It isn’t too bad if you have supportive parents around you to help with the journey, but many people aren’t that blessed, which makes child rearing that much harder. There are books and internet forums that offer advice, comfort and support, but as anyone who has ever read a baby book will tell you, they are contradictory and it’s unlikely that any book can ever match the peculiarities of your own child.
Because babies are unique, each one a little person who learns from the world around it, which is also a unique blend of parents, grandparents, friends, neighbours and, increasingly these days, childminders and carers. No baby book can hope to describe how to rear a child against such a varied background, except in the most general terms.
Babies go through stages of development and each stage has certain signature elements to it, but each parent and their child copes with each stage differently.
“The Things You Missed While You Were Away” by Joan Ellis isn’t a baby rearing manual. It is part letter, part diary, part blog and part memoir. It takes a lighthearted look at the raising of the author’s own daughter, Sophie, while at the same time allowing the author to reminisce about her own childhood and to draw comparisons.
While Joan Ellis is suffering the pains of a difficult labour her partner is sampling the gas and air. After a caesarean to deliver Sophie, Joan wakes to find no sign of either her baby or her man. She is soon reunited with her baby, but the absence of her partner is a sign of things to come and seven months later he is no longer a part of the family. He is referred to tangentially throughout the book, as he is still involved in Sophie’s life, but he is no longer a part of its mainstream.
This draws a parallel with Joan’s own upbringing. Her father disappeared sometime in her early years and Joan has no memories of him. This is the ‘letter’ part of the book and gives it its title, as she tells her father of the things he missed while she was growing up, at the same time also telling him what he is missing in the life of his granddaughter. His absence is never explained and it is left to the reader to decide whether or not the author knows more than she is telling.
The book follows the life of Sophie from her baby years through to around ten or eleven. The child is clearly very clever and this presents some unique problems for Mum, the sort of problems that aren’t generally covered in baby books. For example, how does one react when one discovers that one’s primary school aged child is a regular customer in a cocktail bar and is on first name terms with the waiting staff? That's not quite as bad as it sounds, by the way.
Although I enjoyed the stories of Sophie growing up I was far more entertained by the reminisces about Joan Ellis’s own younger life. This was a girl I suspect it was fun to be friends with, though perhaps also perilous in terms of the amount of time in detention that might have resulted from the relationship. If life gives you lemons, so it is said, make lemonade and Joan Ellis seems to have made a lot of lemonade. I hope Joan Ellis goes on to write more about her own childhood. It's a book I would buy.
The book is written in a very easy to read style, benefitting no doubt from the author’s employment in the advertising industry. Each chapter tells a short story and these are then joined together to make a fulfilling whole. Each chapter ends with a short message directed at Joan’s father, wherever he is.
As a male I have never been a single Mum and I was raised in a traditional Mum and Dad and kids type of family, but I have been a parent and so I can relate to some, if not all, of the joys and heartaches of raising children. This is a book for anyone who has had children, but also for anyone who is contemplating having children.
Prior to the general election David Cameron was much ridiculed for promising to bring in legislation that would prevent governments from arbitrarily raising income tax or VAT. Why, it was asked, was such legislation needed? Surely, it was argued, it showed that Tory politicians couldn’t be trusted on such matters if they felt they needed a special law to protect us from them.
What was completely missed was the real point of this legislation which is, quite simply, revenge.
In the 2009 budget the Labour government raised the top rate of income tax to 50p in the pound. The change came into effect in April 2010, just 5 weeks before the general election of that year.
Labour had previously held the top rate of income tax at 40p for over 12 years, making it one of the lowest rates of top level income tax in Europe. Gordon Brown’s government knew perfectly well that at some point in the future a Tory government would decide to lower that 50p rate, if for no other reason than a 10p hike in one go was unreasonable. As it happened George Osborne only lowered it to 45p, which still made it higher than the level held by Labour, but that was conveniently overlooked.
Just as predicted, when the Tories lowered the top rate of tax as part of the 2012 budget the Labour politicians and their left wing supporters trotted out their prepared slurs about the Tories helping their rich friends while they conveniently forgot to mention that they, Labour, had been much softer on taxing the rich for far longer.
So what of this new Tory legislation? Well, it will tie the hands of George Osborne somewhat, as he won’t be able to change the levels of income tax or VAT unless he first gets that law changed or repealed. No doubt this was discussed before the idea was put into the Conservative Manifesto and no doubt George Osborne had to agree to it. If George wants to raise taxation levels he will have to do so before the new legislation is passed. Will he risk that? We shall have to wait and see. But that’s not the point.
The point is that the new legislation will equally tie the hands of any future Labour government. If they decide they need to raise taxes Labour will have to be the ones who will have to change or repeal that law. And what will the Tories say?
“We told you Labour couldn’t be trusted on taxation, and the proof is in their desire to repeal this good Conservative legislation!”
So Labour will be stuck between a rock and a hard place. They will have to suffer what they made the Tories suffer in 2012, or they will have to find some way of funding their spending programmes without repealing the law. And during the live TV debates ahead of the next election (or the one after that, or the one after that) you can bet what one of the challenges will be from whoever will be leading the Tories:
“Will the Leader of the Labour Party please tell us whether or not he (or she, we don't yet know) intends repealing the laws that we brought in to prevent governments from raising taxes.”
If the Labour leader tries to give any answer other than a clear ‘no’ the Tories will make strong suggestions that Labour are planning to increase taxes if they win the election. You an imagine the effect that would have on the prospects of Labour forming the next government.
Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold and it will be cold enough when Labour form their next government and have to decide whether or not to spring the trap.
Is it any wonder why I would still prefer to work down a sewer than go into politics! And just to see if my prediction is true, if I’m still writing this blog when the next election rolls around I’ll re-publish this section in advance of the live TV debates, just as a reminder.
Next week I'll be publishing a very rare one star review of the book Bad Pharma by Dr Ben Goldacre.