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

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser