Take Us With You, Scotland.

Picture from the Guardian.
Picture from the Guardian.

I must have lost my head. Or should that be “ma heid?” I’ve just signed an utterly preposterous petition – proposing that the North of England secedes to Scotland. Part of me said, “don’t be daft.” And then I reflected that there are a great many ideas that seemed daft when people first came up with them. Scottish Independence, for instance. Not in my lifetime.

The world is changing, very fast. I hardly feel I can keep up with it, and I’m only 56 years old. I have two young adult offspring who are already way ahead of me on political matters, who keep me in touch with reality. I don’t mean the reality that nothing can ever change, that the Tory press will always manage to pour their poison in people’s ears, that this little island of us will diminish on the world stage, not only in influence but in morality. That big business always wins.

I look at these 56 SNP MPs descending on stuffy Westminster like a Blackpool girls hen night, ruffling feathers, eating chips on the terrace, taking selfies, shaking things up. I look at UKIP imploding. I look at that circle of red, London, in a sea of blue, and I wonder if I really do want to retire to the South of England. I also wonder why people aren’t rioting on the streets of London now, and feel that if they have any plans to do so they’d better get out and bloody do it now before the Tories classify any form of protest as terrorism and make it illegal, and terrify the BBC into not mentioning demos until they are over and done with, and only mentioning the policemen that get hurt, and nobody else.

And I see an alternative. I see hope.

Not hope, realistically, that Britain will ever be divided by a line from the Dee to the Humber, and north of it will be a liberal paradise. But hope that it is still possible to want something better, and to think outside the box.

Thank you Scotland, for showing us the way. I am tired, it’s late, and I’m less coherent than I might be, so I will end with the words of my son, written on his Facebook page last Friday. I am so proud of both my kids. They have joined the Labour Party this week. I don’t feel able to follow suit at the moment, first we have to figure out what the Labour Party stands for. But if the SNP ever open a southern branch, I’ll be first in line to sign up.

I’ve seen many calls for the Left to organise today. And they are absolutely correct. But at times like this, just as important as organisation against our foes is solidarity with our friends.
Someone you know is already suffering as a result of Tory policy. Even more will feel the brunt of it soon. In hard times we have a tendency to retreat into ourselves, only expressing a communal spirit in collective anger – but just as important is being there for those close to you. For those with precarious or zero-hours employment, who don’t know where their next meal will come from. For those who have had their benefits cut off because the Jobcentre wouldn’t believe that they had a mental illness. For those who can’t afford to live in their own homes anymore because of rent increases and punitive disability taxes. For those who are facing right-wing racism and xenophobia. For those who can no longer afford legal aid or adequate healthcare.
For the next five years, we must address these injustices through both mass organisation and local aid. The Conservatives are fighting tooth and nail to abandon those who it is a state’s duty to support. We mustn’t let them do it. We must resist all that has been done already and all that lies down the line. And we must refuse to abandon or to be abandoned. Remember, many people you know are or will be fighting their own battles – don’t let them fight alone.

Return of the Black Dog

hamlet

I’m still swamped by those recordings in my brain, “I should do something, I should call someone, I should write a book, I should learn to tap dance.” The ‘I shoulds’ are on constant parade, they never end. Every time I get a blast of one of those ‘I shoulds’ or a memory of screwing up it feels like someone’s sticking a syringe in my heart and squirting something toxic straight into an artery. I try to deflect or accept those painful ‘I shoulds.’ It’s like I’m babysitting myself, trying to sooth a sick child.

Ruby Wax

I’ve known for days that I was sliding back down into depression. I’ve been blaming myself for everything, from my son being allergic to the cat to over-catering the party on Christmas Eve (we’re still guiltily consuming cocktail sausages, and probably will be until someone succumbs to food poisoning, and then I’ll feel guilty about that). Here I sit, caught between the feeling that nobody ought to be depressed at Christmas, surrounded by their loving family and in a comfortable home, and the looming, half-dreaded and half-anticipated New Year exhortations to make meaningful, significant changes. I should not be miserable, I tell myself. I should not feel as if making a simple phone call to thank someone for their Christmas present is a mountain I cannot scale. I should be visiting the health club, cleaning up the leaves out in the garden, doing the ironing – anything to make me feel I am not completely and hopelessly useless.

