Do we want Jeremy Hunt sticking his spoon into our puddings?

I’VE not even had breakfast yet and Jeremy Hunt is putting me off my food. That man knows how to suppress an appetite.

The health secretary has taken time off from annoying doctors to lecture restaurants, cafes and pubs about the size of their portions and the sweetness of their puddings.

According to the Times this morning, Mr Hunt says that offending establishments will be “named and shamed”. Funnily enough, Hunt was misnamed and shamed years ago by James Naughtie on the radio in a spoonerism that stays in the mind because he seemed so deserving of the accidental honour.

I do feel conflicted about governments interfering in what food establishments can serve. This is partly because puddings, cakes and bakes are treats, and in life we should be allowed a treat.

Just imagine that you are about to tuck into your cake or dessert in a restaurant or café when suddenly a man with a permanently startled face looms up over your shoulder…

“There’s a man behind you.”

“What’s he doing?”

“Frowning at that slab of sticky toffee pudding you are about to eat.”

“Now he is holding up a big placard that says, ‘This man is eating too much pudding’.”

At which point the health secretary leans over the table and slices off half of the sticky toffee pudding, which is then removed to a government-approved pudding landfill site where calories deemed officially unnecessary are condemned to rot away without harming the nation.

The thought of Jeremy Hunt telling us what to eat really is disturbing, isn’t it? Next thing you know he’ll be gate-crashing the Great British Bake Off and swiping that extra slice from Paul Hollywood’s hands.

All very alarming, but the thing is we are all getting fatter. According to the report in the Times, “Calories-cutting targets for fatty foods including burgers and pizzas will be decided next year. Calorie caps for individual products such as chocolate bars or muffins will also be introduced.”

This did make me wonder if a calorie cap was a restriction or something you are forced to wear, a dunce’s cap for the modern over-eater perhaps.

And this is where I am conflicted. Governments sometimes wish to interfere too much in what we do, and yet if we are all getting fatter, and obesity is such a problem, then it is obvious that something needs to be done.

According to the BBC Good Food Nation Survey, also published today, one in six young people eat fast food twice a day, and the average person has two takeaway meals a week. We must be far from average in this house as we don’t eat two takeaway meals a year. The only takeaway I like is fish and chips, but even that is a rare treat.

Where Jeremy Hunt has a point – and dear God those words were hard to write – is that people eat out a lot nowadays. In this sense we are not ‘people’ as we eat out rarely, although our three twenty-something children eat out more often, far more often than we do.

The BBC study of 5,000 people also found that half thought “a meal isn’t a meal without meat”. Now I used to think that once, but living with a vegetarian for years put paid to such attitudes. I still like a good meaty feast, and did a top roast chicken only the other day, but I am happy with meat-free days. Occasionally I smuggle a piece of salmon into a vegetarian meal, a tasty bit of contraband among the lettuce leaves.

My solution to keeping Jeremy Hunt’s nose out of my plate is simple, but it won’t be popular with many people, I guess. The answer is to cook decent food at home. Nothing flash or MasterCheffy. Just proper good food. Eat treats more at the weekend. Don’t obsess about what food is bad for you and never say things such as “Can I have a gluten-free skinny pancake to go, please.”

I don’t understand the modern obsession with gluten, something which is a problem – and a very serious problem – for approximately one per cent of the population. Hardly anyone has a problem with gluten, yet gluten-free food is a fast-growing area, and most of it is mass-produced and packed with fat and sugar and the like.

My rule, although not a scientific one, is that anything which is free of something is to be avoided. Fat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free – no thanks, I’ll just have a proper mouthful if that’s all right with you.


Mister, here are a few thoughts on Corbyn and Trump…

This week Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn went some way towards finding his feet, while Donald Trump went some way towards losing a few more marbles.

On the BBC Today programme yesterday, Corbyn was asked if he and Trump shared something in common: supporters who believe that they have been let down or abandoned by mainstream politics. He took the not unreasonable response of saying that he could see no resemblance at all between himself and that wild-eyed, stupid-mouthed loon (my description, because Jeremy doesn’t do personal abuse, as he is always telling us).

