Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1988 film “Twins”.
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There’s no magic to raising twins – I just had to find my own brand of baby care

I get frustrated with people who want to dwell on the twin-ness of twins. And don’t get me started on the Sunday colour-supplement photo spreads of weird pairs in their weird matching outfits.

When my girls were small I used to be asked sometimes, “What’s it like having twins?” and assuming the person asking was sympathetic and interested, I’d launch into a description of the various juggling acts that constituted bathtime, a trip to the shops and getting safely upstairs. Often the questioner would then start to fidget, or interrupt with different questions, and I’d realise that what they really meant was, “What’s it like having twins? I BET IT’S SPOOKY AND WEIRD.”

My daughters themselves have had similar experiences when meeting new people. Announcing you’re a twin, or a parent of twins, winkles out those who have what they call a “fascination” with the subject. “Do yours have ESP?” they’ll ask. (“No,” I reply, “because on balance I don’t think anyone does, do you?”) “Can they sense when the other is ill or in pain?” (“Again, no,” I say, slightly less politely). And: “Did they have their own special secret language when they were little?”

This one is fairly persistent: people think they have the evidence to back it up. They’ve read something somewhere, or seen a TV documentary, and they’re disappointed when I tell them that it’s very rare, usually just a case of babies mimicking each other’s babbling attempts to speak.

Twins inevitably get less one-to-one time with an adult and this can contribute both to the close bond or empathy that gets mistaken for mind-reading, and also to early “twin-talk”, which is inflated into the idea of private language. I remember working hard when mine were young to maximise individual attention in order to avoid this kind of language learning delay. Much of what passes for the innate oddness of twins seems to me to be a result of either indulgence (dressing them alike, for instance) or a degree of neglect, which is hard to avoid when you have two or more to deal with.

Hence my frustration with those who want to dwell on the twin-ness of twins. Don’t get me started on the Sunday colour-supplement photo spreads of weird pairs in their weird matching outfits, which seem to me a last vestige of freak-show finger-pointing. The kindest parenting will treat each as an individual, and the most helpful friends will understand and do the same.

Any focus on the mystery of twins always seemed irrelevant; having them dragged me far away from the magical and into the realm of the practical, bringing out my inner Gina Ford. Her Contented Little Baby Book horrified some with its return to schedules and routines but was a godsend to me, offering a possible route to survival. If you’ve managed feeding on demand or attachment parenting with more than one baby please don’t write in and tell me. Personally I thought it would kill me, and so I got on with my own style of baby care – parental sanity seemed to me to depend on “knowing what I can stand/Without them sending a van” (to quote Philip Larkin entirely out of context).

I think all parents of multiples learn this lesson. My aunt Sheila had twins, and when my mother said to her sympathetically, “You must have so much ironing!” she replied, “Oh, I haven’t got an iron.” I once complained to my mother-in-law, who’d had triplets, that it was very hard to settle both babies at the same time for a midday nap, and asked her, “How ever did you manage with three?”

She looked at me slightly bewildered. “Well,” she said, “when it was nap time I put them all in their cots and locked the door until it wasn’t nap time any more.”

I rather envied that old-fashioned briskness. It’s been replaced now by a more masochistic approach, which demands constant and immediate attention from parents in a way that isn’t possible when you’re feeding one twin while rocking the other in a baby seat with your foot. And at moments like that you learn that the people you love most are those who know not to talk bollocks but to pick up a baby and stick the kettle on.

Tracey Thorn appears at the Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on 18 April. Book tickets here.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, British politics is broken

Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons
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Donald Trump brings home his dark vision of America at the Republican convention

The Presidential nominee pledged: "Safety must be restored."

Donald Trump brought home the Republican convention Thursday night with a dark vision of contemporary America – a darkness he claimed only his leadership could lift. It was a lengthy, tightly-scripted speech framed around polarities – insiders and outsiders, criminals and victims, the United States and the rest of the world – and infused with righteous anger. And yet against the darkness, he offered not lightness but “greatness” – a bombastic, personalistic vision of how through sheer force of will he could right the American ship before it plunged irretrievably into the depths. “I alone can solve,” he famously tweeted earlier in the campaign. This was the 80-minute version.

