Alice Roberts: ‘The government said a couple of years ago that it would make humanist weddings legal, but it has dragged its feet.’ Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images The government is dragging its feet on legal recognition of humanist weddings despite growing demand for such ceremonies, the television scientist Alice Roberts has said. Roberts, who is president of Humanists UK, called for the process of changing the law to be accelerated. “More and more people are turning to a humanist way of marking the milestone events of life: the birth of a child, celebrating a marriage and remembering a loved one,” she said. “The government said a couple of years ago that it would make humanist weddings legal, but it has dragged its feet.” In Scotland, where humanist celebrants have been permitted to conduct weddings since 2005, there are more humanist weddings than weddings in the Church of Scotland and the Catholic church combined, she added. “The government needs to make this happen soon.” In England and Wales, couples opting for a humanist ceremony have to undergo a separate legal wedding in a registry office. Nevertheless, Humanists UK – of which Roberts is president – recorded an almost fourfold increase in such ceremonies between 2004 and 2012, while Church of England weddings fell by 28% and Catholic weddings by 34% in the same period. Roberts is anchoring a new online course, Humanist Lives, beginning next month, in which scientists, artists, politicians and campaigners explore humanist beliefs and values. “Humanism is much more than an absence of faith. It’s a positive belief in humanity and the power of rational inquiry; a framework for how to live your own life and create a better, fairer, more inclusive society,” said Roberts. “It would be helpful if humanism was more widely recognised. We are a largely non-religious society, with a very small number of people going to church every week – well under a million regular churchgoers in the C of E, fewer than members of the RSPB [Royal Society for the Protection of Birds]. “Yet we still have an established church in a diverse multicultural society, with reserved places for Anglican bishops in the House of Lords, and the C of E extending its reach and influence into education. It would be better if religion was not tied up with the state.” Roberts, a biological anthropologist and television presenter, grew up in a deeply religious family, but gave up going to church when she was 15. In recent months, she has been criticised for sending her children to a Church of England primary school, and her mother, a retired teacher, has publicly challenged her opposition to faith schools. “Like so many parents, I had no choice about where my children went to school,” she said. Her children did not get places at non-religious schools near her home, leaving no alternative to a faith school. “We want all local schools to be inclusive, community schools.” She also wants BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day to be opened up to humanists – and to be the first to present the item. “You can have a view on ethics and morals from a non-religious rational perspective. I get so frustrated when the religious and theological view of morals and ethics is privileged over non-religious perspectives. It’s deeply anachronistic.”
‘Women are accustomed to speech designed not just to parlay information, but to make people feel more comfortable.’ Photograph: Shannon Fagan/Getty Images Every week my dad’s family would gather at an auntie’s house and argue about the best route to Ridley Road. They would drink tea and describe, with glee and not a flake of detail spared, the buses they’d each taken, and the madness of having started in the wrong place, always. Arguments about shortcuts and the benefits of the No 38 would roll around the table like pennies as whole weekends passed quite happily with absolutely nothing of worth or depth apparently being shared at all. Like a Monet, the fine art of small talk (an art that is under threat) is best viewed from a distance. “I hate small talk,” is a phrase one hears regularly today. “I have no time for it,” boast introverts, swishily. It is classed as the very worst of the talks, the Garibaldi of the talks, the Home Alone 3 , the Phoebe, the Ryanair, the Niall Horan of the talks. It is treated with a disdain usually reserved for Esther McVey by Lorraine Kelly. Small talk is commonly spoken of as shallow, as dull, a stain on the otherwise flawless shirt of our humanity. Christ, there are even apps to help you avoid it, as if small talk were a traffic accident that must be driven around. As Uber trial an option allowing customers to select “Quiet preferred” when they book a car, alerting their driver to their preference for “no small talk”, it’s time, I think, to plead its case. The art of small talk has many disciplines. There is the small talk of bus routes among a family, their performances of being different yet the same played out in journeys across their shared corner of town. There is the small talk of a first date, where questions about the weather offer opportunities for strangers to relax into a shared language, one that will reveal staircases to climb down into deeper conversation later. There is the small talk of parties, a social lubricant comparable to a large icy drink. There is the smallest talk possible in Instagram comments – the daily validations of friends with fire symbols and hearts. All is valuable, all is essential. Asking a stranger whether their mother really loved them is rude. Complimenting their shoes first is essential But despite its lowly ranking in the communication charts, it’s far from a simple skill. Pictures from Trump’s recent visit showed him strolling with members of the royal family, their faces fixed in familiar “Lovely weather” smiles, leading the BBC to ask a communications expert for small talk tips. Keep to “safe topics” she said, “then move on to asking the person something about themselves, like how they are enjoying the day. That sometimes gives you a clue about the person… and can spark a conversation subject or common interest.” I love this. It reads like an emotions poster for children with autism, and yet it is incredibly helpful for awkward-identifying adults. Print it out! Laminate it! This is the stuff of life. One benefit of the crippling gender norms we’re raised beneath is that advice like hers will seem obvious to many women, who are accustomed to speech designed not just to parlay information, but instead to make people feel more comfortable in a room. When we come to understand this, suddenly the acceptance that talk can be graded, from real to false, from important to trifling, appears quaint. Big talk, the kind that stops wars and builds bridges, is seen as valid, while small talk, that simply eases a day, is weak. Yet it’s the gentle stroking of interactions and new relationships, whether that of nervous people at a party or a doctor and their patient, that binds our social lives together. Big and small talk coexists, often in the same half hour. I’ve been thinking recently about the conversations I had with new mothers on maternity leave, all of us grey-faced and hollow, and how it would swing in seconds from the difficulty of getting a buggy on the train to postpartum sex. The rhythms of small talk were like a lullaby. But, of course, I understand why so many loudly dread it, even aside from the idea that they’re too busy for such superficial communication. I understand the feeling that in 2019 connection is rare, and important, and that small talk is seen as a threat to it, but unfortunately, bowling up to a stranger and asking whether their mother really loved them is rude. The foreplay of complimenting their shoes is essential. And I write as somebody who, interviewing celebrities in short hotel-room-sized slots, must ask about their sexual assault within four minutes of shaking hands. I write this, too, as somebody who shrivels at certain small talks, including, but not limited to, whether cream or jam goes on the scone first (answer: death) and a Netflix show that everyone agrees is “good”. But even these hell-chats have a place in creating pockets of companionship, educating ourselves about how our fellow humans communicate, and so I lean into them, and ask questions about butter. Because as we continue to cleave from each other, finding new and ever grittier cracks of division, the small shared moments of weather, buses, telly and cake play an ever larger part. Email Eva at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman
