Showing posts with label The Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Times. Show all posts

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Working parents - the debate goes on...

“Enough about saintly working mothers. What about me? I’m a working dad.”

That’s the headline emblazoned across the front page of Times 2 today, trailing a piece by Hugo Rifkind that sticks up for working fathers.

His gist is that society isn’t treating fathers equally. “… when she gets up many hours before going to work to deal with our children’s poos and pees and frankly unreasonable moonlit demands for Cheerios, she is a brave and selfless warrior for feminism,” he writes of his wife. “Whereas when I do, I’m just somebody who if he didn’t would be an a***hole.”

The most striking thing to me is that the parenting debate hasn't moved on at all over the last few decades. The trouble is, as each generation discovers in turn, if you’re a parent (whether you're a mum or a dad) you really can’t have it all.

Whatever anyone says, you can’t have a superstar career and be there 24/7 for your children. It’s just impossible.

In our house we never sat down and discussed how we would share the parenting. When my two were little my husband worked as a company turnaround expert, which meant being catapulted into businesses all over the place that were in trouble and needed sorting out. It sounds glamorous but it wasn’t. It was gruelling, tough and completely unpredictable. But he was self-employed and earned more than me, so no way could I say: “Hang on. You can’t go tomorrow. You’re looking after the children.”

If I’m honest, it irritated the hell out of me at the time. But then again, I knew that if he didn’t drop everything and go, then the mortgage wouldn’t get paid. OK, I could have found a live-in nanny and gone back to my old job as a news reporter but then I would have been away all the time too – which would have been terrible for the children.

So, we muddled through. I did the childcare and freelanced from home (a plus side of journalism), while my husband paid the bulk of the bills.

But suddenly everything changed. First my daughter went to university, followed this September by my son. And after all these years of wondering whether I did the right thing, I’ve stopped worrying. My children’s childhoods went by in a flash and I’m glad I didn’t miss any of it. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Corgis, snakes and ladders

It’s 20 years since I threw caution to the wind and swapped a steady (ish) job and salary for the precarious life of a freelance. But right at the start, I made a solemn promise – and it’s one I’ve never broken. I would not, I told myself, ever sneak out of my office to watch daytime TV. If I did it once, I knew I’d be doomed.

But daytime radio is a different matter – which is how I came to hear Jeremy Vine talking to Richard Bacon about his new book, It's All News to Me, on BBC Five Live yesterday.

I was glad I did because Vine (who’d just finished his lunchtime show on Radio 2) told Bacon of his firm belief that “there is still a place for the analogue newspaper.” He described how he'd spread that morning’s newspapers across the kitchen floor to show his eight-year-old daughter Martha their impressive coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. “It’s just not the same on a screen,” he told listeners.

I completely agree. The last year has been a shameful one for newspapers but their coverage of the four-day jubilee has shown them at their stupendous best. While the BBC was castigated for its inane reporting of the flotilla, newspapers rose to the challenge in admirable style. The pictures were stunning, the reporting extensive and knowledgeable and The Times cleverly hit on the idea of creating a new game called Corgis, Snakes and Ladders (above) to mark the event. I stuck it on the kitchen wall – with the result that my staunchly republican husband and son can now quote everything from the date the Queen’s first corgi, Susan, died (1959) to the year Prince Harry was born (1984).

PS. Never mind calling for Gary Barlow to be knighted, the people who should be honoured in double-quick time are the team who dreamed up the stunning montage beamed across Buckingham Palace on Monday night. As Madness belted out Our House from the roof (lead singer Suggs confessed later that he suffered from vertigo), the front of the palace was transformed into a row of terraced houses with a double-decker bus and taxi trundling past, a block of high-rise flats and much, much more. It was the best moment of the night.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The day I was mistaken for a dirt jumper

My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw the email.

“Hi Emma,” it read. “We know quite a few places to do dirt jumping. Are you an experienced rider or are you just beginning to get into the sport?”

For the uninitiated, dirt jumping is a sport that involves cycling at top speed down a ramp, leaping high into the air, maybe doing a couple of twirls on the way down and then landing (hopefully the right way up) on a pile of soil. In other words, it’s a completely mad thing to do. The very thought that a fairly sane, middle-aged city-dweller who prefers to keep her feet firmly on the ground at all times would contemplate taking up dirt jumping made me laugh out loud.

But after a few seconds of puzzling over the email, everything fell into place. I’d been trying to help my bike-crazy son find some new places to pursue his hobby and had emailed a shop up north for advice. And for some reason, they’d assumed that it was me who was the dirt jumper.

Funnily enough, the email arrived soon after I read an interview with Dame Fiona Reynolds, director-general of the National Trust (she's just announced that she's stepping down to become Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge). She told The Times this week that children’s freedom to roam unsupervised has shrunk massively since the 1970s. “Children are missing out on the sheer joy and physical and mental well-being of being able to play outside and experience nature in all its messiness,” she said.

Well, not in this house they aren’t. We’ve lived in towns and cities since my son was five but he’s had more fresh air than any child I know. Not because of anything I’ve done but because as soon as he was old enough to ride a bike he grew obsessed with performing cycling tricks. The higher and scarier the better. In fact one summer he leapt merrily off a local hill on his bike, came adrift in mid-air and crashed down on to his handlebars with a horrendous thud. Result – a collar bone broken in three places and two months off bikes.

So, even though I’m forever worrying about him, my son definitely hasn’t missed out on “the sheer joy and physical and mental well-being of being able to play outside.” If only…

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The uplifting story of the journalist and the Afghan teenager

Few people, if any, have a good word to say about journalists these days. As the Leveson inquiry reveals shocking new details about deception, trickery and intrusion in our newspapers, it’s hardly surprising that us hacks are regarded as the lowest of the low.

Yet most journalists I've come across are honest, hard-working and dedicated to their profession. I don’t know anyone who’s hacked a phone or tricked someone into telling their story against their will. And in amongst the gloom, there are still examples of journalists who’ve gone that extra mile to make a real difference to people’s lives.

Jerome Starkey, the Afghanistan correspondent of The Times, is a case in point. I’ve seen his by-line loads of times but until I read his Times 2 feature yesterday I had no idea about the amazing role he has played in helping to transform the life of a young Afghan boy called Najib.

Starkey’s and Najib’s paths crossed in Helmand on August 20, 2009. Najib was cycling along an empty street with his younger brother Hamid on the back, when a rocket hit the road beside them. Starkey witnessed the attack but managed to scramble for cover. But Hamid died instantly and Najib was left badly injured.

As Starkey wrote in yesterday’s piece: “Neither of us knew it, but that rocket was to entwine our lives. It would propel Najib – the son of an illiterate cobbler – towards unimaginable opportunities that would change his life forever.”

Thanks to an American charity, Solace, Najib was eventually flown to the US, but doctors were unable to save the sight of one eye. When he returned to Afghanistan, he threw himself into his schoolwork, aided by an international charity that helps to get talented Afghan students to schools and universities in the US. He and Starkey stayed in touch and earlier this year Najib asked the journalist to help him study in the UK.

Thirty-year-old Starkey had no idea where to start but he agreed to email Anthony Wallersteiner, the headmaster of Stowe, his old school (above).

The long and the short of it is that after interviewing Najib on the phone, Dr Wallersteiner agreed to award him a sixth-form scholarship, covering the Buckinghamshire school’s £28,000 a year fees. Najib, now 17, moved to Stowe in September and by all accounts has settled in well.

Starkey is acting as his guardian and as he wrote at the end of his uplifting piece: “I could almost cry when I stop to think about how far he has come.”
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