My parents left me by the side of the road once, when I was baby. I can’t blame them, because I’m pretty sure it was an accident. However, I do blame them for having four very bad children whom they allowed to roll around in the cavernous back seat of a Chevy Impala like piglets at feeding time, until the din forced my father to pull over for his own sanity.
He brought the car to a screeching halt, ordered us to get out, and locked the doors. When my siblings were finally allowed back in the car, they forgot to bring me with them. My parents drove off with three of four children, which, when you think about it, actually isn’t a bad percentage.
It wasn’t their fault: They would have been busy lighting cigarettes and arguing over whether to listen to Tales of the Unexplained or Clyde Gilmour on the radio. Also, once you have more than two children your math skills start to slip. Possibly my father was entertaining us with his party trick, which was to steer the car using only his belly. I don’t know; I’d been abandoned in some farmer’s field.
They came back to get me, possibly after a quick trip to A&W. The point is, I survived, with only marginal damage. So will little Nancy Cameron,Ö the eight-year-oldÖ daughter of the British Prime Minister, who, in the immortal words of the Sun tabloid, “got left in the pub loo.”
Unless you were also locked in a bathroom for most of the week, you probably heard Nancy’s saga: Her parents, David and Samantha Cameron, were enjoying a nice country pub lunch on a Sunday with some friends and their two other children, and at the end drove to Chequers,Ö the PM’s official country house, in two cars. Except they forgot Nancy, who had ducked into the bathroom. Her mother returned to get her 15 minutes later.
In the howls of outrage that followed after the news came out Monday, you’d think they were the first parents to lose a kid for a minute or two. (Any parent out there who has not abandoned a child briefly, or at least dreamt of it, please feel free to throw the first baby monitor). North Americans, in particular, seemed scandalized that you’d take your kids to the pub for lunch. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the pub’s role in British life, which, while diminishing, is still a combination of church, living room, therapist’s office and, sometimes, nursery.
I have been to a christening in a pub (complete with clown), two weddings, and countless PTA meetings. There is a pub favoured over all others by parents in my neighbourhood because you can drink inside, warmly and civilly, while watching your children run around the playground across the street. I admit to once choosing a tavern on the Isle of WightÖ for lunch because it boasted “Captain Caulkhead’s Internal Play Zone.” Pubs are usually extremely kid-friendly, possibly because of the number of children conceived in them.
No, the bigger story, the more interesting one, which got drowned out in the hoo-ha over Nancy having to spend 15 minutes on her own (probably being fed ice cream by the barman) is that her parents are among the shrinking number of Brits who can afford to take their kids out for a pub lunch at all. It was, in a strange way, a good week for the news to emerge that Mr. Cameron had left his child behind, because it obscured all the news about the millions of other children being left behind in his government’s ferocious austerity push. The pub story overshadowed Oxfam’s report that growing income gaps in the country mean that Britain is facing “a return to levels of inequality not seen since Victorian times.”Ö It overshadowed news that the government has failed to reach long-standing targets for reducing child poverty (there are either 2.3-million or 3.6-million children living in poverty, depending on whether you factor in housing costs or not.) Everyone reported Nancy-in-the-loo, but there was little coverage of a report that said one-third of British parents of disabled children had to take out loans last year to pay food and electricity bills – a situation that will be made worse by the government’s slashing of disability allowances.
I’m not saying that Mr. Cameron deliberately left his child in The Plough in order to divert attention months later during a bad news week. No, the poor man probably felt as guilty as anyone would who’d left his child in a pub, on top of a car, or indeed in a farmer’s field. Now if only he’d start feeling guilty about all the other children he’s forgotten.