Try as she might, our reporter can’t manage early nights and mornings. Yet new research now suggests that we can reset our body clocks. Tonight’s the night, I tell myself. I’ll go to bed early. It’s 10pm and I have a mound of work to motor through the next day. If I grab half an hour in front of Netflix, I’ll still manage to wake up in time to get a head start – right? Wrong. One sitcom episode becomes, er, four – and it’s nearly 1am when I eventually stumble to bed. By the time I make it to my desk (which is in my bedroom) the next morning, it’s past 10; I’ll end up working late that evening to compensate. Clearly, I’m doomed to be a slovenly night owl for evermore. However, the latest research suggests our body clocks may be more malleable than previously thought. A study by the universities of Birmingham and Surrey and Monash University in Australia found that people going to bed in the early hours could shift their schedule forward by up to three hours in under a month. It looked at 22 young adults who were turning in at around 3am and getting up at about 10.30am. They were charged with adopting a routine that involved them sleeping and rising two to three hours earlier – along with engaging in “sleep hygiene” techniques, such as ditching caffeine and skipping weekend lie-ins. Not only did everyone taking part manage to stick to the regimen, they also found it beneficial: anxiety levels, stress and depression all dropped significantly. The prevailing thinking around whether we’re larks or night owls insists genes have a large part to play. Indeed, I always assumed my groggy breakfast-time persona could be blamed on my father, who lounges in bed like a teenager on his days off. But the Birmingham study suggests it’s not purely down to DNA. “There is a big genetic component, but there’s also flexibility – the system can respond to training,” says the study’s co-author, Andrew Bagshaw, a scientist at the university’s Centre for Human Brain Health. Neil Stanley, the author of How To Sleep Well, agrees. “We shift our timing when we go on holiday, so it’s obviously within our capabilities.” This is a soothing lullaby to my ears; I’ve grown sick of my late schedule. It’s meant I’ve spent my whole life feeling like I’m running behind. As a teenager, I struggled to get out of bed in time for the school bus. I regularly snoozed through 9am university lectures and I was frequently tardy for my former job at a culture magazine. (Which, mortifyingly, didn’t start until 10am.) When I became a freelance journalist in January, I thought I’d finally escaped the guilt-inducing shackles of the 9 to 5. Then I realised that unless I got up in time to pitch stories to editors before early-morning features meetings, I’d be penniless. Over the years I’ve tried, and failed, to change – but deep down I’ve always assumed I’m destined for a life of pub nights rather than power breakfasts. Yet Bagshaw says my ideal 11pm to 7am night is within my reach. First, I need to make a consistent effort to go to bed promptly. (No more hoping time will miraculously expand to accommodate my Netflix dependency.)Sticking to regular breakfast and lunch times and getting as much natural light as possible in the morning will also help, he says. Meanwhile, Stanley recommends making gradual changes. “Move bedtime half an hour earlier for a week or two, and then add another half an hour, and so on.” He also makes the crucial distinction between going to bed and going to sleep. “It’s lights out time, not bedtime, that you’re modifying.” But, hang on. Are larks inherently healthier? Or is it merely that early risers have an easier ride because they naturally suit standard working times? Bagshaw admits it’s probably the latter. “If you’re a late person and you’re trying to fit into the 9 to 5 you’re going to feel tired and you’re not going to get sleep at the time that’s good for you, nor the duration you need.” Comedian and writer Stevie Martin, who has written about being a night owl for the website Refinery29, says it’s the vilification of waking up late that leads to negative emotions, rather than the hours you keep. “I felt so much happier when I stopped setting goals like ‘get up before 9am every work day’ and allowed myself the freedom to start whenever my brain switched on.” So should I be rallying for systemic change rather than trying to fit my square peg of a body clock into a 9-to-5 hole? A bit of both, says Stanley. “You can modify your behaviour, but you can also modify your lifestyle. If you’re a night owl, don’t get a job as a milkman.” Additionally, advice for aspiring early risers applies only if you work conventional hours. Henna Sinha, a junior doctor at Homerton University Hospital in east London, says her shift rota, which includes regular nights, means she has scant control over her sleep pattern. “I just have to go into work when I’m asked. It’s all very well saying go to bed earlier, but that doesn’t really work if your bedtime is 7am.” Nevertheless, Bagshaw says the study’s techniques aid sleep, whatever the schedule. As flexible working becomes increasingly common, hopefully the narrative that lauds early risers for being healthy and productive, while dismissing nocturnal types as lazy creatives, will melt away. But until then, it’s heartening to know I can adapt during periods when I need to rise early. I won’t chastise myself if it’s tricky, though. As Stanley says: “You can’t remake yourself. You can cope with new routines – but it will never be what you truly are.”
‘When you confessed you were barricading yourself in your bedroom at night, we knew you couldn’t go on living alone’: the letter you always wanted to write. Last Friday was one of the most profound days of my life. You remembered you were going to try out a new living arrangement and had packed some carrier bags to be helpful. DVDs were mixed with food waste and clothes, but we sorted out what you needed. I worried about how you would react when we arrived at the home and saw people having lunch, some being fed, everyone a stranger. But you bravely took your seat at the table and tried to start a conversation about Elvis. That no one answered you breaks my heart but, like you, they were hard-of-hearing. Still, you ate lots and later told me you liked this “hospital hotel”. That day and the next, as I hung around while you settled in, I learned what love looks like from the “family members” (staff). They explained to me that you are now more a “feeling person” than a “thinking person”, and that what you need most is love. I have always felt that you are someone the universe looks after. Many years ago, you changed your life completely. Alcoholism had brought you low, left you homeless and drinking on the streets. But you found Alcoholics Anonymous, where you made many friends and got back in touch with the three daughters you had left behind. For decades, when I rang to ask how you were, you would say, “Never better” – and you meant it. Three years ago, you couldn’t make your niece’s wedding. I was filling you in on all the gossip when you got confused about who she was. I felt fear grip my heart; I knew the decline had started. You were diagnosed in 2017 with vascular dementia. What an effort it must have been, Dad, for the next two years, living alone, trying to cope. Your main concern was not to worry us, but you couldn’t keep up the charade for ever. When you confessed that you were barricading yourself in your bedroom at night because you were frightened, we knew you couldn’t go on living alone. It has been five days now and I think about you constantly. I hope you settle in. Your AA friends have set up a rota to visit or take you out to a meeting almost every day, if you are up to it. You told someone there you don’t like your new bed, so today they are taking you to your flat to collect your old one. They listen to you. The universe is still on your side. I can’t wait to see you this weekend. . We will pay £25 for every letter we publish. Email email@example.com including your address and phone number. We are able to reply only to those whose contributions we are going to use.
