Maya learns her ABC

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There are three reasons why I reckon it’s about time for our daughter to learn her ABC. Firstly, she’s now ten months old. Secondly, I am, like Martin Fry, from Sheffield, and thirdly, my repeated experiments with ‘Being Boiled‘ and ‘Nag Nag Nag‘ weren’t encouraging, so it’s probably better to go for something a bit more accessible. As it happens, later this month we’ll be visiting my folks in Sheffield, so I can show her the former art college just around the corner where Martin Fry and, er, the others did their first ever gig. (Although when I pointed out Phil Oakey’s nearby house to her when we were last there in May, she was fairly nonplussed, I reckon if I just keep pointing at the block of student accommodation which now stands where Psalter Lane Art College used to and sing bits of ‘The Look of Love’, something might get through.)

For her, an album from 1982 is as distant in time in relation to my own birth as one from 1937. (Although seeing as she doesn’t yet possess concepts such as albums, years, meanings or words, imagine how she’d struggle with that sentence. What’s your excuse?). I showed her some photos of the group silver and gold lame suits they used to sport at the time and she seemed quite impressed, although to be fair her little roundy face does light up in a quite worrying fashion whenever she looks at a smartphone, so maybe it was more related to that.

With regard to the music, she certainly doesn’t react nearly as badly as she did to ‘Reproduction’, the cover of which admittedly features women in stilletoes trampling on babies.  One of the many joys of parenthood is seeing which music is intuitive enough to inspire a reaction. ‘Reign in Blood’ by Slayer didn’t go down enormously well, but she does have an ongoing thing for Prefab Sprout, and as for The Fall, you can judge for yourself here. The opening bars of ‘Show Me’ certainly stir my soul, but she’s too distracted by the appetising sight of my laptop’s international plug adaptor, on which she’s had her eyes for the last couple of weeks, to pay very much attention. I had high hopes for ‘Date Stamp’, very much my favourite song whenever I’m not at that particular moment listening to any of the others. Its heart-bursting but somehow also wry denunciation of the then-inchoate idea that every aspect of our lives including love itself is mere merchandise, a notion whose power has only grown to the point where my hometown’s trees are currently being smashed up by corporate hooligans and malevolent forces are trying to hypnotise our children via Youtube is, in a very literal sense, music to my ears. Unfortunately she’s too busy putting in and taking out some wild animal finger puppets to and from an empty yoghurt container to really focus on how trenchant, lush and unabashedly romantic the whole thing is.

Attention spans being limited, I decide to skip the whole of ABC’S subsequent career up until ‘Lexicon of Love II’ (which means she misses out for the moment on the jagged swoons of ‘The night you murdered love’, but doesn’t have to sit through their attempts at house music). This belated sequel to the 1982 album was released just last year to general acclaim. Contrary to what you might expect given Fry’s history of involvement in ’80s revival cruise ship booze-ups, it sounds not at all like not a cheap copy of the original album, but really rather freshly minted. It sounds, in the most positive sense, like it could have been made any time between 1985 and 1992, like one of those Paddy McAloon records whose release was delayed for a number of years. She seems to appreciate its mix of expensively orchestrated pop classicism and hard-won middle aged wisdom, bouncing around with a massive baby grin on her face to ‘The Flames of Desire’. On the whole it goes much better than our previous music mentoring sessions, especially the ‘Reign in Blood’ one, which culminated in my having to put on ‘Il cocodrillo come fa‘ in order to get her to calm down. (My wife, that is. The baby seemed to be just starting to get into it by the time ‘Altar of sacrifice’ came on.) On this occasion it’s not Chiara that complains, but the downstairs neighbour, who bangs on the door to give out about unreasonable levels of noise at 3pm on the Day of Rest. Miserable bastard. Maybe one day he’ll, you know, cheer up and, as someone once sang, find true love. Or something.

10 tips for staying in a hotel with a baby

1. Never, ever stay in a hotel with a baby.

2. Have you, nonetheless, found yourself in a hotel with a baby? (Are you, by any chance, in Venice, of whose labyrinthine layout of abruptly-terminating alleyways connected by thousands of pushchair-defying bridges Google Maps understands less than your 9-month-year old pride and joy, and which has worn you all out to the point where even this simple sentence is making your brain hurt and your eyes feel heavy, even if you’re not in Venice and don’t have any children?) Has no amount of lullabying and milky-wilky and shush-patting and promises to stop insisting that she eat bulgur done any good? Is your desperate 2am googling now being soundtracked by the sound of that selfsame caterwalling infant? Are you worried that not only will you, your partner and the baby itself get no sleep but also that you will incur the wrath of your fellow guests and the hotelier, meaning furious looks in your direction at breakfast, if you even survive that long? If so, here is the second tip: look away from your phone and think hard. What was the name of the car park/airport/train station you arrived at? Will it still be open? If so, pack your things immediately and head back in that direction. If not, invent a time machine and get a flat through Airbnb instead.

3. Is your baby upset because you forgot to ask the hotel for a cot? Call reception NOW and demand they bring you a cot. If necessary, threaten to put on Tripadvisor that the hotel belongs to Harvey Weinstein. Should that not work, go to reception and start screaming and screaming like a 9-month old baby until they get you a cot from somewhere. 

