Tag Archives: education

The Health Problem Behind Those Tight-Fitting Leeds United Replica Shirts – by Rob Atkinson

One home, one away and one keeper's, please. All XXXL

One home, one away and one keeper’s, please. All XXXL

The new Leeds United home and away replica shirts are now available in the club shops, at an only mildly extortionate price, resplendent in traditional white and yellow respectively, innocent of any tacky sponsors logo and – apparently – quite the most desirable things since Felicity Kendal’s late 70s vintage derrière. I’ve had my say on the home shirt – I wasn’t keen, but I was clearly in the minority as far as that went. The away shirt, though, is undeniably sexy.

The only real peeps of protest have come from those chaps of “more generous proportions”, who are finding difficulties with the “snugness” of the design. It’s proving difficult, it seems, for the more portly gent to squeeze his avoirdupois into his shiny new shirt – unless he’s invested in a couple or three additional X’s on top of the standard XL. As the owner of a somewhat rounded physique myself, it’s got me thinking and, slowly but surely, a rant has developed.

It’s a rant that has its roots in a news item from a couple of years back, when BBC Radio Five Live were in crusading mode, their plan of campaign as usual heavily reliant upon taking a lazy sound-bite and stimulating a heated debate around it. On this occasion, the sound-bite was a distinctly unprofessorial (not to say yobbish) statement by one Professor Craig Currie of Cardiff University, who had given it as his august opinion that we in the UK are “a nation of lazy porkers”. Now, the good professor may have expressed himself like a lout – but, now as then, he does rather have a point.

I must reiterate here that I am something of a porker myself though not, I hope, a lazy one – but it should be clear from the outset that I’m not here to have a go at hapless fellow fatties. I’m all too well aware that we chubsters have more than enough to put up with in terms of slings and arrows and brickbats from insensitive skinny types, bad cess to them. I myself suffer from Type II Diabetes, a condition occurring typically with old age but also probable in earlier years where weight is a factor influencing health. And yet as a younger man, I was extremely fit, active and sporty – so the question arises: what other factors are at play? Why are those Leeds United shirts so tight?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I believe that, as a nation, we have failed to address this public health issue in a number of important respects. In a nutshell, I blame the parents – but also educational institutions for their control-freak attitude to school dinners, and successive governments who have taken an alarmingly short-term and complacent approach to investment in measures to preserve the fitness and health of the population.

Let’s look at parents first. How many times have you heard of a 1960’s mum or dad, themselves brought up in an atmosphere of post-war austerity, telling their already full-up offspring “Clean your plate now – I won’t have you wasting good wholesome food.  That would feed a family for two weeks in Biafra.” That’s what I used to hear as a kid, and, although I always had to bite back a snapped “Well, send it to Biafra, then”, it was considered sound child psychology. I even relayed a watered-down version of it to my own child. But this one phrase, or variants thereof, can be held at least partly responsible for a pattern being set in childhood whereby many people feel actual guilt if they’re in danger of leaving food uneaten on a plate.

At my primary school in the sixties, those of more delicate appetites were always in danger of being sent to “stand at the wall” in the big dining room when the dreaded school dinners were being served. Leaving food on your plate was a disciplinary issue, and offenders were subjected to this diluted form of public humiliation. Looking back, it seems barbaric – a kind of child abuse. And all the time, the insidious process of habit-formation was going on, with young bodies and developing digestive systems being routinely overloaded as those plates got laboriously, reluctantly cleared. It was a mental process as well as a physical one – the feeling of guilt at any waste was ingrained early. Even now, in restaurants, we of a certain age make the old joke: finish up now, or you’ll get stood at the wall. It’s the product of misguided brainwashing 50 years ago, by parents, by teachers, by the formidable army of “dinner ladies”.

So the errant notions of childhood nutrition, arising out of an historical and hysterical “post-rationing” culture that spawned the baby-boomers, may be one factor that is now reaping an unwelcome harvest in the proliferation of Type II Diabetes in younger age-groups such as the 40-somethings. What else might be at play? Hand-in-hand with the issue of nutrition goes the equally thorny one of exercise. When I was a child, most recreation was out of doors, and nearly every patch of public land had its games of football going on whenever the players weren’t required in the classroom or at home. It was jumpers for goalposts over the length and breadth of the country, and kids ran and ran after a ball, or whatever other sporting object and, by and large, they were lean and fit as whippets as a result.

