Ah, don’t you just love the school gate? Writing in today’s Observer about “Queen Bee syndrome” and “mummy cliques” at drop-off and pick-up. I am not convinced Gill Hornby has nailed it in “most-hyped-novel-of-the-year” The Hive as (a) her critique seems a bit out-of-date (her kids are now in their late teens and early twenties and she is writing about primary school) and (b) what she writes about is so extreme it veers into caricature.
This stuff is more incisive when it feels authentic. In real life someone really did tell me that one of my children’s “cognitive skills” were “crap.” But I don’t think it was a person who actually knew what “cognitive skills” are, so it was not very wounding. (What are “cognitive skills” anyway and who cares?) Anyhow. This is a major Mumsnet topic (over 11,000 threads on school gate etiquette alone) so if The Hive can gain currency with that demographic, it will do well. I will continue to monitor the situation in-between perusals of the Boden catalogue. (Joke. Boden is the caricature mummy clique’s label of choice.)
Writing in today’s Observer about taboo-busting women like Angelina Jolie and Romola Garai. Angelina Jolie has been hailed as “inspirational” for her decision to go public about her preventive double mastectomy and Romola Garai won plaudits from the audience at the BAFTAs when she “bravely and hilariously” mentioned her stitches after childbirth. I think these things reveal far more about how inherently conservative most people are. Is it really so shocking that someone would have a double mastectomy if they had a 87% chance of breast cancer? And every second of the day tens of thousands of post-natal women have stitches where the sun doesn’t shine. Anyway. They made headlines so it was reason enough to revisit all the other crazy taboos that have been busted over the years, from Demi’s pregnant belly to Julia’s hairy armpits.
Looking into the new digital publishing world of Melanie Phillips for today’s Observer Profile. This week Melanie Phillips launched a very intriguing internet portal where she’s marketing herself and her world view to a global (read: American) audience. It’s the mugs, T-shirts and baseball caps that have brought her the most flak in the British press, but the far more interesting story is what this represents. I think we’ll see a lot more writers, commentators and opinion-formers using the internet to assert their influence abroad using the internet. And they will all be claiming — as Melanie Phillips is — that they and they alone are “Britain’s most influential political commentator.” Let the games begin!
Writing in today’s Times (£) about the rise of detached parenting. There’s a backlash going on in the US, a reaction to the over-involved, wrap-you-up-in-cottonwool parenting of the 1990s and early 2000s. As I’ve tried to make clear in the piece, this isn’t about throwing all the good bits of attachment parenting out with the bathwater (no-one is saying that you shouldn’t breastfeed). But it is about wondering whether it’s a healthy thing for parents to overload children with activities, analysis and, consequently surely, massive expectations. (“How will they ever repay us?”) No-one wants selfish parents. But it’s not clear who a lot of the frenetic activity that goes on is really for. It is for the benefit of the parents or the children? More on detached parenting here. And a fascinating piece in the Huffington Post — Why I Choose Detachment Parenting — here.
Black and white baby pic: not one of mine — this is Alutka from Wikimedia Commons.
This interview with Cath Kidston is in Red’s June issue. Really enjoyed meeting her: she seemed quite quiet and understated but a very straightforward sort of person. She did not say anything controversial and I don’t think she ever will. She has just spent the past twenty years quietly and discreetly building a £75 million empire. It is the British way.
I am mad about Lionel Shriver’s new novel Big Brother, out May 9. I’ve given it a very short review (because that’s all there was space for) in June issue of Red (coming soon) but was actually relieved not to review it at length elsewhere as there is a massive “spoiler” situation. It’s the sort of plot twist it would be very hard to review without mentioning. But it’s also something that if you mention it… you’ve totally ruined the reading experience for anyone else. Instead I have written this profile for The Observer which is all about the phenomenon of “Lionel Shriver”. I do think Shriver is judged in a certain way simply because she is a woman. Although people did love to tease Martin Amis about his teeth. So it’s hard to say. Either way, she’s a great honorary British eccentric and a truly great writer.
Covering for Libby Purves in today’s Times, writing about the joy of Easter. Not that there aren’t niggles. The person who has commented that lie-ins are irritatingly compromised by the clocks going forward is right. And a curmudgeon, which I applaud. Otherwise, big up Easter.
Interview with Amanda de Cadenet in this month’s Red magazine. Amanda was exactly as she seems in the interview. Open. Interested and interesting. Very LA in the way she talks and in the way she sees the world. I was half-expecting Gwynnie or Demi to phone her during our meeting — “Excuse me, Viv, I’ve just got to take this call” — but to my great distress this did not happen. Good luck to her and her Conversation (her on-line talk show — which is actually good and has extraordinary guests like The Gaga.)
Covering for Rachel Johnson in today’s Mail on Sunday: stay-at-home mothers, respect and latte money (yes, we should value what they do — but the real question is how to help the women who want to work stay in work); the disturbingly slim win of Nigel Farage at this week’s Intelligence Squared debate (it only takes one per cent and we’re out of Europe); and what’s more stupid — someone who puts petrol in Obama’s diesel limo, The Beast, OR a woman who crashes her car into a wall in a multi-storey car park? Don’t answer that. Because the woman is me.
Reviewed in today’s Times: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg, an entertaining, beautifully-crafted novel with rave reviews in the US, dubbed “the Jewish Corrections.” Jonathan Franzen is a fan, of course.
Essentially it’s the story of a family where the mother’s weight issue has spun out of control and is dominating everything. Over-indulged in childhood, Edie was huge as a five-year-old: “Fifty years on and Edie still can’t stop eating. She now weighs over 300 pounds. Her law firm, embarrassed, has pensioned her off and she is about to undergo a second surgical intervention, years after she had promised that she would do everything she could to avoid the first one.”
In reality, though, obesity is just one sign of family dysfunction. Edie may have very obvious, physical flaws but everyone else around her is suffering in their own neurotic and often equally damaging way. Sure, she’s unhealthy. But so is the attitude of her husband, who walks out of her after thirty years of marriage. A very funny, poignant and insightful read. Loved it.