And now another similarity arises. Now I am not for a moment suggesting that these men are alike in any sense other than possessing two legs, two arms and so on. But there is one thing: blaming the media.

This morning it is being reported that Donald Trump has gone on the offensive – not that he’s ever really been off it – after his underwhelming debate performance with Hillary Clinton. He said the debate moderator, Lester Holt, was biased and accused Google of a conspiracy to rig search results in favour of his Democrat rival.

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, seemingly led on by their man, have long complained that the BBC is biased. Oh, and Channel 4 too. And all the newspapers (not without a degree of truth). More or less everything and everyone apart from the Canary (a newish news website that is, I might suggest, simply biased in the opposite direction).

Now there is a big difference here, in that Corbyn’s supporters can call on more evidence of hostility against their chosen representative on earth. And Donald Trump can call on whatever mad molecule just zipped through his brain; whatever post-truth thought has just careened through the damply fogged alleyways of his mind.

Trump’s manifesto, if such a thing exists, is basically to repeat that he will make America great again (a strong but meaningless slogan), to zap off crazy ideas about walling off Mexico, and then to scatter lies in all directions; and if caught out fibbing to shrug as if to say: “Who cares? It’s probably true anyway.”

His Twitter-shot personal planet is a screamingly strange place possessed of many blatant inconsistencies and all sorts of vicious nonsense. But enough people still believe in what he has to say for the world to remain worried. Hell, we might not love Hillary Clinton, but God speed to the woman: she’s our only hope.

As for Jeremy Corbyn, he gave a far better conference speech this year than last; and in interviews he has displayed calm authority rather than thin-skinned prickliness.

His speech promised various dreams of the left – good dreams, some of them – but seemed mostly aimed at pleasing the converted (who are easily pleased) and healing rifts in his riven party. Corbyn also stressed that he did want to win an election – an important point to make, when some of his supporters previously seemed happy with the distant Nirvana bit and walking around with saintly smiles that could be translated as: “Election victories. Who needs them?”

Reports of media bias against Labour have occupied me here before, so I won’t rehash the arguments. Besides it is more important for Corbyn to stop carping about the media and push on. Blaming the messenger is a game of limited duration, even if the messenger sometimes is a bastard.

Incidentally, I never can decide whether or not to bestow titles on politicians, so have avoided them here. Trump needs no ‘mister’ because he is just Trump. And Corbyn needs no mister because, to his supporters at least, he is Just Jeremy. His first name is enough for the converted.

The ballad of the burnt soup idiot…

HERE follows the ballad of the burnt soup idiot. A sorry tale in which the composer of this miserable refrain emerges with little credit to his name and a bad smell up his nose.

There was nothing for tea, so my wife set to making soup before leaving early for work. I was out sharpish too in what is proving to be a stressful week (good stressful, mostly). Well, that’s my excuse for what follows.

After my wife left, my job was to sort myself out, check the doors, turn off the soup and get in the car. I did some of those things but not necessarily all of them.

Out all day, I rolled up at 6.30pm in the creaky old Volvo. “You forgot to turn the soup off,” my wife says. And I don’t have a Doc Martens-clad foot to stand on. All day that soup has been ‘cooking’; and all day my wife has been looking forward to the hearty and healthy meal she made first thing in a dash.

She is restrained in her dismay and I have so far avoided wearing a burnt soup pan for a hat. Remarkably, she volunteers to cook something else, so I scuttle off to hide behind my laptop.

There are days when you feel such a fool. Luckily there is no damage to the house, although a favourite stainless steel pan has suffered a charcoal indignity. And the house smells like a bonfire – a bonfire of my reputation as a reliable switcher-off of soup pans; a bonfire of my reputation as a man who can be trusted to remember the one simple task he is set before leaving the house.

My wife has just brought the pan in off the kitchen doorstep to show me. “About an inch of charcoal in there,” she says. It is fair to say that while she will admit to having done stupid things herself, she has not yet touched the depths of my five-star idiocy.