All that started to change with the advent of videos and computer games and, latterly, the Internet. Each advance of technology has had the effect of dragging the youngsters indoors to become fat and pasty as they pursue their virtual preoccupations. It was a clear, unmistakeable signal for the authorities to do something, something urgent and effective, to promote exercise and the outdoors as essential to health and development. Investment was necessary in exercise facilities, and the crucial importance of this had to become a much more up-front feature of the national curriculum. This much, surely, was self-evident.

So what have our various political persuasions of government done? Failed, utterly, that’s what. Cut back on investment. Sold off playing fields. Allowed the private sector to hire out exercise facilities at a premium price to make a fat profit and cause a problem of fat people who can’t afford to get fit. This failure to invest is a classic illustration of the wisdom of the old saw “A stitch in time saves nine”.

My own spiral downwards from fitness began with a cruciate knee ligament injury – and by the time I’d recovered, I was saving up to get married. I couldn’t afford gym fees etc – so it was too expensive to get fit again. My current health problems can be traced back to that time, and I’m sure the story is similar for many thousands of others. If misfortune strikes, part of the healing process has to be an active and healthy lifestyle, with exercise restoring the body as far as possible from an event like my knee injury. If that’s made too difficult due to financial circumstances, you pay a price in later life and declining health.

Now, the government is wailing and gnashing its teeth at the cost to the NHS of this Diabetes explosion, and other health issues that seem set fair to bankrupt our health service. It’s a bit like a householder bemoaning a £350 plumbers’ bill which has come about because they failed to invest £2.95 in lagging the pipes. Just consider the massive folly of what has happened. Selling off the playing fields, only to reap the harvest of a nation of lazy porkers. Flogging exercise facilities and then pointing the finger at the victims of obesity-related illness is comparable to raffling off the lifeboats on the Titanic, and then blaming the iceberg for the death toll.

If we’re to reverse this helter-skelter decline in the nation’s health, we need to stop whinging and shouting “Why, oh why” from the rooftops – and actually do something. Austerity only compounds the problem; investment, investment, investment is the way forward. If it’s possible to spend a pound on exercise and thereby save a fiver later on in healthcare costs – and it demonstrably is – then that is the road we must go down, and on a macro scale.

It may be that we’d only be shutting the stable door after the lazy porkers have bolted – but we have to act now. Exercise facilities must be made available, they must be made attractive and they must be made cheap or free. Public awareness must be raised. Full-time posts must be established for professionals who will then have the responsibility of changing lifestyles and encouraging the nation to get off its backside and do something. That will create jobs, it will have a positive effect on the health of many who simply can’t afford to take advantage of what’s currently on offer – and that, in turn, would have an incalculable effect on the mental health of the population, which right now and for some time past has been crying out for a good healthy kick of endorphins; the feel-good factor.

The cost of all this? Vast. Really, humongously enormous. But the benefits down the line, the savings to be made by the nipping in the bud of all these dire health issues, would be immeasurably greater still. That’s the whole point of investment – you grit your teeth and pay up, hoping for and trusting in a positive return later. The return on the billions spent now, though, should be many more billions, possibly trillions saved in the future. This is an investment we can’t afford not to make.

Just as we now look back at the sixties and remember the influence of our parents, products of late-forties austerity, so in fifty years time our descendants might look back on the current austerity-obsession, shake their heads sadly, and wonder what might have been if we’d only shown the foresight to invest in the future, and to educate our population about the wisdom of staying as fit as possible for as long as possible. At the moment, with our short-sighted insistence on short-term savings we’re storing up trouble in the shape of a vast medical bill which will come due when our next generation grows up flabby and unhealthy, and starts keeling over in rows from the effects of cardiac disease, diabetes, strokes, and other fat-related nasties.

We simply have to pay a few bob to lag those pipes now, if we’re to have any real hope of avoiding that gargantuan plumbing bill in the future. Take it from a deeply concerned porker – a stitch in time really does save nine.

