Squeezed Middle: The milestones that passed me by

I knew all along that Moe was beautiful, of course I did. It’s just that a lot of things were obscuring my view.

It’s 10am and I’m snuggled up in the big double bed with Moe. If there is anything better in life than having a little morning nap with a lovely warm, squidgy baby in your arms, I’d like to know what it is. Outside, it is grey and cold but I don’t mind. It makes being here in bed all the nicer.

I open my eyes so I can drink in Moe’s sleeping face. It is the vision of a soul at peace: his eyelids are perfectly still, his forehead smooth. His arms and legs are thrown out wide, like a tiny skydiver. I wish I could sleep like he does. There are a lot of things that adults could learn from babies, if only we didn’t keep insisting it should be the other way around.

The problem is that to learn them you have to be patient and you can’t be distracted. I am very impatient and always distracted. If I don’t start paying attention soon, he won’t be a baby any more and then it will be too late.

Poor Moe. He’s been the calm in the eye of the storm over the past few months. It’s only now I have calmed down a bit that I can see it. Curly and I have been whirling around with our worries about money, life and each other. Larry has been whirling around with his scooter and his Tree Fu Tom martial-arts routines.

And all the while Baby Moe has been quietly, unobtrusively learning how to live in the world. All those milestones that I made a huge song and dance over with Larry – his first solid food, first tooth, first crawl – have slightly passed me by this time around.

Perhaps that’s partly why I enjoy our naps so very much. They are my new guilty pleasure. Larry is now going to nursery every morning, which means that while Moe is asleep I potentially have a whole hour every day in which I do not have to look after any children at all.

I have made many, many plans for that hour. I am going to completely redesign the garden, for a start. Paint the front door. Do a thorough comparison of prices at Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Asda. Oh yes. And, of course, make a start on the novel . . .

Every day as I walk back home after dropping off Larry, I run through my to-do list in my head. By the time I open the front door I am so exhausted from thinking about it that I need a little rest. So, I have a cup of hot chocolate, put on my tracky bottoms and then Moe and I get into bed.

The thing about having been through the Tunnel of Doom is that, once you emerge, everything looks better and brighter than it ever did before. I knew all along that Moe was beautiful, of course I did. It’s just that a lot of things were obscuring my view.

Now he’s here, right in front of me. I reach out and stroke his perfect, plump cheek. His eyelid flickers. I draw my hand back – I don’t want to wake him up. I lean in so close to him that I can feel his wispy baby hair against my lips. “I’m sorry, Moe,” I whisper, so gently it’s almost just a breath. “I’m so sorry, my darling.”

 

Is there anything better than napping with a warm, squidgy baby? Image: Getty

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 07 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Nelson Mandela

Getty
Show Hide image

What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.