And wouldn’t we just have a guest tonight. While showing our visitor in, I apologise for the smell and own up to the offence. Maybe it doesn’t smell too much in the guest room, although that seems unlikely as I just went up to our bedroom to put on my old Levi’s, and the bonfire stench has embraced the attic.

There is an irony at the bottom of that burnt pan. Both my wife and daughter have occasionally texted or phoned, asking me to check that something has been turned off. It’s usually the hair straighteners my daughter worries about. So I dutifully go into her room and find them unplugged and in the drawer where they belong.

How superior and coolly unfussed I feel at such moments. Those two are always panicking about silly things like that. Sadly, I fear my ability to be a smart arse about these matters may not survive the ballad of the burnt soup idiot (to be played in a minor key while wearing a hanky over the nose).

Councillor Tin Ears dishonours Jo Cox… and Labour’s Brexit no show…

WHEN the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in her constituency, usual hostilities were suspended out of respect, and it seemed for a while as if her death might affect the vote in the EU referendum.

Sadly, for some of us at least, the vote didn’t go the way Jo would have wanted. And sadly times two, political hostilities were soon resumed – to the extent that a Tory councillor in Bradford has now caused a row by saying that his party shouldn’t have agreed to giving Labour a “free pass” in the Batley & Spen by-election.

Now I didn’t know that Bradford had Tories, but that was to reckon without councillor Simon Cooke, who took to Twitter to say: “My Party should be contesting the Batley & Spen by-election. Absolutely no justification for giving Labour a free pass.”

No justification apart from the much-loved predecessor having been murdered while going about her duties.

I know nothing about Mr Cooke, and found little elucidation in his Twitter handle, which states: “Conservative, urbanist, mushroom fan and scourge of the nannying fussbucket. Leader of the Conservatives on Bradford Council. Foppish Yoon apparently.”

This self-portrait doesn’t say anything about him having tin for ears, or about him having had an empathy bypass. Might I suggest he puts his head in that ‘nannying fussbucket’ and pipes down.

Politicians don’t often act with consensual good sense, but in this instance the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats joined together in an act of sound union. No party other than Labour can win the by-election, surely. So stepping back was the proper way to act – and does no harm to either party. Rather the opposite, until councillor Cooke opened his mouth.

The by-election will see Labour candidate Tracy Brabin looking for support from Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters. This is because far-right candidates will stand, and Ms Brabin is hoping for a strong win on October 20.

Jo Cox has been honoured during the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, which is fitting. Less fitting is the complete absence of any formal debate on Brexit. The reasons for the Brexit no-show are tied up with the way conference topics are chosen. Labour picks eight topics for discussion, with four being chosen by the trade unions and four being picked by constituency Labour parties.

Nothing wrong with any of the selected topics. It is just that officially ignoring the biggest political shock-event in a generation just seems wilfully inattentive. A little like the captain of the Titanic decreeing that there will be no discussions of icebergs on his watch.

But we have learned that fracking will be banned – well, I say ‘will’ but only if Captain Corbyn successfully navigates his way to an election win.

Personally I am all for banning fracking, but the GMB union is aghast at the proposal, describing it as “nonsense” and “madness”. So expect more tension there, as the GMB is the third biggest donor to Labour.

I watched some of the conference coverage on Channel 4 News and marvelled at the way so many Labour supporters seem convinced that Jeremy Corbyn will become prime minister one day. Perhaps it is something in the sea air that blows into Liverpool.

The Labour leader is certainly popular with his crew as he walks around that deck, but that won’t make those icebergs disappear.

First things and a few thoughts about Clive James…

CLIVE James left some words wandering around my head all day yesterday. These weren’t the brilliant sparklers of his old TV column in the Observer all those years ago. Or a fragment of his poetry. Just six simple words at the beginning of a sentence… “When I was first a student…”

I re-read those words while trying to work out the resonance. Perhaps it is the placing of that ‘first’ that does it, giving the words a poetic rhythm. No long-winded “When I was a student first time around” or anything from James. There is a biblical clarity almost to his words.