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How a Don Revie Disciple is Spreading the Leeds Legend Down Under – by Rob Atkinson

It’s the stuff of legend; the story of how new Leeds United manager Don Revie looked for inspiration to Real Madrid in their brilliant all-white strip, as he set about the mammoth task of turning the Elland Road also-rans into the best team in Europe. There’s possibly a touch of the apocryphal about that version of events – after all, there’s strong evidence that United turned out in all-white before The Don took the helm. But the irresistible romance has persisted to this day, that of a young and visionary manager looking from afar at the early sixties Galacticos as his ideal for creating Yorkshire legends of equal prowess. Ultimately, there’s little doubt that Don Revie did create Europe’s top team, the most-feared and respected outfit just about anywhere. It was his dearest wish that United and Real should meet in competition; sadly that never happened in Revie’s lifetime.

The finished article - Yorkshire's answer to Real Madrid

The finished article – Yorkshire’s answer to Real Madrid

Now, over fifty years on, Real Madrid have emerged from their own relatively barren years to once again reign as European Champions, with another galaxy of glittering stars and wonderful footballers. They have Cristiano Ronaldo, too. At Leeds, the wheel has turned full circle in that half-century; the Whites languish once more outside the top flight, a lowly sphere they’ve inhabited now for well over a decade. A new revolution is sorely needed at Elland Road, but where is our latter-day Don Revie? The best hope for Leeds is that the club can benefit from another outstanding crop of youngsters, as we saw back at the start of the 1960s. And still we have that iconic (more or less) all white strip, the symbol of past domination and the inspiration, we hope, for future success.

All of that represents a lot of wistful nostalgia and a fair measure of somewhat shaky optimism that we might one day see achievement on a comparable scale, all based on the symbolic value of that inspirational all-white kit. But way over on the other side of the world, in New Zealand, one ex-pat Yorkshireman and fervent Leeds United fan is creating his own dominant team of all-whites – and he’s drawn inspiration from that Revie story in order to galvanise his own young team.

Jon Stanhope, Leeds United fanatic and (I’m happy to say) a regular reader of this blog, found to his bemusement when he arrived as a teacher at Trident High School in New Zealand, that none of the boys under his guidance had really heard much about Leeds United. “Brainwashed by Sky Sports Premier League coverage” is how Jon puts it. Grimly determined, he set out to put that to rights and, on taking over the reins of the school 1st XI, he echoed Don Revie’s legendary decision, changing the team’s colours from blue to all-white – their former away kit.

Jon Stanhope's Trident Whites

Jon Stanhope’s Trident Whites

The effect of that change of strip has brought about a transformation in fortunes not a million miles away from the one enjoyed by Revie’s Whites in the early days of his time at Elland Road all those years ago. Jon’s Trident High School 1st XI went on to finish third in a national tournament; the best-ever performance in their history. “It had to be the kit!!” enthused Coach Stanhope. “The lads look magnificent when they take to the field wearing the all white strip (although parents complain that it’s hard to wash !!!)”, he adds. “They know why they are wearing an all-white strip as they all know how much I love Leeds United. I feel genuinely proud when I see them lining up before games, the new white strip has lifted the team, they look like a class act wearing it and this has given them huge confidence.”

This confidence and the unprecedented achievements of Jon’s team have been rewarded by the prospect of a first-ever UK tour this coming April, playing teams from South and West Yorkshire. Jon, a native of Yeadon who moved out to New Zealand to be with his fiancée, is looking forward to seeing his charges take on all-comers in their all-white strip, as well as visiting a few stadiums and training grounds along the way. An undoubted highlight of the tour will be a visit to Elland Road to see Leeds United – “the only other team who look magnificent in all white”, as Jon puts it – taking on old enemies Cardiff City. “It should be a spicy affair,” observes Jon. “The lads and myself can’t wait to come over and they are very intrigued as to how I can be so ferociously loyal to a team that is never shown on TV!!! They don’t quite ‘get it’ just yet…..well, they will in April!!”

Jon is quite clearly one of those guys who won’t let the small matter of twelve thousand miles or so separation get in the way of his life-long love affair with Leeds United – and with the zeal of any prophet, he’s set about inspiring the young players in his team and converting them to Leeds fans as well, if he can. “The boys were not really aware of who Leeds United were when I first arrived….they know now and often come and see me on a Monday morning to tell me the Leeds score! How times are changing!!”

