Troubled families etc

Learning to Count - December 1961

Learning to Count – December 1961 (Photo credit: frontdrive34)

HOW often do you get to tut-tut at the irresponsible antics of a wealthy, privately-educated, goody-two-shoes conservative? Almost never. Those people inherit from their ancestors a generations-old presumption of blamelessness, and they do all their misbehaving behind closed doors, where the plebs can’t see them.

So why, then, didn’t people make more of the fact that British prime minister David Cameron left one of his three children behind in a pub? It appears the Cameron family were lunching with friends in the Plough Inn near Chequers. David and Samantha left in separate cars, each assuming their eldest daughter, Nancy, was with the other.

Obviously they neglected to do a head count. Or maybe they counted as far as two and then got suddenly, inexplicably tired and had to stop counting. Or maybe they need George Osborne with them if they’re counting as far as three.

What a rare opportunity for schadenfreude, especially as the news emerged in the very same week that Cameron’s government launched its so-called ‘troubled families programme’, which targets 120,000 impoverished families in Britain and aims to “/turn them around/” (italics mine, just to emphasis the creepiness) by the end of the Tories’ term in office.

Tut tut, I say. Isn’t it a bit rich, the prime minister pointing the finger at bad parents, while losing his own children willy-nilly in bars? Because as everyone knows, if a ‘troubled family’ left their daughter behind in a pub, social services would be called. And should he really be taking his children to bars in the first place? Tut tut tut.

But it didn’t happen. Instead of raining censure on Cameron, parents privately blushed on his behalf, remembering the times when they have done something similar.

Almost no one, it seems, hasn’t parked a pram outside a supermarket and wandered off home without it. Practically everyone has at some point clean forgotten they’ve just given birth, and simply left their new-born at home and gone to Bermuda on holidays. I know one couple who actually moved house and left their young son in the old place. He has been using the incident for leverage against them ever since.

Personally, I never got left anywhere as a child, by dint of having a mother who is famous for always keeping her considerable wits about her. But no one can ever forget the childhood horror of being briefly, accidentally separated from their parents.

One of the worst aspects of life as a small child is the unappealing vantage point your height affords. Everyone adult arse is just about at eye level. Left suddenly, frighteningly alone in a department store or railway station, for instance, you’re surrounded by nothing less than a forest of arses. You just can’t see your way out, and because of the unbearable proximity of all those pungent buttocks, you don’t want to push your way out either.

However, Nancy Cameron allegedly did not panic; it was reported that she was found “helping the staff” in the Plough Inn when her mother returned to collect her. I don’t know which is worse, the thought that that is a lie or the thought that it might be true.

Clearly the story might have been more damning for the Camerons, depending on their daughter’s circumstances when found. She might have been capering about the snug with a meat cleaver, throwing back Captain Morgan by the neck, and vandalising the fruit machines in an anti-social fashion. Or – and this would really be the most typical behaviour in an eight-year-old girl who’s been forgotten by her parents – she might have been sobbing uncontrollably in the pub toilets, making Mum and Dad look really bad.

So it would make sense for the Camerons to spin it a little. But the idea that it’s true – that Nancy was really helping the staff – beggars belief. What kind of help can she possibly have been supplying? Juggling tequila bottles in the manner of Tom Cruise in ‘Cocktail’? Demonstrating the two-part pour? Refreshing the nut bowls? Humouring drunks?

And what kind of abandoned eight-year-old starts helping the bar staff instead of weeping into her Dandelion & Burdock? Obviously the kind of plucky, girl guidey, horse sensey, pull-yourself-togethery eight-year-old who’s a future leader of the Conservative Party. Ugh.

Had it taken any longer for her parents to collect her, Nancy would probably have found time to start volunteering in a local soup kitchen. Then, having won the confidence of the indigent men and women there, she would have been able to instruct them in the error of their ways. “You are not a victim,” she would have told them. “Your problems are the cause, not the symptom, of the failures of society. Report to your local council to be turned around.”

Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 17th June