On child care
Sir: Your recent editorial deplores, among other things, the cost of child care, to which you attribute the loss of female skills to the workplace (11 January). I would agree that pursuing a career is easier if one has no children. I also agree that the cost of child care is a significant drain on the income of young families. I am less convinced by the implicit suggestion that cheaper child care is the solution. I speak from experience and with hindsight.
My son was born in 2000. For women of my age and education, at that time it was almost imperative to shove your baby into an expensive nursery and get back to work as quickly as possible. This is what I did — and I can’t say it was a good investment, for me, for his father or for him. There is much to be said for the view that a mother’s role is nurturing; the time will come when the child is ready for independence, but that time is not at three months of age, six months of age or even five years. It is another instance of feminism having got it all wrong (with the added disadvantage that two incomes are now needed to sustain decent accommodation, with what is left over from the child-care fees).
Sir: Last summer, The Spectator kindly published a letter from me where I defended Prince Harry against his torrid controversies (31 August). I wrote that he was doing his best in difficult circumstances and was ‘deserving of our sympathy, understanding and encouragement’. This latest episode has forced me into some reflection. I am deeply disappointed in the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for the way that they have gone about announcing their retreat from public life. It’s hard to maintain, as I did then, that they seek ‘to do good for the royal family and the British people’. However genuine their unhappiness, their shock announcement was at best thoughtless and at worst malicious.
However, Prince Harry can say with some truth that he was driven to desperation. He has always been wary of the press pack snapping at his heels, which makes it baffling that ‘the Firm’ pressured him into the role of a senior royal. It was only ever going to end in tears.
The Sussexes have acted selfishly, but this whole sorry story started because Prince Harry was put into a public role ten years too early: he was badly let down by an insensitive and carelessly short-sighted Palace. Prince Harry does still ultimately retain my sympathy.
Sir: I would like to thank Wendy Mitchell for her beautiful and inspiring letter about coping with dementia (Letters, 21 December). Her analogy of the brain functioning like fairy lights that flicker on and off has been a revelation to me, and of immense help in understanding dementia better. In fact I was moved to send it to family and friends who care for or have cared for dementia sufferers. Without exception, they have said it gave them great insight and offered quiet support.
Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire
Learning by heart
Sir: Gyles Brandreth is right about the joys — and, no doubt, the neurological benefits — of learning poems by heart (21 December). Can I pass on a tip to the Brandreth grandchildren and anyone else who is trying to commit a few lines to memory? Write the whole thing out in longhand just before going to sleep and just after waking up. I’ve found you know more of the poem when you wake up than before you fell asleep. It helps if it rhymes.
Deputy editor, Catholic Herald, London EC1
A financial education
Sir: I appreciated the defence of pocket money by Laurie Graham (11 January). The issuing of a regular and modest amount of cash can give a child an understanding of money and help start the habit of saving. This, however, should be only the start of a financial education. Teenagers should gain an understanding of debt, compounding and investment diversification to better prepare them for making their way in the world. Sadly, even few adults understand these things and many believe that financial literacy is only relevant to the rich. Having a basic understanding of finance is critical in life and is relevant to all. It should be compulsorily taught in schools.
Ladies of the orchestra
Sir: Richard Bratby’s piece about the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra indicates that its women instrumentalists — who in 1944 made up a quarter of the orchestra (Arts, 21 December) — were well ahead of their sisters in London during the wartime years. Shortly after the war, the Philharmonia Orchestra set about making a recording of Vaughan Williams’s sixth symphony, and invited the composer along to attend. VW was pleased with the result, especially as the last movement is particularly difficult to bring off. He got up to make a speech of thanks, and began: ‘Gentlemen of the orchestra, and when I say Gentlemen, I include the lady harpist…’
Nuns at Ryde
Sir: Dea Birkett has yet to discover Ryde’s finest attraction: the thriving community of enclosed Benedictine nuns at St Cecilia’s Abbey, a short walk from the ferry (Notes on the Isle of Wight, 11 January). Seven times a day they welcome visitors to the monastic offices sung in traditional Gregorian chant. Their voices will raise your soul to heaven.
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