The idea of changing times is one that all Leeds fans will wish to embrace after the last mainly miserable decade and a half at Elland Road. The fans, as Massimo Cellino has pointed out, remain the real wealth of the club – with enthusiasm bordering on the fanatical among thousands who live too far from LS11 to hope to see their heroes in the flesh. It’s a globe-spanning devotion that deserves to be rewarded by success. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything wishes the Trident High School team – and their inspirational Coach Stanhope – every success on their forthcoming tour to the UK. Three points against Cardiff City wouldn’t go amiss, either.

I’d like to think that Leeds United itself might perhaps extend some courtesy to a team visiting from so far away. The story of success after a change to all-white is a blessedly familiar one in Leeds, and maybe the way it seems to be playing itself out again half a century on and half a world away, can serve as some little inspiration for the current staff and players of the Mighty Whites. Let’s hope so. Leeds United and Trident High School 1st XI – Marching On Together! 

“Suicidal” Former Leeds Star Clarke Carlisle May Offer Hope and Help to Others – by Rob Atkinson

Former Leeds star Clarke Carlisle - back from the brink

Former Leeds star Carlisle – back from the brink

Carlisle of TV's  Countdown

Carlisle of TV’s Countdown

The revelation – or confirmation, rather – that former footballer, PFA Chairman, media pundit and TV Countdown star Clarke Carlisle was actually attempting suicide when he was hit by a lorry on the A64 just before Christmas, comes as a salutary reminder of some uncomfortable factors in any life. It’s confirmation, were any needed, of how potentially close we all are to disaster, of the flimsy veil that separates even apparently blessed people, with seemingly blessed lives, from profound despair, abandonment of hope, loss of any self-esteem and ultimate oblivion.

Carlisle LUFC

Carlisle of Leeds

Carlisle, a one-season wearer of Leeds United’s famous white shirt, is the latest in too long a line of footballing personalities who have sought escape from an existence they could no longer bear. You can conjure the names out of years and lives gone by: Gary Speed, also formerly of Leeds; Justin Fashanu, of Norwich and Nottingham Forest; Hughie Gallacher of Newcastle United and Chelsea; Dave Clement of QPR and Bolton. The difference with Clarke Carlisle is that he survived the attempt to take his own life, and has now chosen to go public with the story of the illness that so nearly finished him off.

An assured and articulate speaker, Carlisle may now have a role to play in explaining the mindset of the star – or the person in the street – moved to such drastic action. He might even, perhaps, be instrumental in helping prevent those, both inside the game and out, who are even now contemplating a drastically final end to their woes. Others, of course, have been to the brink of eternity – and have pulled back. But Carlisle is a prominent figure, an erudite man with a mastery of language that can get his message across. He is someone who epitomises how even a life stuffed with achievement and advantage can suddenly go pear-shaped. Surely he, better than most, could tell how the dream can turn into a nightmare, and thus illuminate the whole question of what prompts this descent into despair. There is an opportunity here, maybe, to learn and even to identify potential victims and actually help.

One of the main threads in the national anguish following the tragic death of Gary Speed was this baffled and hopeless question of “Why? Why??” In other cases, it was slightly easier to deduce a cause – but there is no real insight into the workings of a mind suddenly closed to every solution except one, not when it’s been annihilated forever by that awful, final step. Justin Fashanu was a probable victim of homophobic prejudice in society in general (and football in particular). Dave Clement suffered from depression, as did Hughie Gallacher, who never adjusted to the curtain falling on his career and then the untimely death of his wife. Clement took his life with weedkiller, Gallacher stepped in front of a train. There is no one common factor to link all of these sad ends; just details emerging later of the pressures and stresses the people concerned could no longer handle. But the victims of suicide themselves, of course, are sadly beyond being able to help us help others in danger of a like fate.

What is beyond doubt, after all this time, is that there will be many people out there for whom some form of self-immolation is a likely outcome – unless they can somehow be identified and helped. Various danger signs can be tentatively identified: the dicey period when a short career in the public eye comes to an end; the presence of some transgression of the law for a well-known person such as a footballer, with the possibility then of public disgrace. But these do not form an exhaustive list, and the candidates for suicide are not limited to those lately in the public gaze. The suicide rate in wider society has spiked over the past few years, especially among the poor and sick; those marginalised by what is a bleaker and more chilly, unsympathetic landscape both politically and economically.