James is recalling his youth on Avalon beach in Sydney while summoning up memories of a lissome girl called Pat he knew 50 years ago. “I can only just remember her pretty face, but I can remember vividly her taste in reading.” What she was reading was Ulysses by James Joyce. I am with Pat on that one, although it’s been a few years now since I picked up my battered paperback copy from when I first was a student. And from when I last was a student, too.

James writes a short column called Reports Of My Death that appears towards the end of the Guardian Weekend supplement every Saturday. It should be required reading all round. The writing is so sharp and the thinking so clear.

As the title of the column suggests, the poet, writer, journalist and wit is dying of cancer, but he is taking his time over his departure. This is good news for us and hopefully for him too. These sainted extra days have given James great mental strength while his body falls apart around him.

Bashing words out isn’t necessarily hard, but good writing is difficult. What James offers each week in this protracted farewell is the best sort of writing. Simple and yet capable of profundity.

Anyway those words stayed with me all of yesterday. They were there when we went to see some friends for a coffee in the morning. They were there when I did some work in the afternoon. And they were there when I was returning from a friend’s 40th birthday party in York and waiting outside York Theatre Royal for the bus home.

This is a good spot for a different sort of theatre on a Saturday night. People streamed or wobbled past. A young woman hampered by short skirt and high heels tottered while she shouted into her mobile phone. “You don’t know what I have to put up with,” she screamed. “You have no idea. You don’t know the half of it.”

Gravity threatened to interrupt her rant, but she recovered her balance and kept on shouting at whoever it was that didn’t know the half of it. Although perhaps by then they knew the whole of it.

A young man who might have been wiser about his nourishment tugged up oversized jeans as he balanced on his belly a pizza in its box. Neither pizza nor jeans fell, which was a relief all round.

A group of cyclists forgot which side of the road they should be on. And then the Number 1 bus rolled up on the right side of the road, and I rolled home.

Internet idealism, from Airbnb to curing all diseases…

THERE was a programme on Channel 4 on Wednesday called Airbnb: Dream Or Nightmare? It was one of those over-heated and slightly tacky affairs that assumes no one will watch a documentary unless it is sexed up a bit.

Our experiences as hosts for the short-term accommodation site have been almost entirely good, and the bad has been on the niggly side. Certainly nothing that would make a documentary for Channel 4 (or a feature for the Guardian: I’ve tried). A re-enactment of the man who made my wife feel uneasy with his grumpy presence in the house – and his later disparaging ‘review’ of his breakfast ‘without the stated fruit juice’ – would not account for much.

This documentary tried to balance the good with the bad, but ended up piling on the negativity. Some of it was shocking, such as the properties trashed when parties were thrown by guests; some of it was shocking and perhaps surprising. Would you let out a beautiful new apartment in London to a group of strangers? Nope, me neither, but there you go. I don’t have one of those. Just a spare room.

A short interview with a happy host, and clips with grateful guests, were scattered amid the misery. There was valid criticism of the way Airbnb can unbalance housing stock, especially in cities such as London, and cause problems when tenants sub-let their flats without telling their landlords.

Footage in Los Angeles, the spiritual home of Airbnb, showed people invading the company’s headquarters in a protest about housing needs. A similar protest took place in New York, except that hosts turned up to as well to stick up for Airbnb.

What you have here is clash between modern idealism, as rapidly incubated on the internet, and good old greed and foolishness. The original idea for Airbnb is great: if you have a spare room, let it out to a visiting stranger; invite them into your house and then send them on their way with a happy wave.

That pretty much encapsulates our experience, although the pleasure to be had in hosting guests from around the world is balanced by the circumstances that make it necessary. We started doing this after I lost my job and there are nights when you wish you still had the house to yourself.

On the micro level in the Cole house, Airbnb is a good thing: it adds a little to the family coffers in lean times and most of the guests are lovely, and fully appreciate our house and their stay.