4. Is your baby still crying? Have you already toyed with the idea of throwing him/her out of the window/into the nearest canal, only to be overruled by your partner? Dang. Here’s something that might work, but it relies upon your being incredibly rich and having a huge amount of cash about your person: simply buy the hotel and have the other guests thrown out onto the street. It may also be a good idea to have them removed from the city/off the island itself for the duration of your stay, so as to avoid any awkward encounters which might spoil your holiday. (This also serves as the answer to the question #whatwouldtrumpdo?)

5. “Go on a boat trip or something”. That’s a suggestion from my partner, who to be fair hasn’t slept very well. The idea comes from the fact that we are now on a boat trip. The baby is in her pushchair; she’s asleep. Behind is there is the sound of another baby, whose voice is exactly like our child’s, having a total f*cking meltdown. Welcome to Venice!

6. There is no number 6.

7. Just having a look at Venice. Jesus I’m exhausted. Might get another coffee soon.

9. Where’s number 8?

8. Ah, there it is.

10. Take the baby out into the corridor to calm her down? Go outside for a walk at 3am? Mind you, I did try both of those things, they don’t work. Best stick with number 1. Oh look, Murano. Let’s see what effect her screaming has on a huge variety of very expensive glass products of differing shades and textures. Maybe number 1) should have just been never, ever take a baby to Venice. I wonder if there’s an Italian equivalent of Centerparcs?

Eight songs to celebrate our daughter’s eight-month birthday

Human beings only really come into existence in the own right following nine months of total dependence on their mothers. Nine months is therefore a significant enough milestone to blow up balloons, eat cake with lots of sugar and ice-cream (us, not her) and make playlists. As it happens, our daughter was actually born eight months today, but this site has a tradition of celebrating anniversaries on the wrong date, and in any case I just had the idea for creating a playlist and I don’t have the patience to wait another month. Plus it turned out that I can only (just) think of eight birthday-related songs I like*.

The Beatles – Birthday

So far she’s tended to turn her tiny piggly-wiggly nose up at the “White Album”, but this is a lot jollier than ‘Happiness is a warm gun’, plus the beat is very uniform and she loves banging her arms up and down like a totally demented  (if very young) Herbert von Karajan.

Altered Images – Happy Birthday

She’s not quite old enough to remember either Altered Images or ‘Gregory’s Girl’, but then neither is her mum. Actually, speaking of ‘Gregory’s Girl’, people did used to tell her dad (me) that he (me) was a dead ringer for the film’s star, and given that everyone who sees our daughter immediately exclaims that she looks just like me, we have the dubious honour of having a baby daughter who looks exactly like John Gordon Sinclair.

Stevie Wonder – Happy birthday 

This would make a far better US national anthem than that godawful self-aggrandizing dirge, which, let’s be honest, is more likely to make you lie down and go to sleep than stand to attention. Plus the Stevie Wonder version expresses far more laudable sentiments, with which no sane person could reasonably disagree. Also, at eight months our daughter is just getting to the point where she can actually (like Stevie himself) #taketheknee.

The Sugarcubes – Birthday

At this point in the testing of the playlist, our daughter starts actually singing along with gusto. Or she could just be in need of milky-wilky. Either way, she seems to know all the words. Maybe she’s been speaking Icelandic for the last few months, and we haven’t noticed.

The Birthday Party – Release the bats

Again, slightly before her time, and not in any sense a birthday song, but you will notice the presence of the b-word in the name of the band, and her dad’s been listening to a lot of Nick Cave recently because there was a rave review of one of their gigs in The Guardian. Plus as she likes The Sugarcubes she might go for the screeching and the atonal elements in this one. Hard to tell, cos her mum took her off to her grandma’s place, muttering something about ‘torturando tua figlia con questa musica di merda’, which sounds bad.

Pedro Infante – Las Mañanitas

A change in tone from the previous one. My wife always gets embarrassed when I explain that the reason our daughter has a Mexican name is that she was conceived in Mexico. She prefers explanations which involve cicogne. If we were still living there our daughter would be hearing and singing this all the time, as it’s the Mexican version of ‘Happy Birthday’. I do know all the words, just not all in the right order.

Rafaelle Carrà – Tanti Auguri

This is the Italian birthday/wedding disco anthem of all time, to the extent we had it on our own wedding playlist. That of me and my wife, that is. Not me and my daughter. That would be…odd, even in the south of Italy.

Heaven 17 – (We don’t need this) fascist groove thang

You can probably tell that I really was running out of birthday-related favourites at this point, but then Spotify handily suggested including this, which is sort of appropriate, as she was born nine days after Tr*mp’s inauguration. On the one hand I’d hate it if his name was her first word, but at the same time I have been teaching her the word whenever she does one. Two more reasons to choose this song: 1) It is, like her dad (me) from Sheffield and 2) Current pedagogical theory suggests that it’s best to introduce the existence of (unnecessary) brackets to one’s child sometime between the eight and ninth months.

* ‘Birthday Girl’ by Stormzy was a candidate for inclusion, but on mature reflection I decided that its many references to ‘birthday sex’ were…inappropriate.

Here’s what the illiberal media doesn’t want you to know about the Finsbury Park attack

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My wife and I used to live just up the road from the Finsbury Park Mosque, but now we live in Rome with our four-month-old daughter. How will we cope with bringing up a child in a time of mounting global turmoil, with terrorist attacks and climate disasters assailing us on almost a daily basis? In much the same way that previous generations have: by telling her stories which introduce and explain the world as comfortingly and as gently as possible, tales which allow her to gradually sense the dangers but also to imagine herself into the world as a protagonist as well as (we hope) a responsible citizen.