I hear a sound above my head, like the talons of a large eagle brushing the floorboards. Just before lunchtime on Saturday, the oldest one arrives with three of his friends in a small, fully packed car. They are off to Cornwall on holiday, and they have come to collect a stack of board games in preparation for a week that promises only rain. They’re also taking the dog. My wife had tried to dissuade them – questioning, I suppose, the ability of four male twentysomethings to keep an animal alive for a week – but I was in favour. They’re ready to set off, but I can’t find the dog’s lead, even after looking in all the usual places twice. The dog follows me anxiously as I search. “You’ll meet new people,” I say. “It’ll be fun.” What I mean, of course, is that it will be fun for me. I can’t wait to spend a week without a dog that barks whenever the doorbell rings and has a habit of leaping into my lap without warning several times a day because its need for attention has suddenly reached the status of emergency. I call my wife about the dog lead. “I lost it,” she says. “It fell off my neck while I was in the park.” “They’re about to leave,” I say. “Where are you?” “I’m stuck in traffic,” she says. “Give them a bit of string or something.” In the end they take a long, non-official Chelsea scarf to use until a new lead can be sourced. I watch them load the car with games and foodstuffs from my kitchen. The oldest one gets into the back, dog on lap, and the car executes a stately three-point turn. The rear window rolls down, and my son’s friend sticks his head out. “There’s room for one more, Tim,” he says. “No thanks,” I say. I walk back up the path and shut the door behind me. I hear nothing but a gentle ringing in my ears. The cat comes out of the sitting room, looks up at me and miaows. “Shut up,” I say. When my wife returns home I barely notice, because there is no dog to go into rapturous hysterics at her arrival. “How’s my lunch coming?” she says. “I haven’t started,” I say. “You said 1.30pm.” “No, I didn’t,” she says. The youngest one walks in, fresh from bed. “Morning,” my wife says. “Where’s the dog?” he says. “The dog is on holiday,” I say. “And so am I.” I wake up late the next morning, without a dog on my feet. My wife is already up and dressed. I go downstairs to drink coffee and watch her garden. We tend not to garden together, because the plot is divided into our separate sectors of responsibility, with many contested boundaries. I hear a noise above my head, like the talons of a large eagle brushing the floorboards. The noise moves right to left and pours down the stairs. A moment later, a small pointed head peers round the kitchen door. “Billy,” I say. Billy is a permanently embarrassed lurcher whose outlines are blurred by a nimbus of rough grey fur. He’s not our dog – he belongs to the youngest one’s friend, who evidently spent the night – but he knows his way around the house. “It’s been a while, Billy,” I say. Billy’s sad, black eyes fix me with a look that says: Oh, Christ. I’m so sorry. “Our dog isn’t here, I’m afraid,” I say. “Gone on holiday.” Billy studies the floor with an expression that seems to say: this is awkward. “It’s fine,” I say. “Can I get you some water?” I fill the dog’s bowl and set it down. Billy regards it with boundless mortification, as if thinking: really, I just couldn’t. “Don’t worry, Billy,” I say. “You’re my kind of house guest.” Billy canters to the back door, rearing his head like a mortified pony. “Outside?” I say. “No problem.” I open the door and he walks gingerly across the grass to a flowering peony. He sniffs it, and then lifts his leg. My wife looks round. “Billy!” she says. Without lowering his leg, Billy manages to turn his head all the way round to me. His eyes, peering out from his cloudy head, seem to say: this isn’t going well.
Parkinson's disease is the world's second most common neurodegenerative disorder, behind Alzheimer's disease.While it's unknown exactly why people develop the condition, according to Parkinson's UK, experts believe its a combination of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the damage of nerve cells in the brain.So what are the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and how can it be treated? Here's everything you need to know. What is Parkinson's disease?Parkinson's disease is a degenerative neurological condition.This means that over time the brain of an individual living with the disease becomes more damaged, the NHS explains.A person living with Parkinson's disease doesn't have enough of the chemical dopamine in their brain, the Parkinson's Foundation states.Dopamine is responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells in the brain.When an individual experiences a loss of nerve cells in the brain, this causes a reduction in the quantity of dopamine in the brain. What are the symptoms?The main symptoms of Parkinson's disease include involuntary shaking (otherwise known as tremors), movement that's slower than usual and stiffness in the muscles, the NHS outlines.Other symptoms may include difficulty balancing, nerve pain, incontinence, insomnia, excessive sweating, depression and anxiety.For more information about the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, visit the NHS here. How many people does it affect?Around 145,000 people in the UK are affected by Parkinson's disease, Parkinson's UK explains.This means that around one in every 350 adults is living with the degenerative condition.According to the NHS, symptoms of Parkinson's usually develop after the age of 50.However, for every one in 20 people affected by the disease, symptoms may appear when they're under the age of 40.The Parkinson's Foundation outlines that men are 1.5 more likely than women to be affected by the condition.High-profile individuals to have been diagnosed with Parkinson's include former US president George H. W. Bush, Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox and boxing legend Muhammad Ali. How can it be treated?While there is no known cure for Parkinson's disease, symptoms may be controlled through treatment.The most common form of treatment used for the condition is medication, Parkinson's UK states."Drug treatments aim to increase the level of dopamine that reaches the brain and stimulate the parts of the brain where dopamine works," the charity explains.The medication used to treat Parkinson's disease varies according to each patient.This is because as symptoms of the disorder progress, the drugs used to treat the condition may need to be changed.While drug treatment may help to manage Parkinson's symptoms, it cannot slow the progression of the disease.The NHS explains that those living with Parkinson's disease may also undergo physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and, in rare cases, brain surgery to treat the condition.For more information about Parkinson's disease, visit Parkinson's UK.
Lying on my back in a cyan sea, both ears underwater, I felt every problem I had could sink into the sand and bury itself. Not many people have heard of misophonia – which is ironic, because it has everything to do with hearing. It describes extreme reactions – in my case, mostly rage, but in the case of others it may be anxiety or disgust – to certain sounds. I don’t actually know whether I have misophonia. It seems low on the list of conditions I have to worry about, or potentially worry about, but there is no doubt I get disproportionately irritated by certain sounds, all of them human-made. The issue is that while some sounds are inconsiderate (leaking music from headphones, for instance, which I think most people can’t stand), others are socially acceptable. Kids constantly shrieking are just expressing themselves; someone can’t help if it if they need to clear their throat repeatedly. The man nonstop clicking his lighter during a bus ride wasn’t harming anyone, but I had to politely and apologetically ask him if he would mind stopping, because otherwise I wasn’t sure I would end the journey with my nerves intact. I have a two-stage strategy with continuous whisperers in the cinema: a dagger stare, then going over and asking them to shut up. It will come as no surprise, then, that I find absolute silence almost a divine state. Lying on my back in a cyan sea recently, both ears underwater, staring up into a sky uninterrupted by clouds, I felt as though every problem I had could sink into the sand and bury itself. It was almost total silence: the world on mute; the chatter of Twitter buttoned as it leaves opinionated mouths. I don’t hate all noise. In fact, I have written a column in this magazine about the various sounds of sport, most of which I adore: the swish of nets; the squeak of trainers on courts. I hate whispering in the cinema, but I love it on the ASMR playlists I listen to. I enjoy the clack of a keyboard. But being awake during the night, when sound sometimes stops like a needle being lifted from a record player, is stunning. A physicist will say there is no such thing as “absolute” silence. The lowest sound level in the natural world is that of particles moving through gas or liquid, known as Brownian motion. But tech companies have tried to top this, creating sound-sealed rooms known as anechoic chambers. Apparently, spending 45 minutes or so in one will make you go a bit mad – it is that quiet. I would still like to know if there are any in the UK that will let me visit.
