First World babies are eating this planet like termites. If we had any real perspective on fertile, Western women, we’d be jumping on them in the streets screaming, ‘JESUS! CORK UP YOUR NETHERS! IMMUNISE YOURSELF AGAINST SPERM!’ If we could remember this for more than ten seconds at a time, women would never be needled with ‘So – when are you going to pop one out?’ again. Because it’s not simply that a baby puts a whole person-ful of problems into the world. It takes a useful person out of the world, as well. Minimum. Often two. When you have young children, you are useless to the forces of revolution and righteousness for years. Before I had my kids I may have mooched about a lot but I was politically informed, signing petitions, and recycling everything down to watch batteries. It was compost heap here, dinner from scratch there, public transport everywhere. No Barclays Bank, no Kenyan beans – I paid my dues to the union, and to charity. I rang my mother, regularly. I was smugly, bustlingly, low-level good. Six weeks into being poleaxed by a newborn colicky baby, however, and I would have happily shot the world’s last panda in the face if it made the baby cry for 60 seconds less.
The towelling nappies – ‘If we don’t use towelling nappies, who will?’ – were dumped for disposables; we lived on ready meals. Nothing got recycled; the kitchen was a mess. Union dues and widow’s mites were cancelled – we needed the money for the disposables, and the ready meals. My mother could have died and I would neither have known nor cared. I had no idea what was going on outside the house – I didn’t read a newspaper, or watch a news report, for over a year. The rest of the world disappeared. This world, anyway – with China, and floodplains, and malaria, and insurgency. My world map now was soft – made of brightly coloured felt, and appliqué: Balamory to the north, Fireman Sam’s Pontypandy to the west, and the rest of the planet covered in the undulating turf of Tele-tubbyland, and scattered with rabbits.
Every day, I gave thanks that both my husband and I were just essentially useless arts critics – in no way engaged in the general betterment of the world. ‘Imagine if you and I had been hot-shot geneticists, working on a cure for cancer,’ I used to say, gloomily, after another panicked day of shoddy, half-finished work, filed with the despairing cries of, ‘Dear God, let the editor have pity on us!’ ‘And we were so exhausted that we had to simply give up the project – downgrade to something easier, and less vital,’ I continued, eating dry coffee granules, for energy. ‘Lizzie’s colic would be responsible for the deaths of billions. Billions.’