Adults tell each other stories in much the same way. The internet has sped up the process of the fabrication of fairy tales. Within minutes of an event like the attack in Finsbury Park, there are already rumours circulating online. Why did the police take so long to arrive? Could it be connected to the Grenfell Fire, or to London Bridge? Did it really happen? Is it all a distraction, a ‘false flag’?

Such gossip reassures people. It tells them who they are and situates shocking events in a familiar context. It reminds people they are powerless, that the world is under control, while also allowing them to pose in their heads as both initiates and heroes, privy to and sharers of occult and dangerous truths.

But while as parents we have our daughter’s best interests at heart, wanting to protect and prepare her for the joys and hazards of existence, purveyors of internet fairy tales do not. They use stories to manipulate, to promote an view of the world which benefits particular interests.

The mainstream media can operate in similar ways, but without as much blatant dishonesty and manipulation. Where that does exist, it tends to be infinitely more complex and sophisticated and not by any means always conscious. Recent exceptions to this, most notably Blair’s dodgy dossier and the lies of the Brexit campaign, have discredited democracy and the media and encouraged people to get their information about the world from even less trustworthy sources, ones that make a virtue of their antipathy towards formal media standards and regulations.

Someone in a Jeremy Corbyn Facebook group this morning was quick to blame the Finsbury Park attack on the “New World Order”. His kneejerk recourse to that phrase suggests he may have come under the spell of that most fraudulent of all tricksters, Alex Jones, who just by coincidence (really, Richard? Is that what you think?!) was the subject of a horribly misguided puff piece on NBC just last night. Jones is prominent nowadays as he has the ear of the President* and also because for the last few years he has been telling the world that the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre didn’t happen, that the children who ‘died’ and their ‘grieving’ parents were all actors. In promoting this story Jones achieves several objectives: drawing attention to himself, posing as someone who’s wise to what ‘The Establishment’ is secretly up to, and (most importantly) letting gun-lovers off the hook. The NRA is, of course, one of the most powerful and dangerous organisations in US history.

You don’t have to dig very far to see how the fledgling roots of these online fairy tales connect to some of the most powerful reactionary interests in the world. Online conspiracy theorising is, after all, a deeply conservative phenonenon, even though its often those on the Left who fall prey to it. Yesterday someone in the same Facebook group someone posted a link to an article which promised to tell you the facts that the ‘liberal media’ want to keep hidden about the Grenfell Fire. The article cut and pasted a post from the far-right website The Daily Caller which blamed environmental regulations for the disaster. The same material has been published days earlier by the right-wing British tabloids the Daily Mail and Express. While we can choose to ignore news outlets which we know to be controlled by political and/or business interests and place our critical trust in more independent, transparent and accountable publications, the internet exposes us to much more insidious attempts to hack our brains and install ideologically toxic misinformation.

No wonder Jones’ ‘friend’ Donald Trump instructs his supporters to ignore everything the ‘liberal media’ writes about him, while boasting that all he knows about the world he learned online. Progressives have to be cleverer and more critical than him when dealing with information about news events. That shouldn’t be too difficult, in theory. Just stick to news and commentary sites designed for adults, learn to question what you read without rejecting facts and arguments out of hand for no good reason, and steer well clear of those purveying internet fairy tales.

ps. If you’re seeking the facts as they stand in relation to the Finsbury Park terrorist attack, here are some sources which can help you:

http://www.guardian.co.uk
http://www.bbc.co.uk
http://www.independent.co.uk

Ps. This, from the University of Sheffield politics blog, is a very compelling argument which we Labour members and supporters ignore at our peril:

The ‘rigged economy’ conspiracy theory

In a previous critique of Corbynism, I examined the ‘personalised’ critique of capitalism which underlies the worldview of Corbyn and many of his supporters. This perspective sees poverty, economic crashes, inequality and even war as being the result of the conscious behaviour of shadowy ‘global elites’, usually in the financial sector.  Such a viewpoint, common amongst right and left, fails to grasp capital as an abstract social relation, dominating both rich and poor alike, and at its most extreme can lead to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of Jewish plots to rule the world through control of the banks.  The prevalence of this kind of foreshortened critique of capitalism (or neoliberalism, as popularly understood) goes some way to explain the spread of conspiracy theories about the ‘Rothschilds’ and ‘Zionists’ through much of the ‘Canary’/‘Skwawkbox’ left, as well as the alt-right – they are not contingent or accidental, but the consequence of pushing an analysis of capitalism as conspiracy to its logical conclusion.

Since his ‘populist turn’ at the start of the year, Corbyn has severely ramped up this kind of talk.  Throughout the election campaign there were endless references to the ‘rigged economy’ set up by elites which had ‘ripped off’ the British people.  Like the isolationist foreign policy, this discourse has an appeal to both the ‘anti-vax’ wing of the Green left and the Trumpian-UKIP right, with the vagueness of the ‘rigged’ concept allowing people to point the finger of accusation at whatever scapegoat fits their particular prejudice.  While it can be effective, there is an inherent risk in this kind of approach to politics, in that it can rapidly spiral out of control and in unexpected directions if not strictly supervised.  There is no guarantee that once let out of the bottle this kind of personalised critique of capitalism will inevitably lead in a progressive direction.  If it is true that Corbyn has managed to patch up a right-left electoral alliance on these grounds  –  along with implied migration controls and an isolationist foreign policy  –  it will require extreme vigilance to ensure it does not veer onto a regressive track.

