(Over the years I have been writing these articles, my wife has censored them stringently, mainly because they reveal too much of the idiosyncrasies of our daily life, which she doesn't want revealed to the world. Sometimes whole paragraphs are erased and once or twice, complete articles.
There has only been one occasion though when Fergus himself has rejected an article, on the grounds that it was "a bit disturbing." This is it)
The cost of childminding these days is fast causing a whole generation to become celibate. Queues form daily at the Rotunda with young mothers claiming that “there’s been a dreadful mistake” and can they have a set of rustic placemats and an electric blanket instead? Orphanages are putting up “House Full” signs. Crèches are becoming so successful and enjoy such a high income per capita that many are threatening to secede from the Republic and set up their own thriving autonomous theocracies. Grizzled old prospectors no longer dream of striking oil but now yearn to strike children, to coin a phrase, so to speak, in a metaphorical way.
The whole childminding issue was very much to the fore in the last bye-elections in Kildare and Meath and there is no reason to believe the temper tantrum has abated any in the past two years. Parents in Castleknock are so incandescent with rage about the whole issue that they have been known to tut and shake their heads despairingly whenever the subject is raised.
But what can be done about these toddlers that are breaking their parents’ hearts and bank balances?
The more enlightened companies in Ireland today actively encourage their employees to bring their children to work, though it is hard to complete an urgent report on last month’s unexpected downturn if your three year old is sitting on the keyboard picking her nose. Of course there are still some professions – mountaineers and astronauts come to mind – where bringing baby along is actively discouraged, for some reason.
A taskforce was recently set up by the Minister to pursue the possibility of finding gainful employment for these two to five year olds. If they could prove useful to the economy rather than being serious non-contributors, if they could somehow pay for themselves, then perhaps the social and financial drain on parents would not be quite so acute.
A proposal to send them down t’mine seemed to be on a winner until it was discovered that the last coalmine in Ireland had closed more than a decade previously. Suggestions that “we could send them down anyway” fell on deaf ears, as it was generally seen to be unprofitable to have toddlers wandering around deserted mines eating charcoal.
One of the members of the taskforce, a Mr. O. Schindler, suggested that maybe you could rub them in petroleum jelly and push them up the inside of armament casings to clean them. Again, a quick flip through the Golden Pages revealed a complete absence of munitions factories in Ireland and the plan was reluctantly discarded. A similar suggestion that maybe you could strap them to a pole and use them to clean first floor windows was dismissed when it was pointed out that a simple squeegee incurred far less running costs.
Nappy adverts appear to be almost the sole gainful employment of our country’s pre-schoolers and sadly there are far more applicants than jobs on offer. Unsuccessful auditioners, rejected by Pampers’ equivalent to Simon Cowell, have been known to hit the bottle in an alarming way, sometimes pouring the entire contents over the floor in a fit of temper. Many simply become demoralised and roam around the back streets disconsolately until Barney comes on.
One solution that the Government is seriously promoting is the notion of child farming. Farmers on the outskirts of the capital are frantically seeking profitable usage from their land after the latest round of subsidy cuts has seen them forced to keep their current BMW for more than six months. Some are opting for eco-tourism – hiring out the leaky barn to couples with zithers – though most have developed a sudden yen for growing apartments. Still, child farming is becoming quite a popular alternative.
Farmers drive down to the local market – normally Tesco or Dunnes – and round up all the stray youngsters sitting on the floor in a strop. These are then herded into a trailer by a sheepdog invariably called “Boy” and then the farmer drives them back and sets them loose on his land.
“You have to round them up in the evenings and bring ‘em into the barn,” says Vladimir Duffy of Whitechurch Farm, Kilbride, who wishes to remain anonymous. “The noise does get to you at times but once they get a handful of Hunky Doreys they’re generally quite docile until morning.”
The E.U. subsidy on child farming is still comparatively large compared to turnips or sugar beet and many farmers can have a quota of up to 300 toddlers an acre. On the better run estates, farmers employ local lads to go around pulling faces and blowing raspberry noises on their forearms to amuse the kiddies, thereby significantly increasing the tonnage.
Generally the farmers keep the livestock until they are ready to go to school and then send them back to shell-shocked parents, providing they haven’t moved in the meantime. As well as pocketing a sizable amount from Brussels, the farmer also receives the cost of comics and rusks from the parents.
But though the financial rewards are high, anybody venturing into a child farm enterprise should realise that it is not a big bowl of cherries, as Farmer Duffy, his face in silhouette, explains.
“Its hard work rearing childer,” he states, spitting on the palms of his hands and rubbing them on his trousers to emphasise the point. “They’re very dirty animals and mucking out is not a pleasant job at all at all, so it isn’t. I’ve heard some people actually let them into their houses but you couldn’t keep the house intact if you did that.
“Most of the time they’re quite content to wander around foraging for worms and the like, but sometimes you’ve got to sit down and read ‘em Goldilocks and the three bears or some other fanciful nonsense, just to stop ‘em hyperventilating. But no pain, no gain – isn’t that what they say?”
He is critical of human rights organisations who claim that the children are treated like cattle and forced to exist in barbaric conditions. “My childer are the happiest childer y’ever saw,” he claims. “We shear them three times a year and dip ‘em every week or so. They have all manner o’ biscuit tins and cardboard boxes to play with and sure they’re well used to the branding by now.”