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Tuesday, 28 August 2007
It was in 1938 that Cyril Connolly said There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall
. And he was a man. So what if you're an artist and a woman, and you're newly married and you're fast approaching thirty and your husband's ten years older than you? Bank holidays and Christmases always make me think of children. Bank holidays and Christmases are the only time I miss not having any. For people with no children, Bank holidays and Christmases are just excuses to go on three day benders.
Great, you might think, but it's not actually. Being quite an imaginative person, I can find an excuse to go on a three day bender any time of the year, and on Bank holiday weekends and the run up to Christmas, pubs are always full of amateur drinkers who become obnoxious and/or violent after two pints of lager and vomit on their shoes after three. What I really want to do with my state approved time off is cook good food and read stories to the kids.
Of course, there are no kids, because I've spent the past ten years of my life worrying about my precious career. I'm not remotely sorry about this. I've never wanted children. I've had a very straightforward attitude towards reproduction since I was a child myself. The world is over-populated and there are millions of orphanages bursting with unwanted offspring. Where's the sense in making more?
Then suddenly you're twenty eight and your body clock just started ticking. Your husband starts designing an extension with a room called 'The Nursery,' in it. He puts a new set of railings around the patio, surreptitiously or unconsciously childproofing your abode. Your mother-in-law starts showing you the cute little outfits she's bought for your niece and you respond by saying, 'Awwww!' Increasingly, you start to fantasise about the beautiful, bright, humanitarian progeny you and your husband are capable of creating. (I think my husband was responsible for the origin of this, when he said, 'we have to have kids because the world is so full of pricks we need some good people to counterbalance them.') Finally, you find yourself listening to Radio 4 on a crisp Christmas morning, suffering from a biblical hangover, trying to entice the cat into playing with the wind-up plastic mouse that came in her cat-stocking and you think; this isn't really enough.
However, being an artist, I'm not sure if it's fair to the kids to have them. My friend Clare Potter has a poem in her debut collection called 'A Pram in the Hall.' I have not stroked my belly/imagined you in sun slats/kicking in my extended arms/I've worried where I'll put you when I write/I can't clear space for your arrival/imagine that smell they talk of/the joy I'm supposed to feel/ I can't see your little feet/the, apparently, button nose, only blank panicky pages
. Precisely what I'm worrying about, even before I've given up on contraception. It seems wholly implausible that I'll be able to have a child in the next two years. I'm half way through my fourth book, in the middle of marketing campaigns for the European and Australian translations of my second, in the middle of recording the audio version of my third and will be spending the best part of 2008 in America, without my husband, researching my fifth. Where would a baby go?
Tabloidesque stories about celebrities who have it all only confuse matters. Look at Kate Moss being a successful mother whilst still living a completely unaffected life, i.e. snorting a few fat lines of coke now and again and singing backing vocals for her on/off boyfriend's band. That's not possible without live-in nanny's, and if you're going to rise to the challenge of having children, who really wants a nanny? (After I won the Dylan Thomas Prize I seriously considered hiring a cleaner. That idea lasted all of three minutes, ruined by an image of myself frantically tidying up before the cleaner arrived, in case s/he thought I was lazy.)
The other thing which is telling me to stall, just a little longer, is the book I'm currently reading. It's called 'They F*** You Up,' a case study by psychologist Oliver James on how the way we are cared for in the first six years of our lives has a crucial effect on the adults we become. That Philip Larkin poem, 'This Be the Verse,' opens the book. 'Man hands on misery to man/It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can/And don't have any kids yourself.' I've always really liked that poem.
I'm reading the book because I'm trying to work out which neuroses I can blame on my parentage and which ones I can blame solely on myself. Proof enough, I think, that I'm not mentally stable enough to have children yet. Very Liberal in most areas of my life and lifestyle, I have severely Conservative views on the rearing of children: I'm absolutely certain, for instance, that if I had a fifteen year old who owned a gun, and had just used it to murder an eleven year old, I'd know about it, and would have reported it, but I never would have a fifteen year old who was a gun owner or a murderer because I would have brought them up to have respect for human life, at least. Which begs another question; when, then?
Another writer friend, Charlotte Greig, whose debut novel about an unplanned pregnancy was published recently, said in last weekend's Western Mail
, 'It's just as naïve to think you can plan everything, as it is to think you don't have to plan anything.' There is no right time to have a baby; it'll turn your life upside down whatever age you are, and that maybe a good thing. There's an addiction to overcome first; smoking. The smoking ban has only succeeded in making me even more stubborn, because I'm no State bullied quitter. But long before the ban I'd promised my lungs untainted oxygen before I hit 30. Got a feeling the fags will be with me until the 11th hour though. And perhaps then I can pack in the contraceptives as well.
Clare E Potter Spilling Histories
(Cinnamon Press, 2006)
Oliver James They F*** You Up
Charlotte Greig A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy
(Serpent's Tail, 2007)
Posted at 19:33 |
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