(http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/2017/06/13/reassessing-corbynism-success-contradictions-and-a-difficult-path-ahead/)

A three-month-old baby assesses the propects for the MAY-DUP coalition

So, you’re three months old…

Four and a half months, actually. Nineteen weeks on Monday.

It says…

Yes, I know. My male parent thought it made for a more eye-catching headline. It’s not the first time he’s used me to promote his political opinions. A bit ‘clickbaity’ I suppose, but whatcha gonna do.

I see. Well, as some are saying this election was largely decided by the youth vote, I wondered how you, as someone…relatively youthful, saw what has happened, and particularly the subsequent events.

Well, although I’m as yet barely able to grasp a baby’s rattle, let alone the ins and outs of political horsetrading, I find the whole DUP thing interesting for three main reasons. Firstly, it puts paid to any notion of the Conservatives as anything other than deeply socially reactionary and driven by the will to power. It’s now ten years since David Cameron went around pretending he could talk to huskies. Even at the time, even though I wouldn’t be born for another nine years and eight months, I could see that it was all a charade, but the image did stick, and when he resigned there were people praising him for his social progressiveness on (for example) gay marriage. That sort of notion of the Tory Party is now absolutely dead. For all the talk of ‘modernisers’, it’s an atavistic, pre-modern assemblage. Secondly, something that’s not been discussed much is anti-catholicism. I think it’s paid very little attention to in England – commentary on the DUP has mostly focussed, rightly I think, on their homophobia, climate denial and misogyny – but it’s still a theme in English life. We sort of outsource that part of our history to the fringes and pretend it no longer exists, but I’d be very interested to know how catholic Tories view this agreement. Finally, there’s the lack of strategic thinking. This deal won’t last. The alacrity with which it was announced suggests strongly to me that May just agreed to give the DUP whatever they want, and that will obviously lead to problems in the medium term if not before. I think people did use to think of May as someone who possessed a modicum of political intelligence, but in strategic terms she’s not much more sophisticated than her new best friend, that outright dickhead in the United States. Maybe, as some wag put it on Twitter, she has a thing for orangemen…

Yes, indeed. Er, you seem to have a keen interest in events, did you stay up for the results?

After a fashion. I initially fell asleep at around nine thirty, and then woke up for a scream and a snack about two. Then it was back to sleep for two hours until I woke up again for, as the parental people would doubtlessly put it, “some bloody reason”. So no, I didn’t follow events too closely.

Right. Now, in the context of Brexit…

Can I just say something? Sorry to interrupt, my conversational instincts are still a little unrefined. Burp. Look, I have to say that I find the whole Brexit thing understandable. If not actually laudable. I mean, let me make an analogy. A few weeks ago they took me to stay in a hotel. I’m not sure why we went, to me it’s all just random colours and sounds wherever we go and it was a totally unfamiliar environment so I was bound to play up. Anyway, they tried to get me to sleep in this travel cot which was quite frankly far too close to the ground for comfort, I mean I would have basically been sleeping on the floor like one of those woof woof creatures they always go on about. So I kicked off. Every time they lowered me into the bloody thing I started screaming like a, you know. After they’d tried about fifty times they were going mental and in the end they let me sleep on the bed like a normal person. They barely got any sleep (I had my arms stretched out on the bed so there was basically no space and the male one ended up crashed out in an armchair), but I was fine (although I think I soiled myself at least three times), and the whole mini-break thing ended up being cut short! Now, how does that relate to Brexit? Well, I think I’ll let you, as it were, ‘do the math’.

Right, er…now, in terms of…

Sorry to interrupt again, but that’s rather a nice shirt you’re wearing. Could I possibly have a taste? I haven’t had any ‘milky-wilky’ for…

Well, I’d rather you didn’t. I have a social engagement to attend after this…

Suit yourself, bub.

Thank you. Now, given your depth of understanding of the issues, I wondered if you had any suggestions for our readers in terms of authors who have a particular insight into these issues.

Well, it’s not directly related to these events, but by far the most interesting book I’ve encountered of late is this crackly one made of some sort of cloth. It mostly consists of pictures of something called ‘animals’, apparently. I find it compelling for two reasons: 1) it’s colourful and 2) it’s tasty. I’ve barely got past sucking on the first few pages but I have to say I’m finding it riveting. I fully intend to eat it all one day. And I have to say, when it comes to eating printed material, I carry out my promises. Not like that Ukip arsehole!

Right. Now, just one more…

Excuse me, I’m going to have to cut you short. I’m afraid I appear to have ‘done a Theresa’. Could you possibly alert one of the parental people?

Er…sure! 