It is one of life’s sad ironies that I am surrounded by piles of lovely Christmas gifts and feel unable to enjoy any of them. It is not that I lack gratitude. I am just used to others setting the agenda and can’t seem to give myself permission to choose to do something I want and then go ahead and do it. I cannot allow myself the holiday that others are righty enjoying.

We have loads to celebrate and even more to look forward to, but none of it seems at all signifiant right now. Having recently observed the child of an acquaintance commit suicide, I know beyond all doubt that I could never put my family through something so agonising and so public. I know beyond doubt that they love me dearly. What I don’t really understand is why they bother.

And at an intellectual level, I know why I feel like this. I feel like this because I drove myself hard all through the run-up to Christmas, going the extra mile at work, taking on the immense and wonderful challenge of learning a foreign language, recovering from a ghastly tummy bug and trying throughout not to let my fragile fitness regime collapse (in the end it did, and that’s something else I can’t quite forgive myself for). And then came Christmas, and my partner’s retirement, and three parties in the space of a week, and then I cooked and washed up Christmas lunch. I did a good job, and I know the family appreciated it. It’s okay to be exhausted, it really is. It’s okay to miss one or two Italian lessons rather than repeat them over in a parrot-like trance and retain almost nothing of them.

I won’t feel like this forever. I might only feel like this until tomorrow. I feel this way now because it’s the first day for ages I have only had myself to look out for, and I’ve been distracting myself by looking out for everybody else, whether they asked me to or not. My kids have reached the age where I cannot live their lives for them, or even through them. That is something I actually wanted to happen. And I will find new goals, and new challenges, and new dreams, and it is all waiting for me, and the fact that right now all I want to do is crawl under a duvet and sob into a pillow does not negate any of that at all.

And if someone like Ruby Wax can be so beautifully and courageously honest about depression, then there is hope for us all.

In Heaven the tills are ringing

I’ve rather lost track of all the secular milestones that have dotted this year’s run-up to Christmas. Once people celebrated saints days. Now that we all worship at the altar of Mammon these have been replaced by secular equivalents. First came the US import of Black Friday, closely followed by Manic Monday (or whatever it was), and now we have Panic Saturday. Most of my Christmas shopping was done online and well in advance, since I’m a veteran of long queues at the Post Office and the hit and miss approach of Yodel Deliveries.

It’s interesting to speculate how much of this consumer spending is fuelled by credit cards. I’m not about to add to the many arguments against getting into debt. What worries me rather more is that I find it increasingly difficult to rely on my debit card, my preferred method of paying for things in the majority of cases. The reason is not that I keep going overdrawn; I’m very careful about that since the charges are, to say the least, a massive disincentive to misbehave. No, the problem is that NatWest in its wisdom has decided that an increasing number of my transactions appear to be fraudulent, so they take it upon themselves to block my card and don’t even have the good manners to send me a text and let me know.

It’s happened three times this week. What seemed to trigger it was a modest donation to Crisis at Christmas through the Guardian website. At least they let me know that time, albeit several hours later. They also blocked an Ocado order until I told them it was okay, which I promptly did only to log on to the Ocado website a few minutes ago and discover the payment is still outstanding and I’m blacklisted. Admittedly the bill was a bit higher than usual, but not as high as one from a couple of weeks ago that went through with no problem.

Then yesterday I was contacted by the farm shop who are providing our Christmas dinner. Again, my card had been blocked. No warning this time – I simply had to apologise and slap it on my credit card. This is a supplier we have dealt with regularly over the past couple of years, and trust completely. Frankly, they have better things to do at this time of year than phone their regulars for the privilege of getting paid for the stuff they are busily sending out.

I called NatWest, a process that took the best part of an hour since even their Customer Service team didn’t seem to know the difference between a Fraud Prevention Team and a Fraud Damage Limitation Team, and I was put on hold on three different numbers. I was promised – at least in theory – that they had fouled up and next time they would let me know. I was not completely reassured, however. From now on I’ll be carrying around more cash than I am comfortable doing – it seems that NatWest’s concern for my financial safety doesn’t extend to cover the possibility that I could be mugged on the High Street – or falling back on my flexible friend.