The bigger Airbnb has become, the more likely it is that someone will try and cash in by earning money from crappy rooms or turning the social sharing economy into a hard business hiding behind soft intentions.

Airbnb is worth untold billions, which is a mystery to me (my own wealth is also untold). But it’s still a minnow next to Facebook. Yesterday the site’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced they wanted to tackle all diseases and pledged $3bn to fund medical research with the ultimate goal being to “cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century”.

The reaction from the medical establishment has mixed praise with a degree of caution. Dr Sheena Cruickshank, lecturer in immunology at the University of Manchester, told the BBC that treating diseases was not a “static field” – “Everything changes. Our immune systems change, diseases often change.”

While she thought it was “brilliant” for the couple to invest in medical research, she warned that their aim wasn’t realistic, given the nature of disease and what we still have to learn.

Others point out that the sums involved, although generous, may well not be anywhere near enough. Others still – cynical others, perhaps – wonder if this isn’t one way for Facebook to stump up all the tax it has avoided paying.

Mostly we should wish them well with their philanthropy, even if it does come with the hard gleam of internet idealism.

Meet the new Labour leader, same as the old Labour leader…

AS LABOUR prepares to unwrap its new leader, don’t be surprised to hear a lyric by The Who rattling around your head… “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss…”

Hopefully the title of the song is not an ill omen – Won’t Get Fooled Again, in case you are wondering.

Writing about Jeremy Corbyn can be tricky for this laptop-tapper because he is such a divisive leader of the opposition: while his fans are ardent in their enthusiasm, the unconverted just don’t really get him at all.

I remain a Corbyn sceptic. I can see where he’s coming from (that bumpy old track to the left of the main road), but can’t see where his Robin Hood-style procession is heading.

To be positive for a moment, Jeremy Corbyn has been remarkably successful at stirring up support among his followers – both those new to politics and those won back to Labour. But it is still hard to avoid concluding that what he is creating is a social movement rather than a political party, leading a sort of sect within the party rather than leading the whole party (you know, all those inconvenient MPs at Westminster who lack faith in him).

And I end up thinking: what’s in it for me? Now this isn’t egocentrism gone mad so much as a question from an interested but wary bystander. Because however successful Mr Corbyn’s social movement becomes, the Labour Party as a whole has to appeal to voters who aren’t party members; it has to offer something to those who instinctively dislike the Tories, but who don’t wish to join the Labour Party, or any party.

It is fair to say that membership of political parties is a limited sport. Members of all parties can shape the landscape, but they don’t decide the results of elections. That is down to the ordinary voter, who almost certainly isn’t obsessed with politics, and who casts their vote for various reasons.

According to an opinion poll in the Guardian this morning, many of those ordinary voters feel that Theresa May is a safer pair of hands in dealing with the problems of post-Brexit Britain.

The poll for Britain Thinks asked what politicians’ priorities should be, and the main three choices were safeguarding the NHS, significantly reducing immigration and striking new trade deals for Britain.

Mrs May was more trusted on all three issues. Now a kiss is just a kiss and an opinion poll is just an opinion poll, but this is not encouraging for Jeremy Corbyn. Some of the lead for Mrs May will be wrapped up in her being prime minister, and a new premier at that. But it is depressing to see that more people believe the Tories will safeguard the NHS. Have those people polled not encountered Jeremy Hunt, the appalling health secretary?

On reducing immigration, Mrs May bested Mr Corbyn by 46 per cent to 12 per cent. I would say those people are fools for having such a negative view of immigration, but that is not necessarily a common view right now.

Anyway on Saturday in Liverpool, the Labour Party will unwrap its new leader only to discover the same present they got last time. Mr Corbyn will then have a twofold job on his hands: attempting to heal rifts in his own party, and trying to appeal to all those voters who walk by on the other side of the street, wrapped up in their autumn shrug.

If Mr Corbyn beats Owen Smith, as widely predicted, nothing will have changed among the converts and the unconverted. But a large proportion of voters will, if they care at all, surely think that it is time for the Labour Party to stop the bloody civil war and all the bitter in-fighting, and start being an opposition.