Film review: ‘The Other Side of Hope’

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How often do you go to the cinema? Probably about six or seven times a day, right? I mean, I’m guessing, but I calculate that someone like you has, over the last, say, four months, likely seen in the region of a thousand films at the cinema, or movies at the moving picture theater if that’s your preference. Until last Saturday we hadn’t been to the cinema in FIVE MONTHS. This is because in January we became the first people in history to have an actual baby. We soon discovered that childrearing and filmbuffery are deeply and highly incompatible. To be fair, five months isn’t very long when you consider that I once met a guy who hadn’t been to see a film since 1972. The guy in question was originally from Iraq and had seven children. I can’t imagine how disruptive having seven children must be, or how hard it must be to persuade relatives to babysit*. As for the cinema, although he skipped all of Woody Allen and is presumably no expert on Kieslowski’s Red, White and Blue trilogy he must have seen a lot of Scooby Doo cartoons.

As it happens one of the protagonists of the film we went to see is also from Iraq, while the main character is from Syria. They are refugees in Finland, a country I know and love, partly through the films of Aki Kaurismaki, of which this is one. It’s the second in a row about people seeking asylum, after Le Havre (2011). Khaled has arrived in Helsinki by default after the traditionally tortuous route via southern Europe and is trying to track down his sister, from whom he became separated along the way. When his application is refused (the Government has decided that his hometown of Aleppo is a safe place to return him to) he escapes from the detention centre and is taken in by the owner of a comically-failing restaurant.

Kaurismaki’s aesthetic is one of out-of-time-ness. In his films pretty much everything is worn and familiar: the actors, the sets, the clothes and the music are all reassuringly dated. His characters are themselves refugees from a world that no longer quite exists, seeking asylum from disappointment in drink, music and small, awkward acts of solidarity. It’s a world of flawed but decent people: terse but charming, brusque and gauche but capable of tenderness. This film also features intrusions of almost cartoon-like evil in the form of some racist skinheads and also official indifference. It’s the kind of film which would piss off Slavoj Žižek, in that it shows refugees as individual human beings complete with hopes and vulnerabilities just like anyone else.

The cinema we went to (the Madison, on Via Chiabrera) is not far from our flat. Not just the cinema itself but also the street itself feels familiar and homely, with a refreshing absence of international brands and cash-for-gold shops. The gelataria we pop into on the way is a very Kaurismaki place, with its staff, fittings and menu seemingly not changed since the ’70s. There was another closer cinema, within five minutes’ walk from where we live, but in some apparently dodgy deal it’s currently being transformed into ‘international standard’ apartments.

Walking along Viale Marconi after the bridge we passed the spot where I recently got talking to a guy from Benin City in Nigeria who was sweeping the street in return for spare change. This is a phenomenon that seems to have started in Milan and has now spread to Rome. Back home he had been a musician; he showed me on his phone the video he’d put on Youtube. It was very professionally produced and really rather good. I was at first inspired to write a piece about him, then thought again: what right do I have, really, to exploit his life story for my own means? I just so happened that a few days later I was in the British Museum, one of whose greatest treasures is the Benin Bronzes. Maybe if I was a proper writer I’d  feel more comfortable about appropriating someone else’s narrative, displaying it as though it were my own**.

I hope he somehow manages to make his way upwards, whether socially or geographically (he wanted to reach London, where he had friends). I hope he manages to stay free. Kaurismaki’s film is a heartbreaking but salutary reminder that pretty much every town and city in the world contains a hidden population of people living in dread of being picked up and sent back to somewhere which can no longer be called home. When we first started coming to Rome I read a series of novels by Amara Lakhous about the local population of Arabs and North Africans whose lives revolve around the acquisition and renewal of their permesso di sogiorno (residence permit). Networks of volunteers which provide food, shelter and advice are continually turfed out and have their resources confiscated by the local authorities. My city and yours have invisible portals leading straight to war and immense danger. It puts things like not having been to the cinema for a while or not being able to find decent hummus into some perspective.

Our daughter was born here in Rome, on January 30th this year. She’s an immigrant from some other celestial realm and has been given asylum in this one. The locals coo at her, welcoming her into their world. No one tells her that Europe is full, that public services are overstretched and that she should go back home. Like any human, she has a right to be here. She’s just now beginning to recognise other people (and even stating to laugh at herself in the mirror). She shows no sign of being able to discriminate between people who happen to have been born in different places from her. As the song says, such things have to be carefully taught.

*As this episode of ‘Thinking Allowed’ discusses and my own experiences attest, Italian society would fall apart in about ten minutes without i nonni.

**There’s also the aspect of potentially revealing to his friends (and fans?) back home that he’s sweeping the streets rather than pursuing stardom.

Our Daughter vs. Trump: The First Foreign Trip

It just so happens that our baby daughter’s very first trip abroad coincides with that of her partial counterpart Donald Trump. I would venture that so far hers has been more successful on a number of fronts.

Her itinerary is less ambitious than Trump’s. Instead of Riyadh, Jerusalem, Rome and Brussels, we’re playing safe with London and Sheffield, and instead of exasperated world leaders she’s meeting friends and family. The level of excitement in one single household in Sheffield right now is far greater than it is in the whole of Belgium for Trump’s visit. To be fair one does have to pity those who’ve always dreamt of meeting the US President and are then faced with the prospect of humouring someone who thinks he’s won top prize in an amaaazing reality TV show and who would struggle to remember the colour of the White House. Trump knows at some level that he is ‘President’ but has no idea what that means beyond the fact that he gets more ice-cream than anyone else and can bomb or sack anyone who annoys him (or, more realistically, whoever Steve Bannon tells him to). As for our daughter, the fact that she is thankfully even cuter in real life than media reports (well, photos) means that no one has yet expressed any disappointment or anger at her presence.