I do appreciate that it’s necessary to be vigilant, but what concerns me most about all this is not just the embarrassment and inconvenience involved –  it’s the creeping implication that people who don’t whack everything on plastic as a matter of course are somehow acting suspiciously. Nobody called from the credit card company to ask why I was paying for turkey on the never-never.

All this sounds like a very middle-class problem, prompting charges that I should shut up and be grateful that I’m not among the thousands looking to food banks to put food on the table this Christmas. There is a common thread, however. It’s a more nuanced version of the social exclusion suffered, far more seriously, by people who lack the regular income that makes them attractive to modern banks. It’s part of the problem that leaves poor people paying punitive charges because their benefits were stopped without their knowledge, and forking out £2.50 to take out £10.00 in cash at their local corner shop or pub because they can’t afford the bus fare to a cashpoint. If this is the way that NatWest treats a customer of nearly 30 years standing with an above-average household income, who hasn’t overdrawn by a penny for years, I shudder to think of the contempt they must have for someone with serious financial difficulties.

And I am old-fashioned enough to actually prefer paying for something at the time I actually get it, an attitude that seems to be regarded as somewhere between quaintly retro and downright socially irresponsible. I am being made to feel like a criminal, simply for wanting to spend my own money. By a bank that wouldn’t exist if my taxes hadn’t rescued them six years ago – and now our local services are being shredded by cuts to pay for that.

It’s a funny old world, isn’t it? Happy Christmas. Even if you work for NatWest.

The Sacking of Amanda Craig – so what?

Having recently given theatre critic and broadcaster Libby Purves the push, The Times has now done likewise to the distinguished children’s book critic Amanda Craig. Does it matter? Well, enough for the Society of Authors to write a letter of protest and for over 114 well-known writers, including Philip Pullman and Frank Cottrell Bryce, to add their voices to the campaign.

But they’re writers, aren’t they? You would expect them to look after one of their own. What about ordinary people? As one such person, I’d like to speak up and say I think it matters a lot, and I think that over the last 12 years of work as librarian of a primary school, I’ve earned the right to have a view on the subject.

The school where I work is nice, middle class and generally privileged. Nevertheless, many parents and even some teachers feel they haven’t really got the time to encourage children to read as widely as they would like. The days of browsing public libraries as I did as a child in the 1960s, picking up half-a-dozen books a week, are becoming a thing of the past. Partly that is due to library cuts, and also because parents find it difficult to make time for such unpressured Saturday morning activities. In these days of wraparound childcare, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

There are, of course, an awful lot of children’s books getting published. Are they any good? Some of them are brilliant. But authors are at the mercy of publishers, who are, in turn, at the mercy of the market. Branding has always been a force in children’s fiction (look at those interminable Blyton series) but never more so than now. These days, syndicates of talented writers find themselves subsumed into the identity of a Daisy Meadows or an Adam Blade (Beast Quest), churning out formulaic fiction with a gender bias that would have horrified progressive parents in my childhood. A child can read a Rainbow Magic book every week for two years and never venture onto anything new. For slightly older kids, in this web-driven age where concentration spans last seconds, the next step is likely to be something dominated by cartoons and five wacky fonts on each page.

That’s not necessarily bad. I happen to think Diary of a Wimpy Kid is pretty good, and Cressida Cowell’s wonderful How to Train Your Dragon series takes the formula to inspired heights of boy-friendly lunacy. But anything that becomes a formula is in danger of discouraging experimentation, and the only way most kids are going to get the chance to do that is through a library. Even reasonably well-off parents are understandably reluctant to spend £5.99 three times a week on books their kids will either race through in one night or discard completely.

And that is why we need knowledgable, experienced reviewers like Amanda Craig. Yes, there’s the Internet, and literary festivals. But it’s not cheap taking your kids to a literary event, even if you manage to resist their pleas to buy the books. Unbiased literary criticism is vanishing from the general press, in favour of lack of innovation in a market-driven culture. Only a few weeks ago, in a wonderful speech, Neil Gaiman was pleading more eloquently than I ever could for children’s fiction to be taken seriously as an absolutely vital part of an innovative and imaginative culture. The sacking of Amanda Craig is another nail in the coffin of such hopes.