It’s a girl (posed by models). Photograph: Milorad Kravic/Getty Images/iStockphoto There are gender-reveal parties, and then there is what just happened in Florida. A video has gone viral of a US couple using an alligator to announce to the world that their next baby – the 10th between them – would be a girl. The father tied a balloon to a stick, bopped the alligator on the head until it lashed out and bit the balloon, some pink dust flew out, and that was that. Incredibly, this is not a world first. Such a stunt is a high-risk strategy; partly because the father looked positively disappointed by the result and partly because the response has been downright hostile. Lots of people hate gender-reveal parties, and for obvious reasons. They are attention-seeking and narcissistic. They seem to imply that one result will be more desirable than the other. They are the subject of mercilessly regimented how-to guides. They are unnecessary. They are binary. And, in this instance, they seem to lack awareness of the consequences of blasting an alligator full in the face with chalk dust. Despite all that, I don’t mind them. Not that I would ever stage a gender-reveal party for myself. Of course I wouldn’t. I hate any sort of party: I even tried to talk my wife out of having a wedding reception. But a gender-reveal party seems solipsistic, because the only acceptable reaction to learning whether your baby will be a girl or a boy is to say, “OK, good” and then move on. It shouldn’t matter, so imagine how little it will matter to all the people who have to trudge to your house to watch you fire a confetti cannon. They can be irresponsible, too, such as the gender-reveal party in Arizona last year that started a 47,000-acre wildfire. Or the one that accidentally shot lit fireworks into a screaming crowd. And let’s not forget the screaming fight in an Ohio restaurant when attendees refused to clean up their glitter. However, I do see how a gender-reveal party can serve a function. There are the reveals – as with the alligator one – where pink comes out and the father looks aggrieved at being denied a son. The purpose there, obviously, is to remind the mother to pack her things and run away as fast as she can. But my favourites are the gender reveals that involve older siblings. Because those are useful. The arrival of a second baby is always an almighty disruption for the firstborn child and, especially if they are young, it can be hard to prepare them. If getting them to pop a coloured balloon will help to make them excited about their new brother or sister, if it makes them feel as if they are more involved, that can only be a good thing. So, if you are having a gender-reveal party – especially if it is on behalf of your existing children – then good for you. I am all for them. Just don’t make me have one. And never invite me to yours. Especially if there are alligators around.
A pregnant woman's "safety bubble" enlarges during her third trimester, a new study has discovered.Scientists from Anglia Ruskin University and the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Addenbrooke's Hospital carried out an investigation to determine how a mother's sense of peripersonal space alters during pregnancy.An individual's peripersonal space is the area of space immediately around their body, and is widely regarded as measuring at approximately an arm's length away.For the study, which was published in journal Scientific Reports, the researchers assessed 85 pregnant women aged between 21 and 43 by having them take part in an audio-tactile reaction time task 20 weeks into their pregnancies, at 34 weeks and eight weeks after giving birth.The audio-tactile test involved the participants experiencing tapping sensations on their abdomens while being exposed to noise from loudspeakers.The team also assessed a control group of women who were not pregnant.The team assessed 37 pregnant women and 19 control women during the first testing session; 28 pregnant women and 17 control women during the second testing session; and 20 pregnant women and 15 control women during the third testing session.According to the study's findings, a pregnant woman's sense of personal space increases during the third trimester of pregnancy.The researchers state that this "may represent a mechanism to protect the vulnerable abdomen from injury from surrounding objects".Dr Flavia Cardini, senior lecturer in psychology at Anglia Ruskin University and lead author of the study, says that the expanded peripersonal space is "the brain's way of ensuring danger is kept at arm's length"."Pregnancy involves massive and rapid changes to the body both externally, as the body suddenly changes shape, and internally, while the foetus is growing," adds Dr Cardini.Dr Cardini states that the results of the study indicate that when the body goes through "significantly large changes" during pregnancy, the "maternal brain" also makes changes to the immediate area around the body.The researchers found that during the second trimester of pregnancy and eight weeks following childbirth, the women did not exhibit any change to their sense of personal space.Earlier this year, it was reported that exercising during pregnancy can help to protect children from obesity later in life.While previous studies had shown that exercise by obese women during pregnancy can prove beneficial for their children, this study demonstrated that the same can be said for women who aren't obese.“Based on our findings, we recommend that women - whether or not they are obese or have diabetes - exercise regularly during pregnancy because it benefits their children’s metabolic health," said Jun Seok Son, a doctoral student at Washington State University who carried out the study.
The UK is one of the least family-friendly countries in the developed world, a new study finds.Researchers for Unicef analysed the policies on child care and parental leave of the 41 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).The findings showed that the UK ranked in the bottom 10 of the worst countries for maternity leave, at 34th in the table, offering just six weeks' parental leave at 90 per cent of pay and 33 weeks at a lower rate. The data suggests the latter is equivalent to 12 weeks of full pay, and brings the UK behind offers from the likes of France, Germany and Sweden.Meanwhile, Estonia was found to be the most generous of the countries listed, offering women 85 weeks’ maternity leave at full pay after having a baby, followed by Hungary (72 weeks) and Bulgaria (61 weeks).Among the countries that have a paid leave policy for mothers, New Zealand and Australia were found to offer the least at just eight weeks of leave at full pay. The US offers no time, ranking it the worst for maternity leave.When it comes to paternity leave, the UK ranked 28th in the list, offering fathers two weeks' statutory paternity leave at £148.68 per week.However, the Department of Business last year said that the take-up by eligible fathers “could be as low as two per cent”, with financial issues cited as the primary reasons.Japan is the only country listed in the table that offers at least six months at full pay for fathers. However, Unicef found that only one in 20 fathers in the country took paid leave in 2017.Similarly, South Korea has the second longest period of paid paternity leave available, but fathers were found to make up just one in six of all parents who take parental leave.The researchers behind Unicef’s report say that paid paternity leave helps fathers bond with their babies, contributes to healthy infant and child development, lowers maternal depression and increases gender equality. As a result, the organisation is calling for national policies ensuring paid paternity leave and encouraging fathers to use it.Liam Sollis, head of policy and advocacy at Unicef UK, says: “Evidence shows that a child’s brain develops the fastest in its early years, and that during this period parents and caregivers have a vital role in providing nurturing interactions, good nutrition and sensory and motor stimulation.”Parental leave legislation in the UK entitles parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay during the first year after the child is born or, in the case of adoption, placed with the family.The UK’s Shared Parental Leave (SPL) can be used in blocks “separated by periods of work, or take[n] all in one go”, the Government states. Parents can also choose to take time off work together or to stagger the leave and pay.However, only 1 per cent of new parents used shared parental leave last year, according to research from the Trades Union Congress, prompting calls for an overhaul of the system.Just 9,200 new parents took up shared leave in 2018 out of more than 900,000 who were eligible, the study found.“UK working parents and caregivers still face major challenges balancing work and their caregiving responsibilities,” adds Sollis.“While the UK government is taking steps to review and raise awareness of family friendly policies, take-up of shared parental leave, particularly amongst fathers, remains unacceptably low, and governments and businesses need to do more to tackle the financial, cultural and administrative obstacles that many families face.”According to data from 29 countries listed in the report, parents of young children in the UK were the most likely to cite cost as the reason why they do not use formal nursery childcare.However, in Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden, finances were an issue for less than one in 100 parents who said that they had an unmet need for childcare services.According to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, published by the World Economic Forum in October, it will take an estimated 202 years for economic equality between men and women to be achieved.