Journey. Despite months of anxiety about the possibility of her destroying several hours of the lives of total strangers, our trip from Rome Ciampino to London Stansted was trouble-free. Obviously she travelled by Ryanair rather than Air Force One, but the difference doesn’t mean as much to her as it presumably would to Trump. We did however actually almost miss, but that’s because I was so busy showing her and my Portuguese off to some Brazilians we didn’t notice that there were two planes leacing for the same destination 15 minutes apart. The biggest tantrum was also my doing, as I didn’t react in a particularly grown-up fashion to the refusal of the vending machine to dispense me either a Snickers or the €2 I’d just paid for it. Unlike on Trump’s journey to Saudi Arabia, no one spent the entire flight screaming at other passengers about leaks, and luckily there were no physical leaks, which may, conversely, not be true of the US President.

Entourage. Our daughter is travelling with her parents and some carefully selected playthings, as opposed to a ragbag of white supremacists, arms dealers and leading members of secretive Hungarian far-right organisations. The toys themselves seem to get along reasonably well, with no backstabbing and nothing you could call nepotism. Mr Gweenery is not currently under suspicion of setting up a sweetheart hotel-building deal with leading members of the Chinese central comittee. At least, not as far as we know.

Travelling. Our daughter has no understanding of where she is. Cities and planes are totally unfamiliar concepts, mere adult abstractions. It’s just more world stuff, which happily contains a continuing supply of nappies, cuddles and milky-wilky. Intriguingly, she does not seem to connect transport with movement, shifting in time with travelling in space. To his credit, at least Trump seems to have understood that he was in the Middle East at some point. Mind you, his world is just an endless array of blandly opulent hotel interiors with gold fittings, with steak and ketchup permanently on the menu, Fox News always on the TV and just the occasional diaper to hand just in case.

Tiredness. Just like the US President, such a gruelling schedule for someone of her age has caused occasional bouts of mental and physical exhaustion. I’d like to apologise to anyone in or near the Moroccan restaurant in Exmouth Market around 2.40pm yesterday afternoon, and anyone on or in the vicinity of the 16.32 from Farringdon to Sutton on the same day. Luckily she is denied access to social media so she can’t  share her meltdowns with the wider world. I suspect that White House staff would find it much easier to deal with her than with the manchild they’re supposed to be nursing.

Reception. At every stage of her foreign trip she’s largely been greeted with goodwill, even delight. She hasn’t been confronted with any protests, nor would one expect a four-month-year old to be. There are no photos in which someone’s looking at her as though she’s an utterly insufferable creature. I think this Pope might actually be very good with children.

Result of trip. The world is not a significantly less stable place as direct consequence of her visit to the UK. She hasn’t conducted any major arms deals with extremely dangeous countries (that’s the sort of thing that new parents have to watch out for). At the same time, she hasn’t learnt anything about terrorism, the Holocaust or Climate Change, but then neither, to be fair did President Trump on his trip.

Our daughter vs Donald Trump: The First 100 Days

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Our daughter was born ten days after Donald Trump’s inauguration. I sometimes wonder if the viral piece I wrote a few days before her birth, in which I predicted an imminent mental breakdown on the part of the new President, was actually more of an expression of anxiety about my own readiness to perform the demanding role of becoming a parent. Although sadly (?) my prediction about Trump has yet to come true (or maybe it has…), our daughter is doing wonderfully, and we’re coping magnificently with being parents, one day (or rather one night…) at a time. I thought this was an opportune moment to reflect on Trump/our daughter’s comparative progress so far in ten key areas.

1. Inauguration

Her speech was a great deal more coherent than anything Trump has come up with in the last three months. It went ‘whiirrrARRRGGGHHHNNNNGGGGGGGGAAARRGGHHH I’M ALIVE!!!!!’. Recently, gratifyingly, she has incorporated cooing noises into her vocal repertoire. This may be an attempt to reproduce the lilting and melodic voice of Paul McCartney (she’s going through a bit of a Beatles phase). When she was extracted she was, to my surprise, covered in all this white stuff, as opposed to her presidential counterpart, who has a strong lifelong preference for orange gunk. When it comes to knowledge of the rights and responsibilities of the President as defined by the Constitution of the United States of America, she’s miles ahead. Where Trump forced both the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General to write letters calling for the sacking of FBI boss James Comey in a desperate and catastrophically misguided attempt to cripple the investigation into his links with Russia, our daughter would have just looked around the room gurgling randomly and harmlessly to herself. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

2. North Korea

Given that she is unable to rationalise and is driven solely by the desire for simple selfish gratification, she would be able to relate to the behaviour of both leaders. I read somewhere once that as babies we often wish that our parents would die, because our fury at not having our needs met immediately is not conditioned by any mental conception of what that would imply for our own survival prospects. In a strikingly similar way, it’s possible that neither Kim Jong Un nor Donald Trump have any idea what the consequences of nuclear confrontation would be. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

3. Climate Change

She’s not been born into a normal spring. Any one of her cohort has a better and more responsible attitude to the climate crisis than any so-called adult and certainly much more of a mature understanding of basic climate facts and their consequences than anyone in the current US administration. If you asked her whether or not the US should withdraw from the Paris Agreement she’d probably look at you a bit blankly and then might, if you were lucky, give you a massive lopsided grin, one which would, in contrast to Trump’s mangled death beam, give you hope and faith in the future of the human species. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