Bedroom Tax and Boiling Frogs

800px-Frog_and_saucepanRecently, I’ve begun to read about the 1930s, a period that never particularly interested me before. That “low, dishonest decade” has disturbing parallels with our own troubled times. A decadent, glamourised upper class, increasingly out of touch with ordinary people living insecure lives in inadequate accommodation and desperate poverty. The grim fallout from a financial crash. An upper class showing enthusiasm for jumping on the bandwagon of right-wing racism and anti-Semitism. Most of all, the ghastly feeling that we are hurtling towards some sort of crisis, Armageddon looming as we dance and party with increasing frenzy.

Are these chilling parallels the product of my own fevered imagination? Or are the times we are living in particularly ominous? I notice that social campaigners are being added regularly to my Twitter feeds, and I spend time reading and thinking about what they have to say. Yesterday I added my name to a petition expressing my disgust and abhorrence of the Bedroom Tax, presently being debated in Parliament. I don’t claim any moral high ground for this particular little act of protest. It was easy enough to do. It’s one very small step along the road to activism, marginally better than hurling abuse at the telly or retweeting the protests of others. Meanwhile, each day that passes brings something to the surface that challenges my comfortable existence.

Last week, for example, it was the sight of a forty-something man, clean and well-presented (though admittedly with a half-empty bottle in his pocket), literally banging his head on a wall and sobbing, “Please help me, they’ve taken everything away!” in the middle of a Manchester shopping street ten minutes from my home. A young mum, to her credit, had stopped and attempted without success to call the police. Nobody else had stopped. Unable to think of what else to do, I hurried round the corner to the Parish Office of the nearest church, where I used to worship for many years. I had a naive hope that someone, preferably ordained, would drop everything to play Good Samaritan. Isn’t that what Christians do? But no such person was around, and to their credit they were able to give my the right number to summon help. One can’t help wondering why it isn’t more widely publicised, but considering that we have a Government that regularly keeps victims of crime and people ringing up for advice on what to do after someone dies holding on and paying premium call rate for the privilege, perhaps it’s only to be expected.

When I returned, a police van had shown up and the distressed man was being dealt with. I was free to go. But the thought lingered – what had driven him to such public anguish and lack of dignity? Had he had his benefits removed for some trivial reason? Had his kids been taken into care? Was he mentally ill and desperate for help that would only be forthcoming if he collapsed or tried to murder a member of the public? All are frighteningly likely in the current climate of savage, vindictive attacks on people in need.

And so it goes on – an anecdote here, an incident there, and each one pushes at the boundary of what you, who consider yourself to be a decent, moral and reasonable citizen, find acceptable. You catch a train to Birmingham New Street station, and find that its redevelopment is so completely slanted towards the neighbouring shopping centre that it’s easier to find John Lewis than to find the platform to catch a train. Your local CoOp supermarket has a refurb, and fills with pretty little Waitrose-y islands selling olives and fancy cheeses; a market research person approaches you to ask your views and seems quite surprised when as an un-marginalized middle-class shopper who presumably quite likes her olives, you point out that it’s impossible to get a wheelchair, or even a double buggy, through the store now. Your daughter catches glandular fever and has to interrupt her university studies, and the financial fallout is terrifying – you can afford it, but you can’t help wondering what would happen to her if you couldn’t. You hear of three-bedroomed housing association homes in Liverpool facing demolition because of the Bedoom Tax, and similar three-bedroomed homes in London boroughs fetching £750,000.

Each time you think, “That’s not on. I really don’t like the thought of living in a country like that any more.” Everyone seems to be making the right noises – protesting because poppies aren’t being worn enough, or allegedly racist remarks are made, or Hallowe’en costumes mock the mentally ill. All quite legitimate concerns, of course, and apologies follow protests. Rightly so, yet the nagging thought remains – is it possible that by shining the spotlight on such infringements of good citizenship, our lords and masters are diverting our attention from worse abuses elsewhere?

You follow a few links and find yourself reading about the rise of National Socialism. It sends a shiver of recognition down your spine. How did decent German people reach the point where something like Kristallnacht, let alone the Final Solution, seemed okay? Wasn’t there ever a moment when enough people said, “That’s not on, etc” to change the course of history?

