Columns

England wasn't built on babysitting bans

28 September 2009, guardian.co.uk

What would Orwell make of a nation in which mothers are investigated for looking after each other's children?

When did it happen? When did the English, described by George Orwell in his famous essays, as a byword for tolerance, eternally suspicious of "power worship" and the overweening authoritarian state, turn into people who report their neighbours to the authorities for babysitting each other's children without permission?

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The nanny state turns parents into kids

The Guardian - 19 September 2009.

Some people have been so infantilised by our authoritarian state that they can no longer perform basic parenting tasks.

"We only refuse what we notice." This slogan coined by an absent-minded 12-year-old of my acquaintance, in reference to people stealing his chips, seems an apt one to represent the gradual filching of our freedoms by the state. Absorbed in our own thoughts, when we glance back at our plates we may get a shock at how much has been taken.

Dreaming of a green Christmas

IN JONATHAN Franzen's novel, The Corrections, there is a scene where an old man gets down the family Christmas lights only to find that they are broken. He knows he can fix them, although it will be a challenge as tree lights are more complex than they once were. He also knows that what he really should do is chuck them in the bin and go to the nearest Walmart where he can replace them for the price of a packet of fishfingers. However, in a small act of defiance against the throwaway society, he devotes the rest of the day to repairing the cheap decorations.

If you were to examine Earth through a telescope you might see spinning around our blue planet any number of bits of jettisoned junk - old satellites, bits of shuttles, tools dropped by astronauts. Even space cludgies and their contents.

A friend once commented that it was the best reason she had ever heard for sending more women into space - to clear up the mess the men had left. But, joking aside, it is a sign that we live, more than ever, in a throwaway world.

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'Let's make the young lead the way'

Do we need obedient children? No. What we need in the 21st century is creative, questioning, challenging children who can think for themselves. We no longer need to prepare them for a

life of kowtowing to the old bowler hat, the gaffer, the policeman, the dominie, the sergeant-major. That world is gone for ever. Belief in unquestioning obedience began to subside as the world assessed the aftermath of the Somme and the Holocaust, and it will never come back.

We need to produce young people who are immensely flexible, self-sufficient, full of cheek and confidence. We need to leave behind the put-down and the threat in the same way that we have put away the tawse and the cane. We need to learn to cope with to as well as fro, to listen as well as to teach, to cherish the bright spark and not to seek to put it out.

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Wind power

THE SUBJECT of wind power seems to be causing an increasing amount of feeling
and perhaps, no pun intended, hot air. While the pro-lobby is keen to point out that something must be done before climate change wipes out the planet, the antis are building up steam as they protest about what they see as the despoiling of Scotland's beauty spots.
Wind power seems like something Scotland ought to be good at: we certainly have lots of windswept hills. However, we have lost our tradition of using renewable energy and there are legitimate concerns about introducing it again, this time on an industrial scale.
Windmills and watermills were once a feature of the landscape across Britain and it was interesting when visiting the Dutch paintings at the Queen's Gallery in Edinburgh to note seventeenth-century depiction of the white cliffs of Dover dotted with windmills.

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