4. Healthcare

Although in theory this is free in Italy, in reality it’s very expensive. You very often have to buy a ‘ticket’ in order to access services. Sadly our daughter hasn’t been able to change the situation in her first hundred days. She would nevertheless understand healthcare policy to be a very complex area, which puts her ahead of Trump, who thought it was all really, really simple. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

5. Immigration

Her father (me) is an immigrant, so presumably (although we haven’t yet discussed this in any detail) she feels instinctive solidarity with people who choose or are forced to cross national borders for prolonged periods during the course of their lives. Oddly enough, although Italy is, like all European countries, experiencing a sickening rise in xenophobic sentiment, no one has yet told her to go back where she came from and stop being such a parasite on essential public services. As for her, she’s never uttered the phrase ‘America First’ or talked openly about a ‘Muslim Ban’. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

6. Russia

While it’s unclear whether or not Trump has ever met Putin, I can say with some certainty that our daughter has had no contact with the Russian President/failed election meddler. At six weeks old she started grinning, mostly in response to others’ smiles. It’s unlikely she’d recognise Putin’s pseudo-Machiavellian smirk as a positive facial expression, as anything indicating goodwill. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

7. Mexico

She was conceived there and has a Mexican name. She would have difficuly grasping the concept of a wall but, like with healthcare, would at least appreciate the logistical challenges in building one between two particularly wide and mountainous countries. Trump is lagging way behind her on this second point. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

8. Suspended reduction of Federal Housing Mortgage Insurance Premium rates

Our daughter has no opinion of this and no influence on it that we know of. It’s certainly not her initiative. To be fair, though, I doubt it’s a priority for Trump either, given that it’s got nine words in it and several of them have more than two syllables. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

9. Bottle feeding

Trump apparently doesn’t drink alcohol. As Hasan Minhaj pointed out this week, that carries the bewildering implication that all his 3am tweets are written when he is sober. Perhaps one reason for his myriad psychological complexes and mental disorders is a traumatic failure to adjust to the different kinds of flow and teat involved in getting milky-wilky out of a bottle. Our daughter is responding slightly better each day but still has moments when she wants to stress VERY FORCEFULLY that she is AWARE that this bit of transparent plastic is NOT a part of mummy-wummy and she will NOT be accepting it as a permanent replacement. However, knowing the risks failure could one day represent for future global peace and security, we will have to keep insisting. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

10. Nappy habits

I’m at ‘work’ at the moment so I don’t know anything about the present contents of my daughter’s nappy. However, taking a quick look at Trump’s Twitter feed it appears that the President needs his diaper changing. OUR DAUGHTER: 10 DONALD TRUMP: 0.

So, on the basis on their performance in key areas over their first 100 days, OUR DAUGHTER gets 100!!! points, and DONALD TRUMP gets a big fat orange despite having had ten more days than her to make a good impression. When I get home this afternoon I’ll give her an extra celebratory helping of milky-wilky from the bottle…or at least, I’ll try to. In the meantime, who on earth is going to be tasked with changing Trump’s nappy now that Nanny Comey’s gone?!

My daughter the footballer

After an almost impossible first night in a hotel with our three-month-old daughter I reassure my wife ‘we’ll get through this. We’re a team’. This analogy only goes so far, however, as one of the team members has no idea she’s part of a squad of players sharing a common objective. For one thing, she doesn’t respond to hand signals and whistles from the touchline and doesn’t even seem able to identify or even see the other players. She also, rather like certain actual footballers, responds to any potential slight, no matter how minor, as though she’s being tortured, and is in the unfortunate habit of screaming to the point of losing her voice when decisions don’t go her way. Also, unlike most professional sports people with a couple of unfortunate exceptions, she appears to exercise no control whatsoever over her bowel functions and will quite happily play on as though she did not have excrement visibly trickling down her legs. Then there’s the fact that at the end of the match she simply refuses to leave the pitch, insisting on staying in the centre circle proudly surveying the increasingly frustrated crowd despite how appallingly she’s perfomed. When she is finally persuaded to go to the changing room she embarrasses herself even more with her appetite for endless amounts of seemingly intoxicating liquid. She also has her equivalents of Jimmy ‘Five Bellies’ Gardner, although in her case the badboy mates who egg her on to even greater heights of excitability and subsequent disgrace go by the names of Mr Gweenewy and Comfy Wabbit. If you add in the fact that, as we’ve now discovered, her behaviour in hotels would shame even a Sheffield United striker, it’s pretty clear that although she may in some ways always be a valuable member of the squad, it’s certainly not her team-playing abilities that make her so. The whole thing makes me feel the deepest sympathy for David Moyes. At least given that she lives in Rome and has a British passport, we might be able to get a few quid for her out of Lazio. She could yet turn out to be the female equivalent of Ravel Morrison.

14 things our beautiful 11-week-old baby daughter has no concept of


My wife and I have recently found ourselves in the position (unique for human beings) of parenting a child. Anyone who was somehow to have (had) such an experience for themselves (as if!) would soon understand that one of its most mystifying and mind-expanding aspects is wondering just what on earth is going on in the head of one’s child during her interactions with us and the world, given her total lack of basic mental concepts. Just in case there are, unbeknownst to us, ‘other’ ‘parents’ out there or anyone wondering just what this unprecedented and unrepeatable experience must be like, I have taken it upon myself to share some thoughts.