In 1981, an American journalist of German/Jewish descent interviewed ten law-abiding, respectable German citizens, asking them precisely these questions, and published their responses in a book called, “They Thought They Were Free.” Here’s one of them:

“You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the universe was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was “expected to” participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time.”

In these days of endless form-filling in educational professions, and the proliferation of initiatives and campaigns, how very familiar these words from a quiet German academic sound. But it gets worse. One is reminded of the fable of the boiling frog by this testimony from another interviewee:

“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don’t want to “go out of your way to make trouble.” Why not? – Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty. Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows.”

In uncertain times, even decent people want a quiet life, and from there it is a short step to craving the security of authoritarian government. Fascism frees us from thinking by telling us who to hate, and blaming the misfortunes of others on their own moral weaknesses. And we are all so uncertain. There are no safe jobs any more. The NHS is apparently collapsing and each week brings fresh horror stories about the abuse of frail people at the hands of market forces. If we have little children, we panic about the lack of primary school places. If we have older ones, we wonder if they’ll ever be able to live in their own home or start a family without working two jobs to pay for childcare. If we are 50 or over, we wonder what on earth will happen as we age. And everybody shudders at the thought of fuel bills. How we long for leaders who will answer all those troubling questions, and make us feel good about our own industry by comparing us favourably to the indigent disabled, the benefit scroungers, the health tourists and the illegal immigrants.

Surely, though, some basic standard of disinterested compassion remains? Not enough to make us a pushover, of course. We know all the tricks, have heard all the hard-luck stories, We are sick and tired of running the gauntlet of charity muggers and beggars every time we nip out to the shops. But obviously there are genuine cases that inspire compassion. People who have lost everything in tropical storms, for example. The more liberal among us might even shed a tear for desperate Eritreans drowned in the Mediterranean.

What does it take to reach the moment when we say, “Enough is enough?” The moment when we realise that we no longer live in any semblance of a decent society?  The moment when the frog leaps out of the pot of boiling water? Perhaps it’s when your first grandchild dies in an understaffed maternity unit somewhere. Or your friend’s daughter who became a social worker has a breakdown. Or that nice old lady down the road is found dead in her own body waste because the carer didn’t call.

Or maybe you’re flicking through your tweets one morning and you come across a story like this:

Jenny came to the Chester and Ellesmere Port Foodbank last month, having been diagnosed with terminal Cancer. Her prognosis was three to six months. She already suffered with several chronic illnesses preventing her from working over the last two years and was in receipt of Disability Living Allowance. Having no family she was trying to “put her house in order”, ensuring all her bills were paid and saving up for her funeral. Her DLA was stopped; the reason given was that as she was not expected to survive the required time, she did not qualify for this benefit! She came to the Foodbank not for herself but to bring a neighbour who had mental health issues and short term memory problems. He had been 30 minutes late for his appointment at the Benefit office (he had forgotten the time!) and had therefore been sanctioned. He had not eaten for three days. They were both given a meal and the time to talk of their problems and referred to the appropriate agencies for food vouchers and further support and help. Several weeks later Jenny came to the Foodbank to thank everyone for the help and food that was given and the kindness and support that was shown in their time of need. Jenny died three weeks later.

That story has gone viral, and rightly so. Will it go down in history as our boiling frog moment? I think what stays in the mind about this story, what makes it stand out among so many equally horrifying ones doing the rounds, is the contrast between Jenny’s non-judgmental compassion and the punitive, cynical heartlessness of the system that condemned both herself and her neighbour to such suffering. And you reach a point where the arguments don’t matter any more, and you see past them to the man sobbing in the street, or the mentally disabled neighbour set up to fail by a system that finds him surplus to requirements. And you recall that the Hitlers and the Stalins of this world don’t have a monopoly on moral simplicity. I end with the words of Jesus Christ, quoted on the home page of the Tressell Trust website:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me…”

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew 25:35-36

 Stop the Bedroom Tax Petition – it’s not too late to sign!

We love our kids, it’s their stuff we can’t live with

It’s that time of year again. When your offspring are medium-sized, that statement covers new school uniforms, shiny clean shoes and pristine book bags. When they’re bigger, and they only live at home over the summer, there are different considerations.

