Not a nice pear: not all babies love avocados, you know. Photo: Getty
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The baby manifesto: no to avocado, yes to Calpol

Calpol. It tastes fantastic. Works a treat. Helps me to sleep. All round, it’s a winner. It’s the pre-Calpol debate that bores me. 

If middle-class babies could talk, what would they say to their parents?

Were I such a baby, there are a few things I’d like to chat through. First, clothes. When it’s just us at home, I am perfectly sensibly dressed in stretchy, comfy, all-in-one baby outfits. No waistbands, loopholes, epaulets, belts or extraneous buttons. Perfect. Then there’s a social engagement and I am suddenly kitted out like a Ralph Lauren mannequin. Those buttoned shirts, faux-cords and sleeveless jumpers – everything collects and gathers in inconvenient ways around my arm-pits. Might look nice enough from your perspective but very restrictive of my new rolling technique.

Food. I don’t like avocado. More generally, can’t we relax about food, just a tiny bit? I’ve got my whole life to fondle aubergines at Waitrose and worry about sourcing and organic credentials. In the meantime, how about a nice rusk? Overhearing my menu, you’d think I was having lunch in a Michelin-starred restaurant. You also imagine I’ve got a rather more precise memory for food than I do. The fact I ate a slice of pear 28 hours ago doesn’t mean I don’t want another one now. Don’t change a winning formula, I say. Having spoken to Granny, I gather your generation ate pretty much exclusively Frosties sprinkled with extra sugar until you were 13. So are you absolutely certain about this diet-IQ correlation that’s currently touring the Sunday supplements?

Why do you guys find it impossible to make even short journeys in the car without packing the entire house into the boot and back seat? Acres of books, stacks of toys, bath seats, my activity gym, high chairs, enough monitors to supply the SAS, various beakers and several allegedly sleep-inducing blankets. No wonder I’m feeling claustrophobic. You’re indulging the neurosis of control. Mummy and Daddy convince themselves that if they do X, Y and Z – after all, it worked once before – then I’ll definitely fall into line in the future. Pure narrative fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc. I’m a lot more contrary than you give me credit for. Even sensing the existence of a long-term plan – a military-style operation with my co-operation at the heart of it – sends me cheerily in the opposite direction.

When you’re next invited to a social engagement that you’d rather miss, try to be honest about it and say, “Sorry, no.” I resent being used as a dinner-party avoidance strategy. You say, “We’d love to come, of course, but sadly it’s proving impossible to arrange childcare.” Really? Exactly how many babysitting options have you tried to make this work? Man up.

Teething. What’s so bad about admitting that I’m not always in a brilliant mood? Like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. This has nothing to do with my teeth. Yes, emerging teeth are uncomfortable. But as a causal explanation, it is being rather stretched. Can’t you rummage around for another excuse or two to explain away my latest tantrum? Long before I’d sprouted any teeth, “teething” was being trotted out to justify even blatant attention-seeking. I like a good excuse as much as the next person but can’t we just accept the occasional mood swing?

Calpol. It tastes fantastic. Works a treat. Helps me to sleep. All round, it’s a winner. It’s the pre-Calpol debate that bores me. Same every time: should we, shouldn’t we, didn’t we last night, isn’t there a hint of a dependency culture, what about his little liver . . . blah blah? Just pass the syringe, dispense the dope and spare me the guilt. After all, I’m teething.

Other children. Why this presumption that I will be pleased to see other children? It’s baffling. They’re self-absorbed, attention-seeking and unforgivably uninterested in me and my inner life, so what’s to like about other children? I much prefer the pandering attentiveness of multiple adults. The presence of rival children reduces the staff-baby ratio most uncomfortably.

I’m with Philip Larkin, who said he had initially thought he didn’t like people in general, then he realised he just hadn’t liked other children. How much clearer can I be? I’ve tried hair-pulling, eye-gouging, ear-tugging and general bullying but still you insist that it’s a ham-fisted effort to make friends. Nope. Trying to get rid of them.

Apparently, someone called George is doing similar kinds of things to me right now. Why should I be interested? Never met him, though he is doubtless quite like all the other children I’ve recently poked in the eye.

I’m also rather tired of being used as an excuse for unfulfilled parental creativity, as though if I wasn’t around you would inevitably be writing Anna Karenina. I blame Cyril Connolly and his convenient little aphorism, “There is no more sombre enemy of great art than the pram in the hallway.” (Good book, though, so do read the other chapters of Enemies of Promise.) Perhaps the problem, Cyril, is always leaving the pram in the hallway. There’s nothing I like more than being wheeled outside, into city parks and along country lanes, during which time I invariably fall deeply asleep for an hour or two.

What more do you want? You get to claim the domestic moral high ground – pulling your weight on the parenting front – while actually drifting off into your own creative space. Nope, sorry, look elsewhere for your excuses. After all, J K Rowling and J G Ballard were both single parents.

Do pass me a rusk on the way through the hallway.

Ed Smith’s latest book is “Luck: a Fresh Look at Fortune” (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 14 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double

Photo: Getty Images
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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.
For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.
IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.
Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.
Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.
Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.
The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.
His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.
He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.
I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.