1. Self-image
At the moment our daughter is just a mishmash of uncontrollable sensations and urges. She has no sense of herself as a whole integral being and hence no mental picture of how absurd she looks when she’s trying to stuff her fist into her mouth because she hasn’t (despite my very best efforts to help her) worked out what her thumb’s for yet. For all she’s concerned she might look like a flamingo, or a duck-billed platypus, or Alf.

2. Us
We think we ‘know’ her. We believe we have a relationship. We clearly do, but it’s obviously not the one we imagine. To her we are both gods and monsters, except she has no concept of either. She still has no notion of the separation between her body and other objects. It’s all just one infinite floaty wobbly porridge of varying shades, sounds, textures, tastes and temperatures with currents flowing in various directions at varying speeds. Some lumps of whatever-it-is provide cuddles and/or milky-wilky at irregular intervals or can be made to do so if sucked on or shouted at in the right way. The two blobs of porridge that float around her the most seem to be particularly obliging. One of them clearly is somehow connected to the origin of milky-wilky while the other is a good source for cuddles somehow related to particular sleepy-deepy-inducing combinations of rhythms and melodies.

3. Words
We’ve invented a vocabulary for her to use: milky-wilky, sleepy-deepy, tiredy-wiredy… Some of it must be going in; if she can’t yet recognise the gist of the question ‘have you done a big poo?’ it’s not for want of input. No one wants to talk about the intellectual acuity of a newborn child. The conclusions drawn from the available evidence are too depressing. Her mental range is not that not much more than that of an reasonably-educated adult banana. Nonetheless she is fast developing her own language, one that we don’t understand. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be Business German. In the meantime all my attempts to get her to precede every utterance with ‘As a baby…’ have so far been unsuccessful.

4. Inside/outside
We take her for walks and rides to unfamiliar places and she doesn’t have any idea if or when she’ll ever be back to the sights, smells and sounds she most recognises. Some sense of home/not home must be developing at some level and must be connected to warm place/place where they might try and force you to wear a hat. It seems to involve a huge and touching amount of trust given her absolute vulnerability to our caprices and whims.

5. Colours
Her colourscheme at present is apparently monochrome with a bit of red creeping in. All toys and clothes for newborns might as well be in shades of grey. We took her to the beach and tried to get her to marvel in the combination of gold and blue but for all that she’s concerned it might as well be a badly tuned-in game of snooker from the early days of TV.

6. Animals
Pretty much all her clothes have pictures of animals on. She’s constantly surrounded by and adorned in images of owls, pigs, rabbits, giraffes and elephants. Trying to explain this to her is very moot indeed (see 7.).

7. Images
Even if she could recognise a giraffe the notion of visual representations is quite some way off. She’s a useful source of inspiration for philosophical reflections on what the relationship between a 2d painting of some flowers and some actual flowers is. Even if she knew what a cow was, pointing at a tshirt and claiming it went ‘moo’ would only serve to bamboozle the poor little thing. I’m planning to wait until she’s at least 18 months old to read her ‘Il processo semiotico e la classificazione dei segni’ by Umberto Eco, after which I think such things will begin to fall into place.

8. Donald Trump
Lucky her.

9. Water (the drink)
This is a very odd one. She often looks like a thirsty human being, and when she’s in the baby bath she sometimes tips her head with some curiosity towards its contents, but she never actually cries out of thirst. I think.

10. Shame
It’s hard to believe that this is not why she’s crying. So much of what she does is (from our perspective) so obviously embarrassing. If I soiled myself as much as she does…In suppose this is where a certain cultural relativism should be actively encouraged.

11. Irony
As her parents it’s natural for us to impute a knowingness to her expressions and gestures. It’s very hard to remember that when she raises her eyebrow a la Neil Tennant or responds to my attempts to contextualise specific moments in the career of Prefab Sprout by yawning with apparent archness she’s doing so without irony. In much the same way it seems odd that she’s seemingly unaware that our immediate mimicry of her expressions, gestures and noises is a form of maximally affectionate piss-taking.

12. Night/Day
To be fair her understanding of this distinction is now approaching advanced level. Maybe she couldn’t do an MA in the subject but she could probably get through a degree in one of the less demanding universities. She certainly has a good enough IELTS level to get onto a presessional course at Middlesex.

13. Silence and Stillness
Despite what adult yoga enthusiasts like to pretend, there is really no such thing. We are farting, fidgeting creatures from the moment we are born. Her hobby is lying on the bed snorting and burping while waving her arms and legs about like a beached seaturtle on an all-inclusive package holiday. Her range of impromptu grunts, squeaks and yelps mean that we often spend more than half the night lying awake listening to check that she’s actually asleep, because if she isn’t it means we won’t sleep. Irony.

14. Toys.
Her toys are really ours in this role-play. Putting on a silly voice to play at being a representation of an animal she’s never seen and which doesn’t make human noises in any case would be a rich source of confusion if she had a grasp of any of the concepts involved. Thus we become children in the act of raising a child, which to my delight and for the first time in my life I recognise as a living example of the dialectic: as we change her, she changes us. Who would have thought that a slightly-less-than-three-month-old baby could teach you a concept as difficult (and also as simple) as that?!