It’s the time when the detritus of the half-remembered college year that ended in early summer – the cheap washing tablets that are adequate for student launderettes but bring suburban families out in hives, the key texts for next term’s modules that, despite all good intentions, were never opened, and the piles of cast-off kitchen utensils – have to be collapsed into the boot of the family car. When the frantic last-minute checking of baggage allowances and weighing of rucksacks is replaced by working out how you fit two bass guitars, an amplifier and a TV into the back of a VW Golf. When there are always five pairs of jeans on the washing line and people still end up travelling with the pockets still damp. And when you realize something profound about your young-adult offspring, or at least I do.

I love them and would be happy to have them live here most of the time, like they always used to. What I can’t take any longer, what will send me cheering and throwing open windows through the house as the vehicle bearing them away turns the corner out of sight, is not themselves but their Stuff.

The first time they went away, a general purging went on, followed by a few months of relative calm. Their abandoned bedrooms became useful overflow storage cubicles. We had space to breathe. When we came downstairs in the morning, the living room still looked the way it had the night before. It’s easy to develop the sense that life, from now on, will be like this. Even the happy chaos of Christmas and Easter seemed like brief interruptions of the new, minimalist regime.

And then they come home for the summer, and the awful truth dawns on you. They have been out there, all this time, collecting stuff of their own. And as George Carlin memorably said, “Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit, but your shit is stuff?”

I can remember the feeling of dull dismay gradually forming in the pit of my stomach as my husband and son unpacked the car and, TARDIS like, box after box appeared. And then, a week or so later, the process was repeated with our daughter. Everything was going to be put away – soon. And so it was, if you can call the semi-permanent occupation of the dining room “away.”

I remember our daughter being furious that there was still a drum kit in her bedroom. (She plays drums for about ten minutes, once every six months, a mysterious process known as “band practice” that generally involves carrying said drum kit downstairs and setting it up in the middle of the living room, conveniently placed directly in the line of sight from sofa to television). I won’t embarrass her by posting photographs of her room; that would be below the belt, but you’ll get the idea when I tell you that when she asked if she could have her boyfriend to stay over the weekend, my husband muttered under his breath, “He’ll probably find a couple of other boyfriends under the bed that she’s forgotten about.”

With my son, the issues are different. First there is the subtle mental invasion of his eclectic choice of music streamed throughout the house, all day, every day. The eighteen different types of tea. The three copies of Cabin in the Woods that appear, a DVD that nobody actually remembers borrowing or buying. The Diplomacy game that takes up semi-permanent residence on the dining room table.

Worst of all is the kitchen equipment. We don’t begrudge either of them their domestic independence, but it’s rather startling to discover that we have 63 mugs in the house, at least half a dozen frying pans and a pile of knives and forks that have been in a box on the kitchen windowsill for the last twelve weeks. As for the books, open and bookmarked and commented on, all over the place – well, at least they’re working. Sometimes.

If all this sounds negative, it isn’t meant to be. We love to see our kids. We relish their growth and development, even the aspects of it that seem slightly baffling, like our son’s rejection of CD’s and downloads for the bulky, scratchy vinyl we regard as antique. (Thank God for the Internet, it makes it much easier to buy a new stylus, something we never expected to need again). We appreciate that they value the security of a safe nest that will always be there for them to return to, although we do question whether that really has to include every bit of Lego they ever played with and the roller skates that last fitted them at the age of eight. Damn it, we’re glad that they do, occasionally, want to come home, and hopefully for reasons other than lack of rent money.

But oh, it’s lovely when they leave. Or at least, when their stuff does. Well, some of it anyway. Come on, we’ll help you pack. No, we don’t know where their phone charger is. Or the suitcase, for that matter. But as for huge cardboard boxes, no problem. They’re in our bedroom, all 15 of them, and you’re welcome. It’ll be nice to be able to see through the window again.

When they’ve finally left, we’ll crack open a bottle of wine and get back to watching Brideshead Revisited on DVD, having abandoned Charles and Julia in mid-Atlantic three months ago. That is, of course, assuming that the remote control hasn’t ended up with the X-Box cabling two hundred miles away.