It is Carlisle’s very celebrity, however, combined with his gift for communication, that might well now make him the ideal candidate to spearhead a crusade against the blight of self-inflicted death. If he can possibly recover from the profoundly low point which saw him hurl himself into the path of a lorry that December night, surely Clarke would have a lot to contribute in this cause – and therefore a new purpose and path for himself. As a prominent person who has sought to terminate his own existence, and yet has survived, he’s almost uniquely placed, certainly in the world of football, to cast some light on these long, dark shadows; to reach out to those who may feel there is no help for them, and who see their options dwindling down to that one, awfully final choice.

Carlisle of the PFA

Carlisle of the PFA

Such an initiative, starting within the game of professional football and probably under the auspices of the Professional Footballers’ Association, could be built on the survival of Carlisle – awareness having previously been raised, in the fairly recent past, by the tragic example of Gary Speed. Carlisle, as a former leading light in the PFA, could just be an almost divine gift where such a cause is concerned. Great oaks from little acorns grow, and any effect a PFA-led campaign might have on those within the game at risk of such an awful circumstance, could then have a multiplied impact in society at large. In the nature of these things, the message is far more effective if it originates from a high-profile and highly popular environment, football being an obvious example. In times when football’s – and football stars’ – stock is low due to the perceived greed and aloofness in the game, this could be a chance to redeem the whole thing; to give something very real and solid to the rest of us. It’s not fanciful to suggest that, properly harnessed and channelled, a crisis like that suffered by Clarke Carlisle could ultimately save many hundreds, thousands, of lives.

Clarke Carlisle has walked through his own private hell, as Speed, Fashanu, Clement, Gallacher and others must have done before him. For Carlisle, it seems to have been the winding-down of his professional life, with the loss of his playing career and then his media employment, against a background of a drink problem that had afflicted him before and has lately resulted in a charge of drink-driving. But he survived his planned exit from life, and will now presumably face up to his issues. He has already spoken frankly about the fact that he attempted to take his life; that’s a step on the way to speaking a lot more, working towards dealing with his own demons and helping others be identified before it’s too late, so that they, too, can deal with theirs. Carlisle has the opportunity now to do something very positive that would arise directly out of his lowest ebb – and to this end, surely the game of football, the PFA and the wider authorities in this country should do everything they can to encourage and help him to help those who might otherwise end up as more statistics in the tragic roll-call of suicide.

As a Leeds fan, I sympathise with an ex-player’s hard times; I’m grateful for his narrow escape and I’m hopeful for his full recovery. But, just as a human being, I hope that some good can come out of this, so that perhaps it’s less likely in the future that there will be another Gary Speed lost to us, or another Hughie Gallacher, major stars and international footballers who yet found themselves unable to carry on. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step; let someone step in now and help Clarke Carlisle be instrumental in starting that journey towards a time when people gripped by despair can look up with some hope that there is much more available to them than just that final, self-inflicted end.

It may well be too early yet for Clarke Carlisle to be thinking along these lines; he will almost certainly have more immediate priorities, pressing problems to deal with. But the willingness to speak out publicly augurs well – and it must be true that the one thing Clarke will need right now and for the future is some hope for that future; something to cling on to, something to get up in the morning for. Some good to do. He’s well-placed and uniquely equipped to do it. Good luck to him.

Thatcher Day? No Thanks – Let’s Have a “Heroes Day” Late August Bank Holiday We Can ALL Support

British Heroes Day

British Heroes Day

Britain woke up on Wimbledon Men’s Semi-Final day to one of the dafter ideas of the year – the proposed re-naming of the late August bank holiday as “Margaret Thatcher Day” – shook its collective head incredulously and gaped in frank disbelief that anyone could suggest anything quite so stupidly divisive. Then it sighed with relief as it realised this was just another attention-seeking ploy by one Peter Bone – simply another of those tiresome so-called politicians who define their function by just how best they can publicise their tragically unremarkable careers – and fell instead to wondering whether to have toast or cornflakes for breakfast.