Perhaps employers should now draw on tattoos…

MANY people have tattoos these days, although some of us prefer to remain without illustrations. My skin is a blank canvas where the tattooist’s needle is concerned, and likely to stay that way.

But tattoos aren’t going to go away. Although the picture can last longer than the whim that inspired it, plenty of people put a lot of thought into their dermal artwork. So should their choice of self-decoration see them rejected for a job?

According to a report for the conciliation service Acas, employers could be missing out on good staff because they are rejecting tattoos. Acas asked researchers from King’s College, London, to look into this brightly coloured matter, and found that tattoos are still considered unacceptable in many workplaces, with the airline industry taking a particularly hard line.

The report also said that “employers should be thinking about relaxing dress codes in general”, according to the BBC website.

In a short film to accompany the story, a woman from a tattoo parlour says: “Sometimes the people who have the most beautiful work on them have the most beautiful minds.” Now that isn’t going to impress employers who have unbeautiful minds, but I rather like the sentiment.

The story on the website quotes academic Andrew Timming, of St Andrews University, who has researched the role of tattoos in hiring. He believes that a change in attitudes is inevitable. “There’s a tidal wave of young people with tattoos these days and they’re not always going to be young,” he said. “Employers are going to have to accept that they’re integral to the fabric of society and accept that they may potentially have a place at work.”

One man whose tattoos have not harmed his work prospects is the York baker Phil Clayton. Phil runs the Haxby Bakehouse and is the baker of good Yorkshire sourdough bread. He was on the cover of the Yorkshire Post Magazine on Saturday.

Or rather there was a close-up of him holding a beautiful-looking loaf and clearly displaying the tattoo on the inside of his arm. Phil has what appears to be a long ear of wheat on his arm, a proud symbol of the trade he has made his own since setting up the bakery eight years ago.

Incidentally, I did a five-hour shift with Phil two or three years ago for a feature and don’t recall the skin etching at the time, but he has become something of a super-star baker since then. He was a one-man band back then, but now employs other staff, just as well as the bakery turns out 1,000 loaves on a Friday night.

According to the features editor of the Yorkshire Post, the picture of Phil marked the first time they’d had a tattoo on the cover.

Do double standards exist towards tattoos in the workplace? I think perhaps they do when you consider that the likes of David Beckham are feted for their tattoos, while someone turning up at a job interview can be shunned for their inked-in skin.

Of course Beckham, like Phil the Haxby Baker only rather more so, can do what he likes. Whereas someone seeking a job is at the instant mercy of an employer’s likes and dislikes.

Nowadays tattoos are very common – and no longer in the snobbish sense. Around a fifth of people are thought to have tattoos, which are most prevalent in those under 40.

So having a closed mind about tattoos is going to become a bad idea soon, if not already. Although I must say that tattoos on the face would be a no-no for me if I was interviewing someone for a job.

The settling of things we no longer need…

THAT old rucksack and me had done the rounds together. Thirteen years or so ago, it went into a skip outside our old house. We were having work done and the attic detritus had to be cleared away.

The details are hazy now, but I reckon the rucksack had been with me to Greece in the days of beach sleeping, and possibly on a long hitch-hike through France. It only stayed on top of the full skip for a while. Looking through the window, I saw someone remove the rucksack – it was green, or so my memory tells me – and walk off down the road with their new possession slung on their back. Their back instead of mine.

I got a newspaper column out of that rucksack, relaying the adventures we’d shared, and imagining new ones to come with whoever had taken ownership. The two of us were close for a while, in the days when I tramped the world, or limited parts at least. The younger me was adventuresome only up to a point, something that is now a cause of regret.

Anyway, the rucksack went and I was glad. By then I was a father of three with builders in the house. We did up that house and then, seven years on, moved in search of a big garden with a house attached.

