The news – and I use the word loosely – that David and Samantha Cameron left their oldest child behind in a pub has prompted a host of reminisces from journalists of the times they too forgot their child. Titter ye not, readers, runs the theme, but this happened to me, runs the theme.
I’ve wracked my brains for my own wee funny story to share with you but I’m toiling. There were plenty of times I wanted to leave behind my offspring after a particularly disastrous shopping trip or day out spoiled by tantrums (and not just theirs). But I always did the dutiful thing.
Apparently, my gran once left me in a pram outside the Post Office and got all the way home before realising she had forgotten something. Needless to say, I survived to tell the tale.
The incident reminded me that the Blairs were not immune to the trials and tribulations of parenthood during their occupancy of Downing Street. Euan Blair was found drunk and incapable in London city centre, aged 16, after celebrating the end of his exams.
I seem to recall that when the details leaked out, neither parent was actually at home and had to be summoned from engagements elsewhere.
At the time, I found that whole episode disturbing – not because the boy had indulged in a time-honoured rite of passage of getting ridiculously drunk at an utterly inappropriate age – but because of what it said about the pressures of political life and its intrusion on normal family activity.
It certainly hinted at a family toiling to cope with it all but, like many others before and since, they seem to have got through things relatively unscathed.
Leaving Nancy at the pub seems neither a cry for help nor something that should ever have made the news, except on a very slow day.
Its significance is of indicating that the Prime Minister does try to have some semblance of a normal family life and it is a moot point that if he had not been required to travel separately surrounded by bodyguards rather than with the rest of his family in a people carrier, the incident would have happened at all.
But these sorts of incidents do raise the thorny issues of class and prejudice. Would any of my neighbours have got away with leaving one of their brood behind after a Sunday pub lunch, particularly if dad had consumed a few beers? Not without a wee visit from someone in authority, methinks.
The fact remains that money talks and that we are – all of us – much more likely to judge lower class and less well educated parents more harshly than better off ones.
Yet, some of the most useful parenting tips I received – and the ones I have passed on to others since – came from supposedly feckless single parents.
What has been glossed over is how wee Nancy Cameron seems oblivious to her fate of abandonment. It was after all a very short separation but the attitude of the pub’s staff here helped.
They – apart from the risible, anonymous individual who picked up the phone to the papers – made sure the wee girl was okay and got her involved in some distracting task, while someone no doubt panicked behind the scenes and tried to work out if the Prime Minister was listed in the phonebook.
And that is the way it should be. It might be the Camerons’ primary job to protect their children, but actually it’s a responsibility we all share.
There will always be a child out on their own who shouldn’t be or who seems isolated among their peers at the park and therefore, more vulnerable. There will always be a child in meltdown in the supermarket or on the bus, with a parent struggling to cope with the situation. And there will always be parents so caught up in their careers and personal lives that they have little emotional space to offer their children – just as much as there will always be children who look like they could use a decent meal.
We can tut and silently condemn – I have done, even though I know I’ve also probably been the subject of others’ tutting at various points in my child-raising years.
But perhaps we should all be a little less inclined to judge and a little more willing to step in to keep a child safe.
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