground is becoming a place of bullying and intimidation, not by the children, but by the mothers, who strive to out-do one another on every conceivable level. They pledge their allegiance, or animosity, through their possessions, their husbands, the talents of the children or their ability to entertain, all of which are flaunted with all the relish of the amphitheatre.
Personally I keep well out of it, I look one way and speak another and the Gangs don’t know what to make of me; do I look like a tramp (half the time) because I’m so posh that I can afford to look scruffy or am I just poor and beyond consideration. I leave them guessing. I know who my friends are and they know me.
My friend Irish Alice has sent her daughter to a very fine local public school and, after enduring a couple of terms of intimate probing to ascertain where she stood in relation to class, money and clothes, and getting absolutely no satisfactory response, she is virtually ignored on the rare occasions when she turns up to a school function. She is not crushed by this.
This is not what I set out to write however. My initial point was about my own bigotry. I tend to avoid like the plague anything that is hyped to the ends of the earth or protagonised by people I don’t like, and it is sometimes to my own detriment. Harry Potter was one, Shrek was another and Super Nanny, Jo Frost, is the most recent.
I didn’t watch her because I was sick to death of hearing people saying “Are you doing Jo Frost!”. But for some reason, I have been around to watch a few programmes of her new series and I think she’s absolutely brilliant. This woman is sheer, walking, talking common sense. There’s nothing new in her programmes, no great psychological insights or radical new methods based on years of state funded research, she simply looks at children and families and applies good, old fashioned common sense, laced with a healthy measure of clarity and compassion.
So many families these days are completely ruled by their children. I know of many parents who have no personal time with each other, who run their kitchens like cafes, whose children have started school and are still not sleeping through the night, who feed their children the processed crap they demand and then wonder why they have no concentration and behave badly. They seem to have completely lost touch with any instinct about how to manage children and I think one reason for that is down to the dissipation of families. At one time, families lived in close proximity, sisters and aunts and cousins had babies and everyone mucked in – I had rarely even held a baby before I had my own.
I’m not a great fan of Baby Books, but if you’re going to get one, get hers. I know she gets a lot of flak for her rigidity with her timetable for babies, but if you adapt it to suit your own life and not become a slave to it, those (old fashioned) methods will make life an awful lot easier. One of her first jobs is usually to train the parents, who frequently lack resolve or a sense of authority and we all know that when we are ground down and exhausted, it feels so much easier to give in for a quiet life. But it’s not the parents who get the quiet life and frankly, if you don’t feel that you know better than your children, should you really be having them at all?