There was never anything to get really upset about, or to take too seriously.  Peter Bone MP has form for this sort of thing, after all.  His record reads a bit like a litany of gibbering lunacy and reactionary stances on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty and conscription. He clearly subscribes to the maxim of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”, and sallies forth on a regular basis, seemingly with one solitary thought in his head: how best to get Peter Bone MP in the news. He’s regularly one of the most enthusiastic expenses claimants, pays his wife top dollar for “secretarial duties” (so he’s big on nepotism too) and has a string of failed businesses and other ventures to his name. He also boasts a consistent record of losing supposedly safe seats in elections, sometimes bucking a national swing to the Tories by actually reducing their vote in the constituency he’s fighting.  All in all – not the sharpest or most useful tool in the box.

So those of us who do not inhabit the lunatic hinterland of the Tory Right can dispose of the latest Bone rant with a derisive sneer and a muffled chortle, and leave the Daily Heil readers to linger lovingly over what is a dead-in-the-water idea right from the start. But it does perhaps raise a legitimate question of the potential dedication of that anonymous late August holiday – many other countries use such occasions to pay tribute to their notable figures, so is it such a bad idea in principle?  Maybe not – so long as we manage to disregard the blithering of Bone and his ilk, and consider instead ideas from the saner end of the spectrum. The fact is that, whoever one might select as a deserving recipient of an honour such as becoming an eponymous bank holiday, the tribute is likely to be divisive to a greater or lesser degree. If you put forward the seemingly obvious name of Winston Churchill, you will hear voices raised by those with an awareness of his role in the General Strike in 1926. Those who espouse a free-market philosophy and howl in horror at the full-employment strategy that underpinned British politics until 1979 will not take kindly to any suggestion that Clement Attlee should be honoured by such a dedication. We’re a nation of many threads – and you can’t please all the people, all the time.

Why not then have a day when people of diverse views and differing affiliations can define their own tributes and make their own dedications – either singly or in smaller or larger groups?  It could be called “Heroes Day” and it would be an occasion for everyone to think of the person who means most to them personally, and commemorate that life and its achievements in the way they consider most fitting. Those who can gather like-minded people together could perhaps organise groups in tribute to a favourite hero or heroine. One group might have their Florence Nightingale Day, another might wish to raise a flag for Arthur Scargill.  Any or all of them could use their hero or heroine to create a local event, or maybe even something on a wider geographical scale.  They could raise funds for an allied cause, and generally do a lot of good.

Heroes Day.  It has a certain ring to it; the inclusive context tends towards the subjective nature of hero-worship, yet there is a patriotic flavour to it as well.  There might of course be a down-side: there will always be individuals or groups who will seek to ignite strife by seeking to glorify the names of those who most would feel are unfit to be remembered or revered.  That could be a knotty problem; the whole concept of a Heroes Day would be for self-expression to have its head and for people to be able to pay tribute as they see fit, and the introduction of any form of censorship would strike a jarringly flat note in that symphony of personal freedom.  It almost brings us back to the ridiculous idea which prompted this article.  Clearly, some careful thought would be needed.

On the whole, though, the idea of a Heroes Day has much to recommend it, and is no more open to abuse than any other such suggestion might be.  To a certain degree, you just have to accept that grown-up people have to be given the latitude to express their views and celebrate their beliefs as they see fit, and the existing laws and by-laws are after all in place already to deal with any extreme manifestations which might crop up.  On the positive side, there could be great benefits which might arise out of the events which could be organised nationwide to celebrate a Heroes Day.  Fund-raising and education spring to mind, cultural events and perhaps even job-creation could be possibilities.  And in these times of gloom, with austerity piling up all about us and threatening to drown us all under it’s murky incoming tide, don’t we need something positive to focus our attention and creativity?  A national holiday, with thousands of individual events dedicated to the whole panoply of heroes, both past and present, a source of pride perhaps comparable to last year’s Olympics and Paralympics, a surge of national well-being in the recognition of who we are and who we have been.  Heroes Day.  I really do think it’s worth considering.  Who would your August Bank Holiday hero or heroine be?

I Blame The Parents : Thoughts Arising Out of the Philpott Tragedy

Image

Life sentence: Philpott

I find myself wondering today, in light of the fact that a waste of DNA like prison-bound Mick Philpott is biologically capable of fathering 17 children – and evil enough, aided by his accomplices, to hatch a money-making plan that took the lives of six of them – whether it is now time to reappraise the adoption regulations.  These strange little bits of judicial nonsense currently deny – quite arbitrarily – the chance to adopt for various categories of people who are unable to have their own children.  I’m talking here about the people who are adjudged to be unable to bring up prospective adoptees in the “right” cultural environment, people deemed too old or too compromised in official eyes by relatively mild mental health conditions, even people reckoned to be suffering emotionally from their inability to conceive naturally – and so on.