Father's Day – the international celebration of fathers, paternal guardians and other familial role models – is just around the corner.Numerous people across the country will be spending Father's Day with their families and loved ones, going out for meals and exchanging gifts and cards to mark the occasion.From the date to the best gift deals around, here's everything you need to know about Father's Day: When is it?This year, Father's Day falls on Sunday 16 June in the UK.It always takes place on the third Sunday of June, as it also does in several countries including Uganda, Turkey, Bangladesh and Mexico.Father's Day is commemorated on various different dates in nations across the globe, such as in Switzerland, where it always takes place on the first Sunday in June.During the Middle Ages, an annual celebration of fatherhood was observed on 19 March in Catholic Europe, on the same date as the feast day of Saint Joseph.The modern iteration of Father's Day as we know it today began being celebrated in the US in the early 20th century.It began being commemorated as a result of the success of Mother's Day, which stemmed from the religious observance of Mothering Sunday.The first observance of a "Father's Day" was held on 5 July 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia. How is it celebrated?Father's Day is widely regarded as a secular celebration, an occasion on which fathers and guardians are celebrated by their families and loved ones.In the Roman Catholic tradition, fathers are honoured on Saint Joseph's Day, on 19 March.It's custom on Father's Day to present your father or male guardian with a card and a gift as a token of your appreciation.Some also spend their Sundays going out for meals with their fathers or going on days out with them.Last year, stationery company Paperchase was praised for creating a line of Father's Day cards for single mothers. Here are some of the best deals around for Father's Day Enjoy some laughsWhy not treat your dad by taking him to a comedy night this Father's Day?This deal will give you your pick from a wide range of comedy nights taking place in the UK, during which you can expect up to three comedians to deliver hilarious entertainment.You'll also be given access to an after-show party at selected locations.Comedy night for two: £25, virginexperiencedays.co.uk. Suave scent> View this post on Instagram> > Whether he's 1 in a million, super strong or a complete champion. No matter what type of Dad he is, we've got something for everyone this Father's Day. Shop the link in bio. . . . . fathersday pacorabanne armani perfume fragrance scent aftershave fathersdaygifting> > A post shared by The Perfume Shop (@theperfumeshop) on Jun 9, 2019 at 2:00am PDTThe Perfume Shop is offering plenty of deals on selected perfumes in the lead-up to Father's Day.The Hugo Boss eau de toilette "Boss Bottled United" is currently reduced from £87 to £42.99, while Ralph Lauren's "Polo Red" is reduced from £64 to £39.99.For more information, visit the perfumeshop.com. The ultimate pamper kitLookfantastic is currently offering a limited edition collection of cosmetic products at a heavily discounted price especially for Father's Day.Worth £136, this gift bundle includes a Molton Brown Tobacco Absolute Bath and Shower Gel, Refinery Eye Gel, an Elemis TFM Deep Cleanse Facial Wash and more.Limited Edition Father's Day collection: £49, lookfantastic.com. Capture the momentCamera Jungle is currently offering a 15 per cent discount across the site for Father's Day.Using the discount FATHER15 at checkout, you can bag bargains on a range of photographic equipment.For more information, visit camerajungle.co.uk. Fancy a tipple?> View this post on Instagram> > A post shared by HonestBrew (@honestbrew) on May 16, 2019 at 9:00am PDTIn honour of Father's Day, Honest Brew is offering beer bundles at massively discounted prices.A nine-beer bundle, worth £50, now costs £29.90 and includes the nine beers in addition to a £10 voucher, a beer glass and a pair of socks.Meanwhile, a six-beer bundle has been reduced from £42.90 to £24.90.For more information, visit honestbrew.co.uk Unleash your inner superhero> View this post on Instagram> > A post shared by CAPOWCosplay (@capowcosplay) on Mar 3, 2019 at 2:46pm PSTThis photo shoot experience is the ultimate gift for any father who shares a proclivity for superheroes with their children.Reduced from £185 down to £25, Capow Portraits if offering fathers and their children the chance to dress up as their favourite superhero, take part in a photo shoot against realistic movie backgrounds and take home a 12" x 8" print.Father and child Superhero Photo Shoot by Capow Portraits: £25, virginexperiencedays.co.uk. Go for a driveIf your father fancies himself a bit of a petrolhead, then he's going to love taking a supercar for a spin.With this experience, reduced from £99 to £59, your father will given the choice to test drive elite cars including Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and more.The experience lasts for approximately two hours, which includes an introduction and safety briefing.Double Supercar Driving Blast with High Speed Passenger Ride: £59, redletterdays.co.uk. Take your father to new heights> View this post on Instagram> > A post shared by The View from The Shard (@shardview) on May 10, 2019 at 2:58am PDTHow do you like the idea of a three-course meal at an Italian restaurant before taking in the views of the capital?For £89, reduced from £118.90, you can treat your father to a three-course dinner at Marco Pierre White, a short walk away from The Shard, before ascending London's famous glass skyscraper.Your meal will also include a glass of prosecco each.For more information, visit buyagift.co.uk.For more Father's Day present inspiration, visit our IndyBest gift guide here.