The house where we now live has a leaky garage which is being repaired soon. Damp and musty contents had been removed and taken to the tip, but three bicycles were still there. You know what it’s like with some jobs: ah yes, I’ll do that next week. Or the next-next week. Or never because life’s too short and too full of newspapers to be read or naps to be taken or music to be listened to. Anything apart from what you said you’d do.

On Sunday a solution was found. The bikes were wheeled out to the front of the house and propped against the fence. A sign was fashioned from a cereal box – oh, all right, a muesli box – reading: Bikes free to a good home, could do with a service.

That caution was an understatement, flat tyres and all, but they were decent bikes once: a full-size hybrid, a smaller hybrid and a BMX bike a little like those used for mad aerial antics in the Olympics.

Nothing happened for a while and it looked as if the old estate would have to swallow this threesome, and then the two smaller bicycles went. The larger one stayed overnight but disappeared sometime in the morning. So all three have found a new home.

As with that old rucksack, I have no idea who took them. Normally if you leave a bicycle propped up somewhere in York, even one with a lock, they are removed with ill intent. But not this time. It was cheering to see them go.

It’s the sharing economy in a sense. If you don’t need something, someone else might. I only hope my wife doesn’t get carried away with this notion and put me out there bearing a note reading: Second-hand husband and under-employed freelance journalist, free to a good home…

Big heads, crying babies and worrying too much about the No 10 cat…

MY mother reads this blog nearly every day – “but I only get halfway through the political ones”. Well, the cheek of octogenarians these days.

So I shall attempt to steer clear of politics today. It is true that I have a bit of a political head; equally true that it is a large head. And according to a report in the Times today, the size of a baby’s head may be an indication of how bright they are likely to be. Data gathered by the charity UK Biobank found that larger heads and brain volume were associated with higher intelligence. Well I can only nod my big head to that, although how much of that over-sized skull is still filled with pinkly functioning brain is anybody’s guess.

Staying with babies for a moment, the Times also reports on a new industry for frazzled parents: sleep consultants who charge £350 a night or £600 for a whole day to break babies’ bad habits. Our youngest is now 22 and her sleeping causes us few problems. But there was a time when I had to order my knackered wife back to bed when our daughter just wouldn’t stop crying.

The conversation went like this…

“Have you fed her?”


“Have you changed her?”


“Right put her in her pram and we’re going back to bed.”

So we left her screaming downstairs in her pram while we ascended to the faraway attic. She was sleeping happily when we came down later, although she didn’t sleep through fully until the night before her fourth birthday. Her father still doesn’t sleep through, but there you go.

So perhaps I missed a trick there. I could have charged my wife £350 for that bit of useful advice.

Parents nowadays must have more money than we did at the time, although I can’t imagine many can afford to pay so much. According to Katie Palmer, who has been running her sleep practice for nine years, the problem lies in what she calls ‘sleep association’. If a baby is rocked, breastfed or cuddled until they fall asleep, they start to cry again when they wake and realise they are no longer being comforted – “The cycle is maintained when the parent helps them get back to sleep.”

Which is pretty much what I was saying all those years ago, in a manner of sleep speaking. How to break my own sleep association is another matter entirely.

Here is a bit of politics but mostly it’s about cats, so don’t wander off yet, mother. When Larry the chief mouser at No 10 was spotted limping shortly after Theresa May moved in, her team  summoned a vet to examine the cat’s front paw. Larry was believed to have been in a fight with Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat. Now there is a row in the House of Lords, according to the Daily Telegraph, about who should settle the vet’s undisclosed bill.

At the time it was reported that Downing Street staff had dipped into their own pockets. Now Lord Blencathra has submitted a formal question to the government in the Lords saying that the government should refund staff who helped pay the vet. He also demanded that there should be “proper routine and emergency veterinary treatment for government cats, and any other officially owned animals in government service”.

Our cat limped in yesterday morning after a night-time fight with one of her feline foes. She was in a sorry state all day but we didn’t trouble the vet, having been down that costly road before. Instead we left her to sleep off her injuries, and this morning she seems brighter.

So perhaps Lord Blencathra is worrying a little too much.

So there you go, mother – a blog free of politics.