There seems to be an awful lot of good parenting skills out there being needlessly wasted, while all the time utterly unsuitable people are producing positive litters of children without the first clue of how to bring them up, look after them or contribute in any positive way to their well-being and social/emotional development.   All of this, just because of the accident of being physically capable of reproduction.  We simply can’t afford to waste good parenting skills – they’re all too rare and precious, as even the most cursory glance around us will reveal.

What is the cost of this evident anomaly down the line, in terms of the kind of society members – quite apart from the tragedy of children who don’t survive – that such a crazily-weighted lottery is producing? And meanwhile, let’s not forget, good people with much to give of both love and the example they’d set in bringing up children, are left on the sidelines, wringing their hands as a whole generation of clueless “parents” brings up a succeeding generation in their own repugnant image.

I can honestly foresee a time when parenting will be by licence only; not that I would advocate this as “A Good Thing”.  It would smell uncomfortably like social engineering to me, and I’d want to know a great deal about the machinery involved in any such process.  But can we really carry on as we are?  Talk to any teacher, and you’ll hear a tale of despair when the conversation turns to the contribution of many parents to their children’s disciplinary standards, and to their education as a whole.  Teachers appear currently to be struggling to accomplish the virtually impossible: turn out well-rounded, educated individuals who are fit to take a place in society, with hardly any support or input from the people most intimately connected to those children concerned.  That’s not just a big ask, it’s a massively unfair burden on professionals who can influence only a portion of each day their students experience, for a relatively small slice of that child’s life.

I have a friend who is a teacher; from everything I know of her she’s a very good teacher.  I know she despairs of the role that some parents play in the development of some of her students, and I can quite see why.  How hard is it for her to take, then, when her cousin and his wife are turned down as adoptive parents because – among other bafflingly specious reasons – “We don’t think you’ll get over not being able to have your own.”  Doesn’t that rather rule out anybody who can’t have their own kids?  Who actually “gets over” a blow like that?  And can we speculate on why people who can have their own kids would want or need to adopt?  It all seems extremely illogical, and it’s a perpetuation by default of the damage being done, every day, every week, every month and year by the people who – as a matter of biological happenstance – end up with the job of raising the next generation.

Maybe, ultimately, we’ll be able to put right a few of society’s ills, and perhaps more attention and resources devoted to the education and support of people contemplating parenthood will assist that process.  I really think it would help, and let’s praise to the skies the first government that sees this as a priority and does something about it.  If you think it through clearly, you could hardly imagine a better investment, a safer investment, than money devoted to training and support with a view to producing better parents.  The savings arising out of the consequent reduction in crime, mental health issues, anti-social behaviour and the disintegration of communities would be incalculable.  Good parents are the ideal people for the job of parenting – goes without saying, or it should do.  God speed that happy day when this is recognised and acted upon.

But meanwhile, let’s not waste the resources freely available to us now in the shape of a massive pool of potentially excellent parents – who currently see their urgent desire to love and care for children they’d bring up in an exemplary fashion being frustrated.  Thwarted by officialdom with its petty rules and guidelines, and its limitless miles of red tape.  There’s far too much subjective judgement going on in this whole process, too many petty prejudices being reinforced by intransigent regulations and ill-advised, ill-informed officials.

My friend’s cousin and his wife now happily have their own child – but it’s another, unknown child – unwittingly losing out on a wonderfully loving home – who has suffered by the bizarre decision they were faced with when they applied to adopt.  There was even some suggestion that the woman’s Polish nationality figured in the “rationale” employed by the decision-maker.  That’s absolutely scandalous when we’re talking about a stable, affluent couple who were looking at adoption rather than IVF because of their view that there were so many unloved kids already out there.

Ask yourself, honestly: what better motive than that could any pair of prospective parents have?  Let’s embrace what people like this have to offer, and maybe help save future kids from future Philpotts.  The biggest lesson of this tragic case is that the complex and difficult adoption dilemma is an issue that we absolutely can’t afford to ignore any longer.