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

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.