TOM UTLEY: I cried with joy at the safe arrival of my new grandchild. But now I’m agonising about the world he/she/they will have to grow up in
Today we’re off to Somerset for our first meeting in the flesh with our fourth grandchild, who was born on Monday. He’s a boy, if you’re interested.
At least, that’s what the biological evidence unmistakeably tells me — although Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, if he believes his own bonkers pronouncement this week, would presumably say that he/she/they could ‘quite clearly’ be a girl!
Now, I’d always considered myself to be the least sentimental of men, ‘about as sensitive as a bog seat’, as an old university friend once described me.
It’s true that I felt a mighty surge of emotion when each of our own four sons was born — and again when our first, second and third grandchildren came along. But I thought that by the time our fourth arrived, I might have grown a little blasé about this grandparental lark. Been there, done that.
But not a bit of it. All those feelings swept over me again, just as they did when the others were born — my eyes pricking and misting up in the wave of joy and relief that mother and baby are healthy and happy; my firm conviction that this latest grandchild is the most beautiful and gifted newborn in God’s creation; and a welling up of unconditional love for a being I’ve yet to meet, except through the miracle of a video call.
It’s true that I felt a mighty surge of emotion when each of our own four sons was born — and again when our first, second and third grandchildren came along. But I thought that by the time our fourth arrived, I might have grown a little blasé about this grandparental lark but not a bit
To my chagrin, I’ve been showing photographs of the baby to hard-bitten colleagues in the office, who feel they have to say something suitable (‘Yes, Tom, very nice’) — although I know perfectly well that very few in my cynical trade, or any other, have the slightest interest in pictures of anyone’s babies apart from their own.
I’m as bad as the host who forces his guests to sit through a display of his holiday snaps. (‘And this is Ethel, reading by the pool at the Hotel Excelsior . . . and here she is, sitting under a palm tree on the loveliest beach you’ve ever seen . . . and here’s a picture of the delicious mussels we had as a starter on our first night . . . oh, and this is the grey Ford Focus we hired at the airport . . .’)
You must forgive a short digression, but while I’m on the subject of photographs, I must pass on a hot tip to all new parents — and grandparents, too.
When each new baby arrives, we tend to believe that his or her features will be carved into our hearts and memories for all time. But in my experience, that’s not necessarily so.
Indeed, when the first pictures of our latest grandson came through, shortly after his birth, my wife dug out our old photographs of our four sons, to support her theory that he had a strong look of his father, George, at the same age.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I see what you mean. He looks just like George!’
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, if he believes his own bonkers pronouncement this week, would presumably say that he/she/they could ‘quite clearly’ be a girl
‘That’s not George, you idiot,’ said Mrs U. ‘That’s Johnny!’ (Mothers, on the whole, seem to be much better than fathers at recognising their offspring from old pictures. But then they do say that most babies are indistinguishable from each other, looking either like Sir Winston Churchill or Louis Armstrong.)
The moral is that no matter how sure you are that you’ll never forget what your beloved children and grandchildren looked like when they came into the world, you should be careful to add a caption to every photograph, just to be certain that you will always know which is which.
But where was I? Ah, yes. The sheer, unsurpassable joy of welcoming a new addition to the family — the institution that has proved throughout history to be the firmest bedrock of a free and happy society, as well as the most effective welfare system known to man — bound together as it is, when it works, by bonds of instinctive love.
Amid the joy, however, there’s always that niggling anxiety about what sort of world each precious new life may be entering. Never have I felt this more strongly than now.
True, it’s always inadvisable to pretend we can see into the future — unless we don’t mind looking like complete fools when the future turns into the present. Look at the IMF’s past predictions of the UK’s economic performance, and compare them with the (generally far healthier) reality.
The moral is that no matter how sure you are that you’ll never forget what your beloved children and grandchildren looked like when they came into the world, you should be careful to add a caption to every photograph, just to be certain that you will always know which is which
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Or ask any TV weather girl, who has told us that it will pour with rain next Wednesday, only for us to find ourselves baking in blazing sunshine when the day comes round.
Come to think of it, it was no more than a few decades ago — well within my lifetime, anyway — when experts en masse were warning that the planet was heading for a new ice age. For all I know, since I’m no climatologist, they may have been right — although it’s surely fair to say that in more recent years, majority scientific opinion has swung the other way.
But despite the efforts of a handful of Just Stop Oil cultists to spoil visitors’ enjoyment of the Chelsea Flower Show, I don’t lose much sleep fretting that my grandchildren will be burnt to a frazzle by global warming.
It’s far more likely, I reckon, that scientists will come up with new and efficient ways to regulate the climate, which won’t involve destroying the global economy and thereby consigning most of humanity to misery, poverty and starvation.
But other recent developments fill me with foreboding. Heaven knows, for example, it’s been tough enough for my sons to find somewhere affordable to live — and even the three with properly paid jobs can only dream of buying, being doomed instead to spend vast chunks of their income on extortionate rents.
What will it be like for their children, if politicians continue to throw open our borders, while making nothing like adequate provision for housing those who live here already? And don’t get me started on what is beginning to look like the relentless decline of other services, public and private, from the NHS and the railways to the criminal justice system, water companies and Royal Mail.
Then what about my grandchildren’s employment prospects, in this age of Artificial Intelligence? After all, AI pioneers claim it will soon take over any number of jobs, from all sorts of manual trades to teaching, musical composition, painting, medicine and — horror of horrors! — my own ancestral trade of journalism.
I suppose it’s possible that human ingenuity will come up with new ways to keep our species busy, as it has always managed in the past. But I’m damned if I can see what these will be.
Meanwhile, how will my sons’ children ever be able to trust a commercial transaction, when the possibility exists that they may be dealing with a hugely sophisticated computer, controlled by a cruel fraudster?
I worry, too, about the malign influence of social media on the wellbeing of today’s young, and the sewer of filth and vitriol through which so many wade every day. If things go on as they are, without any effective regulation, how much worse will it be for our grandchildren by the time they reach their teens?
And what is to become of free speech, free thought — and freedom itself — if the apparently relentless march of wokery continues unchecked?
Already great swathes of our national life — from the BBC to much of higher education and almost the entire quangocracy — have fallen into the grip of cancellers, de-platforming fanatics and obsessive believers in identity politics. Will the freedom to disagree with the Establishment ever get a look-in again?
Ah, but I mustn’t be gloomy, least of all at this joyful time for my family. So bring on our meeting with our new grandson today!
Just one parting thought: is it too much to hope that would-be prime ministers (I’m thinking of you, Sir Keir, and you, Sir Ed) will one day learn how to tell the difference between boys and girls?
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