Piers Morgan has described criticism of a GCSE calorie question as “bonkers” after several Twitter users say it could be triggering for pupils with eating disorders.The question appeared in Edexcel’s calculator paper, which was sat by candidates on Thursday 6 June, the Times Educational Supplement reports.The question asked about how many calories a woman had consumed for breakfast, prompting several Twitter users to argue that it might affect people who have struggled with an eating disorder.The question on the paper read: “There are 84 calories in 100g of banana. There are 87 calories in 100g of yogurt. Priti has 60g of banana and 150g of yogurt for breakfast. Work out the total number of calories in this breakfast”.During a segment on Good Morning Britain on Wednesday, the presenter quoted Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, who tweeted him to explain why the question may affect certain individuals.“Taking exams whilst suffering an eating disorder is tough enough without having @piersmorgan suggest you shouldn’t be taking exams if question on calorie counting triggers issues – total lack of compassion and understanding of serious mental health condition edexcelmaths,” Nokes tweeted the presenter.> Taking exams whilst suffering an eating disorder is tough enough without having @piersmorgan suggest you shouldn’t be taking exams if question on calorie counting triggers issues - total lack of compassion and understanding of serious mental health condition edexcelmaths> > — Caroline Nokes (@carolinenokes) > > June 12, 2019The broadcaster questioned Nokes’ argument, adding: “This country is going completely bonkers.”He continued, saying: “We don’t rewrite the entire maths paper which has a perfectly reasonable question because somebody may have a trigger moment.”The debate has prompted mixed reactions on Twitter with several agreeing with the 54-year-old's argument.Replying to Nokes' comment on social media, Morgan wrote: "Oh please. It’s utter snowflake nonsense. Have you even read the question?"One Twitter user commented on the star's post: “This is utter madness, there will always be someone who is offended by something....but a maths question shouldn’t be one of them!”“Totally agree with you Piers! It’s getting ridiculous! We are getting to the point of not daring to speak to anyone about anything for fear of upsetting them over something!!” commented another.> This is utter madness,there will always be someone who is offended by something....but a maths question shouldn’t be one of them! 🤯> > — Emma Shirley (@EmmaShi55557936) > > June 12, 2019> Oh please. It’s utter snowflake nonsense. Have you even read the question? https://t.co/amkBQ6AYH0> > — Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) > > June 12, 2019> Totally agree with you Piers! It’s getting ridiculous! We are getting to the point of not daring to speak to anyone about anything for fear of upsetting them over something!! 😡> > — Julia Hanson (@Lincjules5555) > > June 12, 2019However, others have pointed out how affecting the question may be to certain individuals who have been affected by eating disorders.One user commented added: “Being in recovery of an eating disorder is one of the most difficult and frustrating things ever and a question like this can easily trigger someone years after they have had it so pls go and f**king educate urself thanks [sic].”Another added: “As somebody who was hospitalised for anorexia in my final GSCE year this question would have been really difficult for me. Piers Morgan can f**k off, his ignorance is showing through again.[sic]”One user tweeted: “Okay, yes it’s just a maths question and as someone with anorexia I’ve had to get used to working out the numbers and ignoring the context, but the reality is that everyone is at different points in their journey and the topic is easily avoided so why risk triggering relapse?”> Being in recovery of an eating disorder is one of the most difficult and frustrating things ever and a question like this can easily trigger someone years after they have had it so pls go and fucking educate urself thanks> > — swaiba (@swaibaf) > > June 12, 2019> As somebody who was hospitalised for anorexia in my final GSCE year this question would have been really difficult for me. Piers Morgan can fuck off, his ignorance is showing through again: https://t.co/no4U3E1tMR> > — Rachel (@OpenMindMH) > > June 12, 2019> Okay, yes it’s just a maths question and as someone with anorexia I’ve had to get used to working out the numbers and ignoring the context, but the reality is that everyone is at different points in their journey and the topic is easily avoided so why risk triggering relapse?> > — Lily Wilson (@LilyWilson_xx) > > June 12, 2019On Tuesday, a spokesperson from Pearson – which owns the exam board EdExcel – responded to the backlash on Twitter and said the company has reviewed the question and believes it to be “valid”.> pic.twitter.com/QCflgsZu3Z> > — Pearson Edexcel (@PearsonEdexcel) > > June 11, 2019However, they invited students to complain if they felt “triggered” by the question.“We encourage any student who thinks that this question may have impacted their performance to get in contact with us via their school,” a segment of the Tweet reads.Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at eating disorder charity BEAT says referencing to counting calories can be triggering for people with or in recovery from an eating disorder and can therefore cause significant distress.“We would urge greater awareness of how such references can affect people with or vulnerable to eating disorders, and given that young people are most at risk of these serious mental illnesses, we would encourage exam boards to avoid such material in their exams,” Quinn told The Independent.According to the organisation, approximately 1.25 million people in the UK are estimated to have an eating disorder. Around 25 per cent of those affected by an eating disorder are male.If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support:mind.org.ukbeateatingdisorders.org.uknhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealthmentalhealth.org.uksamaritans.org
Tina Knowles-Lawson has spoken about what it was like raising her daughters Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, revealing a special tradition she practised throughout their childhoods.Over the weekend, Knowles-Lawson attended Summit21, a two-day conference in Atlanta which celebrates black girls and women.The businesswoman and fashion designer was invited to speak at the conference, during which she opened up about how she managed time spent with her two daughters during their younger years."One thing I'm really happy I did was I gave each of my kids a day," Knowles-Lawson said."As Solange got older, I would spend Wednesdays with her and help with homework and do those types of things and just devote that day to her, and then one day to Bey."Knowles-Lawson explained that doing this made Beyoncé and Solange feel as though they were receiving adequate attention, a tricky feat to achieve with children."You know because kids, no matter how much you give them love and attention, it's never enough," the 65-year-old added."I mean I'm sure, everybody who has kids knows, you can take them to [now-closed theme park] AstroWorld, to eat, and they'll still say, 'Well what else are we going to do?'"Knowles-Lawson is known to have a close relationship with her daughters.In January, she revealed while speaking on Maria Shriver's Meaningful Conversations podcast that she, Beyoncé, Solange, her niece Angie Beyincé and former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland are all on a group text."It's like I have four girls," Knowles-Lawson said. "And it's so funny because we are always on group chats."Earlier this month, the fashion designer hosted the 2019 Wearable Art Gala in Santa Monica, California with her husband, Richard Lawson.The theme of the event was "A Journey to the Pride Lands", taking inspiration from Jon Favreau's soon-to-be-released remake of The Lion King.Beyoncé attended the event in a gold ensemble which paid homage to the character she plays in the film, Nala.The outfit featured an embellished bodysuit, cape, fringed heels and a lion face, with feathers protruding from the lion's face to emulate a mane.
John Legend has called out the double standards mothers and fathers face when raising their children, opening up about the castigation Chrissy Teigen faced following the birth of their first child.In April 2016, Legend and Teigen’s daughter, Luna, was born. Just over a week later, the celebrity couple went on their first date night as parents.“People were shaming Chrissy for leaving the house, and didn’t say anything bad to me,” Legend tells Romper with regards to the evening.“Look, we’re both parents and we’re both going out. If you think that’s not appropriate – and first of all, you shouldn’t think that’s not appropriate – if you’re going to blame somebody, blame both of us, not just the mother.”Legend has witnessed Teigen being shamed for her parenting methods on several occasions over the years, such as when the model engaged in public discussions about undergoing IVF and when Internet trolls questioned why her son, Miles, wore a head-shaping helmet.“I think it’s just a lot of these cultural traditions that have been too limiting and not inclusive enough over the years,” the singer states, adding that he hopes societal norms have started to “shed”.Legend outlines how those who criticise mothers for their parenting methods while praising fathers for doing the bare minimum have “lowered the bar”.“All the times when we’ve lowered the bar and have said dad is babysitting when he’s taking care of his own kids – no he’s not, he’s just parenting,” the La La Land star says.The 40-year-old explains that these “gender norms”, where the mother is expected to take sole care of the children while the father works, are “baked into how people are having these conversations”. “I just wish people would think more about that and what that means,” Legend adds.Another aspect of parenting that Legend has taken heed of is the assumption that fathers won’t change their babies’ nappies.According to recent research conducted by Pampers, nine out of 10 fathers have gone into a men’s public bathroom that doesn’t have a baby changing table.“It’s kind of assumed dads won’t change diapers, so facilities are built in a way that bakes that assumption in,” Legend says.“And [that] then perpetuates the fact that dads won’t change diapers because they don’t even have a place to do it.”In order to combat the lack of baby changing areas in men’s public bathrooms, Legend has partnered with Pampers and Florida father Donte Palmer to launch a new campaign, which promises to provide 5,000 baby changing tables in public bathrooms across North America by 2021.In 2018, a photograph of Palmer changing his son’s nappy while crouching in a men’s public bathroom went viral, highlighting the need for the addition of baby changing tables in men’s bathrooms.Legend stresses the importance of acknowledging the “active role dads are playing their babies’ lives”, stating that he believes the campaign will pave the way for “more inclusive parenting”.
