x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

And another thing... A childish status war

The rash of one-upmumship at the school gate, crib sheets (bad in exams, good in speeches) and iconoclasm

Children bring such joy as they grow that it's a pity to exploit them in maternal boasting competitions.
Children bring such joy as they grow that it's a pity to exploit them in maternal boasting competitions.

It's hard enough for young mothers caring for their babies without turning it into a competitive sport. The UK market research website www.mumpoll.com reveals that mothers on the school run like nothing better than "getting one up" on other mums. As they eye each other at the school gates they just can't stop themselves from bragging about their offspring and how clever and well developed they are. While they admit it's ridiculous they are obsessed with beating each other to the first spoken word or the first toddling steps.

Two-thirds of the 3,000 women who took part in the survey admitted they boasted about some aspect of their baby's development even at the most basic levels like teething, potty-training, walking and talking. It goes on throughout a child's schooling when classroom achievements become medals of motherhood. Competition is also extended to losing weight quickly after giving birth, having a successful husband and even having a clean and tidy house when other mothers visit. Crash diets and fierce exercise regimens were admitted by 27 per cent while a fifth said they tried to outdo each other in the fashion stakes.

They watch one another surreptitiously to see how they are coping in comparison and four in 10 young mothers say they avoid women who look as if they are managing better than themselves, because of feelings of inadequacy. Quite clearly the whole "yummy mummy" thing has got completely out of hand. Reading the report made me feel grateful that my babies are now grown women. I thought we were over all that superwoman stuff. When I was a new mum we were expected to do all that and hold down a job as well. I well remember the "two jackets" days when I'd leave one jacket hanging over the back of my chair and a spare handbag lying open on my desk , jump into my car, roar off to the school sports day, run in the mother's race, whizz back, and pretend that I'd been hard at work the whole time. That really was pressure and how crazy it seems now.

What was so annoying was watching people's reactions when men announced they had to leave early because it was parents' evening. "How sweet," they'd say. No excuses were deemed necessary for their absence from work, whereas women who rushed home to a sick child's bedside were seen as flakey and incapable of holding down a big job. It was so unfair, but the women of that generation whose lives were a constant juggling act made it possible for their daughters to have choices. Today a confident young woman can choose to go back to work or to stay at home and look after her children without other women looking at her pityingly. So it saddens me to think they can't seem to do that without turning the experience into some sort of competition. Those baby years rattle past so quickly and the only thing a young mother really needs to understand is that all she has to do is just smother her kids with love and enjoy them while she can.

Speaking of motherhood, I find the news that a 66-year-old woman has given birth to triplets after IVF treatment very disturbing. Pictures of Bhateri Devi standing over her dangerously underweight babies make her look utterly shell-shocked and you have to question the ethical rules laid down for the clinics that help women of that age to conceive. Another woman, aged 70, who had a child after IVF treatment at the same clinic in India is now seriously ill and too weak to fight for her life after suffering complications as a result of childbirth. And yet the doctor who treated them both insists on speaking publicly about the "stigma of being barren". Doctors should not say things like that even if it is a culturally sensitive subject. Just because these things are possible medically it doesn't make it right. Mother Nature never intended women to bear children long after their natural cycles have ceased. It puts too much strain on their bodies and endangers their lives. I don't buy into the argument that it's a woman's inalienable right to have a child, no matter what age she is. Certainly a woman in her sixties has had years to make up her mind to seek treatment. Leaving it till she's 65 is simply too late.

Another woman, aged 70, who had a child after IVF treatment at the same clinic in India is now seriously ill and too weak to fight for her life after suffering complications as a result of childbirth. And yet the doctor who treated them both insists on speaking publicly about the "stigma of being barren". Doctors should not say things like that even if it is a culturally sensitive subject. Just because these things are possible medically it doesn't make it right. Mother Nature never intended women to bear children long after their natural cycles have ceased. It puts too much strain on their bodies and endangers their lives.

It's a tricky time of year for students. Exam time means late nights huddled over books, pale, tired and anxious faces, pressure to succeed, thumping hearts as exam papers are turned over, panic when it seems as if none of the hoped-for subjects have come up. Or at least that's the way it used to be. According to UAE academics, too many youngsters are now turning to cheating to get them through. Cheating in exams is a global phenomenon, made easier by access to the internet and the ubiquitous mobile phone, which is smuggled into examination halls by the unscrupulous, and even in the UAE it is rising as the job market becomes ever more competitive. Employers these days can afford to be choosy. Ask any recruitment officer how many new CVs land on their desk every week. The pressure to stand out from the crowd is enormous and qualifications have become more important than ever.

You have to ask yourself, what is the point of cheating? Sooner or later your shortcomings will be discovered, especially if, as a result of your dishonesty, you find yourself in a job for which you aren't properly qualified. The pressure is only compounded and the fall from grace more public. The good news is that schools and colleges here are tackling the problem head on, using sophisticated software to root out students who simply copy other people's work from the internet. Even better, Abu Dhabi University is running a compulsory presentation about the meaning and consequences of cheating. But basically what is needed is inspirational teachers who catch a child's attention at an early age and instill a desire for learning that lasts a lifetime. Youngsters also have to be taught how to harvest knowledge, how to take notes and manage files and, more importantly, how to extract and adapt that knowledge when it comes to exams. Young people need to be taught how to think for themselves rather than just learning how to pass exams.

Few actors are any good without a script. It takes years of practice to learn the art of acting naturally and being themselves without appearing like a blithering idiot as Catherine Zeta-Jones learned to her great embarrassment this week. Her acceptance speech after winning Best Actress at the Tony Awards in New York, during which she gushed about her husband, the actor Michael Douglas, was toe-curlingly cringe-making. To give the poor woman her due, she admitted later that her unscripted words had been "crass" and that her brain hadn't been connected to her mouth at the time, and you have to love her for that. You can take the girl out of the Valleys but you can't take the Valleys out of the girl. What was so surprising was that otherwise she was beautifully prepared. For weeks the gossip magazines had been running photographs of her and complaining that she had lost too much weight. Looking at her absolutely gorgeous skin-tight, ice-blue Atelier Versace gown, you can see why she wanted to lose a few pounds. With a new hairstyle and stunning diamond earrings she looked fabulous, but she should be used to the surprise factor by now, having won an Oscar in 2002 and having just received a gong from the British monarch. You'd think she'd have come better equipped with some elegant phrases. Somebody should start an acting class for potential award winners. They'd make a fortune, although it's so much more fun for the rest of us to see carefully created sophisticated images shattered and true unvarnished personalities shining through.

Winston Churchill without his cigar is like Holly Golightly without her pearls or Neptune without his trident. Along with the trademark V for Victory salute, the big fat Havana symbolised the man and an era at a time when spirits needed to be bolstered and the British people needed to see their leader looking relaxed and confident as bombs fell all around them. So whoever doctored the wartime picture of Winston, airbrushing out the cigar, for a museum poster ought to be ashamed of themselves. It's dishonest, ridiculous and disrespectful even in the pottier realms of a politically correct day and age.

Guy Ritchie's supreme self-confidence as he was photographed on his doorstep in blue and white striped pyjamas could make the garments fashionable again. Every boy who has attended boarding school knows how comforting and comfortable they are, but few wear them after they leave school. I wonder if Ritchie's name can be found on a name-tape sewn inside the collar.