Any presidential challenger, of course, has to lay out a set of problems they believe need fixing and a case for why their leadership might make a difference. It was the breathtaking scale and intensity of Trump’s diagnosis, and the lack of optimistic alternative to counterbalance it, that was notable compared to other acceptance speeches. He portrayed the United States as a country riddled with crime and corruption, a “rigged system” in which politicians like Hillary Clinton can evade justice, while police officers trying to protect its citizens become targets; a fearful country, its economy sluggish, its infrastructure crumbling, its security an illusion, and its international stature in freefall

For a candidate who has mocked the soaring rhetoric of President Obama (the “hopey-changey stuff,” as Sarah Palin once called it), it was perhaps not surprising that Trump’s speech would be short on uplift. It was at least more disciplined than his other campaign speeches, if in keeping with their tone and content – the much-maligned teleprompter rolling a script to which he largely stuck. (“He sounds presidential,” a lady behind me remarked, though his press conference Friday morning marked a reversion to free-wheeling form).

It was short on substance too, though acceptance speeches aren’t designed to be policy laundry lists like a State of the Union. Still, there were few specifics, beyond a pledge to revise tax laws which inhibit religious groups from political advocacy, and a newfound concern with student loans. It was daughter Ivanka’s speech that had the greater substantive heft, promising her father would push for new labour laws to help working mothers, and for affordable childcare in the US. Neither are traditional Republican positions, but the crowd seemed on board for anything Trump might offer.

He even had them cheering for LGBTQ rights, after recalling the tragedy in Florida last month, and the need to protect gay Americans from a “hateful foreign ideology” in radical Islam. “It is so nice as a Republican to hear you cheering for what I just said,” he commended the delegates in an unscripted moment. But whether they had really embraced this unexpected message – or if it was the anti-terror chaser that really got them on their feet – remains to be seen. In either case, it was a rare grace note in an otherwise bruising speech.

Presenting himself repeatedly as the candidate of “law and order,” Trump evoked Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. At a time when American cities were erupting in race riots and protests over the Vietnam War, Nixon had pitched himself as the face of stability and security. Likewise Trump has reacted to the simmering racial tensions and terrorist attacks this summer with a hard-line stance on “lawlessness.” “Safety must be restored,” Trump said, in one of the eerier lines he delivered. Yet in his convention speech, Nixon had balanced his tough talk with a positive message – speaking of love, courage, and lighting a “lamp of hope” in partnership with the American people. 

Trump channeled another president in his speech, too, when he promised to give voice to “the forgotten men and women of our country” – drawing on the language of Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt had promised to aid “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid” during the 1932 campaign. But Roosevelt’s solution to the forgotten man’s distress was economic internationalism – tearing down tariff walls and trading freely with the world – which the Republican Party then opposed. Trump’s solution is the protectionist policies Roosevelt had railed against.

Trump’s economic and security philosophy is encapsulated in another, more notorious phrase associated with that era: “America First.” A rallying cry for isolationists seeking to avoid US entanglement in World War II, it acquired an anti-Semitic taint. But Trump has employed it nonetheless, capturing as it does his core argument that America must do more to protect its own citizens against threats from within and without – from illegal immigrants, from radicalized Islamic terrorists, from the downsides of free international trade. Little wonder that former George W.

Bush staffer Nicolle Wallace announced that the Republican party she knew “died in this room tonight.” In embracing elements of isolationism, protectionism, and nativism, however, it is perhaps truer to say that Trump’s Republican party reverted to an earlier form.

Often disconcerting, at times mesmerizing, the question remains how effective this speech will be. The delegates responded enthusiastically to Trump’s fierce rhetoric, but many prominent Republicans had stayed away from the convention altogether. Combined with Senator Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement, Trump goes into the general election campaign without a fully united party behind him. For both partisans and the public, Trump’s speech offered a cast of villains to rally against, but no positive, unifying vision to rally behind – beyond the much-touted yet elusive “greatness,” of course. In a typical election year, that would seem a critical flaw in a campaign – but Trump loves to confound the naysayers. As his convention speech showed, he thinks the formula that got him this far - showcasing his fame and fanning Americans’ fears – can land him in the White House.