The use of strobe lighting at electronic dance festivals may more than triple the risk of epileptic seizures for susceptible individuals, researchers have warned.It’s long-been known that exposure to flashing lights can trigger seizures among a minority of individuals with epilepsy, a condition known as photosensitive epilepsy.However, the risks associated between those who attend electronic dance music festivals where strobe lighting is used and those more likely to experience epileptic seizures are not widely known.According to a new study published in the journal BMJ Open, the increased risk of seizures caused by strobe lighting at dance music festivals may affect people who are unaware that they have epilepsy.Experts from medical centres in the Netherlands conducted a study assessing 400,343 people who attended 28 daytime and night-time electronic dance music festivals across the country throughout 2015.The data was originally collated by Event Medical Services, a company which provides medical services to almost all dance music festivals in the Netherlands.Of those assessed, 241,543 people attended night-time festivals where strobe lighting was used, and 158,800 attended daytime festivals where strobe lighting was used.The strobe lighting at the daytime festivals was reported as being less intense, due to the sunlight.Overall, there were 2,776 incidents where festivalgoers required medical assistance at the 28 festivals, 39 of which were due to epileptic seizures.There were 30 reported cases of epileptic fits during the night-time festivals, and nine during the daytime festivals.While the researchers say that their study is observational, they write that they believe their finding that risk of a seizure is more than three times more likely at a night-time festival where strobe lighting is more intense is “externally valid”.They add that other factors – such as if the festivalgoers had taken ecstasy, were sleep deprived or using other forms of medication – may have also increased their likelihood of suffering epileptic seizures.“Regardless of whether stroboscopic light effects are solely responsible or whether sleep deprivation and/or substance abuse also play a role, the appropriate interpretation is that large [electronic dance music] festivals, especially during night-time, probably cause at least a number of people per event to suffer epileptic seizures,” the researchers state.“Given the large dataset, we believe our findings are externally valid, at least for other [electronic dance music] festivals in other countries which generally attract a similar audience.”The researchers add that organisers of electronic dance music festivals do not provide adequate warnings about the associated risk between strobe lighting and epileptic seizures.“Concert organisers and audience should warn against the risk of seizures and promote precautionary measures in susceptible individuals,” they conclude.The researchers of the study were prompted to carry out their investigation following an incident when a 20-year-old man with no history of epilepsy suddenly collapsed and experience a fit at an electronic dance festival.The festivalgoer was reported as having had an “’aura-like’ experience”, and denied consuming any alcohol, drugs or medication.“When asked about pre-seizure symptoms, he remembered an urge to turn his eyes away from the strong stroboscopic light effects coming from the stage in front of him, because they elicited what he referred to as discomforting sensations,” the researchers write.Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in the world, affecting approximately 50 million people worldwide.Those living with the life-long condition may be prone to experiencing frequent, unpredictable seizures, which occur when sudden bursts of electrical activity happen in the brain.Epilepsy affects one in 100 people in the UK, Epilepsy Action states.According to the Epilepsy Society, one in 20 people are likely to experience a one-off epileptic seizure at some point in their lifetime.However, this does not necessarily mean that they have epilepsy.For information about what you can do if you witness someone having an epileptic seizure, visit Epilepsy Action’s website here.
A Stradivarius, played by Tamsin Waley-Cohen. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images Many of the most famous violinists seem to play Stradivarius violins. How many of these instruments are there still being played, and how involved was Stradivarius personally in their production – or did they come out of a workshop under his name? Pauline Gaunt Post your answers – and new questions – below or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
The actor can’t sleep if there is dirty crockery in the house. But, according to one food safety expert, it probably won’t hurt to leave them now and again. Proving yet again that Gwyneth Paltrow is better than most of us, over the weekend she revealed her high standards when it comes to cleaning plates. “I can’t sleep at night if there are dishes in the sink,” she said. Doing the washing-up before bed is one of those steps beloved by cleaning and productivity experts. It sounds simple to stick to, but in practice can be easily avoided with the simple words: “I’m just leaving them to soak.” You know they are a physical reminder of your laziness – an extra job for tomorrow and a bacteria farm – but you’re full and tired, and Springwatch is about to start. Is there any harm in it? “I think there are other things that are more important to worry about, in terms of hygiene,” says Lisa Ackerley, a food-safety expert. “Bacteria on [dirty dishes] will breed overnight, but if they go into the dishwasher the next day and they’re thoroughly washed then there won’t be a problem. Those germs aren’t going to start crawling all over the kitchen.” However, if you don’t have a dishwasher – which uses a higher water temperature than our hands could withstand – and you’re washing by hand, “then it’s probably better to get them done the night before. But I wouldn’t lose sleep over it if you do it every now and then.” Conversely, is there a danger we’re being too clean? One study in Sweden in 2015 suggested that children who grew up in households where the dishes were handwashed had a lower risk of developing allergies because they were exposed to more microbes. Ackerley says we “have to be careful” when we complain about being too clean. “We need to make sure we reduce the risk of getting an infection, while also allowing the microbiome [the body’s community of bacteria] to be healthy.” The main exception to this rule, she says, is if you have been using a chopping board and knife to prepare raw meat, especially chicken, which carries a high risk of being contaminated with campylobacter, the most common cause of food poisoning. Utensils and boards should be washed straight away, says Ackerley. “If I don’t have access to a dishwasher, I would use an antibacterial cleanser. I’m not advocating using masses of it all over the place, but I would use it in those circumstances on the work surface and chopping board.” Incidentally, Paltrow’s lifestyle business, Goop, just happens to sell washing-up liquid as part of a cleaning kit – yours for just £64.
Real-life crimes like the Central Park jogger case changed the way I saw the world. Fairytales – particularly in their original and frankly sadistic glory – have long been a way of teaching children about the dangers that lurk outside the home. “Princes wait there in the world, it’s true / Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too,” the witch warns Rapunzel in Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods, still the smartest take on the way these stories both maintain and destroy childhood innocence. But I never liked fairytales as a kid. I just couldn’t understand the point of these upsetting stories that weren’t even true. Instead, it will possibly not surprise anyone that I was the kind of kid who was obsessed with the news, invariably latching on to stories that involved children who lived lives similar to mine. The killing of six-year-old Lisa Steinberg in 1987 by her lawyer father Joel was the story that taught me that not all parents were like mine, even ones who looked like them. It also taught me about domestic abuse: the brutalised face of Lisa’s mother, Hedda Nussbaum, stared out from newspaper front pages throughout the case. Nussbaum was an author and editor of children’s books, and I had several of them at home, many of which she lovingly dedicated to Joel. The wolf wasn’t in my bedroom, but his shadow was. The rescue of Jessica McClure, the 18-month-old who fell down a well in 1987, was another story that fascinated me. I taped daily news articles about it to my school desk until a teacher gently told me that the images of a bandaged baby were upsetting my classmates. This was not the first child-down-a-well news story in the States, and nor was I the first child to become obsessed: in 1949, three-year-old Kathy Fiscus fell down a well in California; reports of her ultimately doomed rescue were closely followed by Americans. One was Woody Allen, who immortalised this sad saga in one of my favourite of his movies, Radio Days, renaming Fiscus as Polly Phelps. In it, he shows himself, as a kid, listening to the story with his parents, who cling to him. The message was that the adults cannot always keep you safe, the most formative lesson of all. The so-called Central Park jogger case was a different kind of story. For a start, the person who the papers reported was the victim – the jogger – wasn’t a child. She was a 28-year-old woman, later named as Trisha Meili. But she worked in the same office as my father, and lived three streets away from us in New York, so felt entirely knowable to me. On the evening of 19 April 1989, Meili went jogging in Central Park, where she was brutally raped and left for dead. Five teenage boys – none of whom were white, as Meili is – were convicted of the crime, despite a complete lack of DNA evidence. They became known as the Central Park Five, and their lives are now told in Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series, When They See Us. (I still prefer non-fiction to fiction when it comes to crime stories, too, and so lean more towards Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary about the case. But no sensible person should dismiss DuVernay’s beautifully heartfelt take.) For those who lived lives of privilege like mine on the Upper East Side, the lesson of the case seemed to be that people from the outside were dangerous, even if those people were teenagers, and “outside” meant Harlem, which is almost walking distance. Certainly one fellow Upper East Sider pushed that narrative: Donald Trump took out newspaper adverts demanding the death penalty be reinstated, referring to the boys as “murderers”, even though Meili survived. I understand people’s queasiness about the current popularity of true-crime documentaries and podcasts; no question, some err on the side of prurience. But the Central Park case is especially instructive because the lesson changed over time: in 2002 the actual rapist confessed, and the five were fully cleared. It was painfully clear that, as well as Meili, there had been child victims here: teenagers who were thrown in prison because they were the wrong colour and wrong social class. It was a shaming lesson for those of us who ever took a narcissistic interest in true crime, searching the narrative only for people who looked like them. (Trump still insists that the boys – now men – were guilty, and that has been another lesson: that a blatant racist can be elected US president.) I still have a weakness for spiralling out over crime stories about children, but now read them from the paranoid perspective of a parent rather than the wide-eyed one of a child. My early obsession taught me many things, but it also made me certain a bad man was around every corner. I grew up fearful of the world, and now I fear passing this on to my kids. But “ How do you say it will be all right / When you know that it mightn’t be true?” Sondheim asks in Into The Woods. It might be that this is just an error of perspective. True crime, like fairytales, focuses on the villains, forgetting the people who overturn the wrongful convictions, who rescue the children from the wells, who fight the dragons. There are wolves in the world, but also princes and princesses.
From Edward Hopper to Highland, test your knowledge with the Weekend quiz. The questions 1 Who denied his divinity on 1 January 1946? 2 Originally, who would have received an “accolade”? 3 Used in sport, what is an Acme Thunderer? 4 Which novelist was an eminent lepidopterist? 5 Most Trojan asteroids share which planet’s orbit? 6 Edward Hopper’s House By The Railroad inspired which film property? 7 What was the focus of the campaign group ACT UP? 8 KonMari is a method of doing what? What links: 9 Hannah Glasse; Eliza Acton; Elizabeth Raffald; Maria Rundell? 10 Joseph Merrick; Pontius Pilate; Andy Warhol; Nikola Tesla? 11 Huddersfield; Glasgow; London; Mytholmroyd? 12 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45, etc? 13 The Family Of Love; Ranters; Diggers; Muggletonians; Fifth Monarchists? 14 Campbeltown; Highland; Islay; Lowland; Speyside? 15 Rocket plane (1); carrier aircraft (2); spacecraft (3); submersible (4); space station (5)? The answers 1 Japanese Emperor Hirohito. 2 Person being knighted. 3 Referee’s whistle. 4 Vladimir Nabokov. 5 Jupiter. 6 Bates Mansion in Psycho. 7 HIV/Aids. 8 Tidying/decluttering (Marie Kondo). 9 18th/19th-century cookery writers. 10 Stage and screen roles of David Bowie. 11 Birthplaces of recent poets laureate: Armitage; Duffy; Motion; Hughes. 12 Triangular numbers. 13 Radical religious groups in the English civil war era. 14 Scotch whisky regions. 15 Thunderbirds vehicles.
‘You said, “If you go ahead, I want nothing to do with it.”’ Image posed by models. Composite: Getty That day, as we started to organise our uncle’s funeral, we spent the whole time together – a rarity as adults, although we are only a year and four days apart. It was a sad occasion, but nice to spend time together. I had recently had unsuccessful IVF treatment and, at the end of what had been a difficult day, I wanted to confide something more positive: my husband and I had decided to adopt and taken the initial steps in the process. I was shocked at your reaction. “Why are you doing this now? You are just going to make things difficult between me and my wife,” you said. You have two children from a previous relationship but were married to an older woman who had, as yet, not been able to have children. I appreciated the significance as I had felt the hurt of childlessness for more than a decade by then, and knew how painful it could be. Then you said, “If you go ahead, I want nothing to do with it.” Your words stung, but I put it down to the stress of the day and was convinced that you didn’t really mean it. But you froze me out. You stopped talking to me. Even when I stood in front of you at a party, you stared ahead as if I wasn’t there. Just over a year later, we took our son home. It was a very happy occasion, family and friends were full of good wishes. You came round to meet him briefly – I’m not sure why, maybe it was curiosity. Shortly afterwards, I invited you to his first birthday. You and your wife came, but it was awkward. And that was it – no more contact. I tried to get our parents to intervene and stop the nonsense. Then Dad said that if you had decided not to talk to me any more, perhaps you had good reason. At that point, something clicked in my head and I realised I was wasting my energy. I now have a daughter, who is also adopted. My children are a delight, as all parents would say, and your lack of involvement in their lives is a shame, because you are missing out on so much. I am beyond this now. I cannot forgive your behaviour and am not willing to give you the power to hurt me. So, six years on, you still refuse to speak to me because of my decision to adopt, but it is something I would not have done differently. • We will pay £25 for every letter we publish. Email email@example.com, including your address and phone number. We are able to reply only to those whose contributions we are going to use.