Monday 20 November 2017

Coleman keeps it in the family


YOU don't need to see clinical psychologist David Coleman to know he's there.

That unmistakably gloomy, George-Lee-on-mogadon voice of his -- like having warm Ovaltine spooned into both ears -- is enough to announce his presence.

Coleman doesn't appear on screen at all during 21st Century Child, which could be something of a blessing.

To be honest, the coupling of that voice with Coleman's earnest, mournful, downbeat face might be a sedative combination too strong to resizzzzz . . .

Oddly enough, the children don't appear much either. Oh, the little tykes are there alright, buzzing around in the background, but they aren't the centre of attention.

Launched in 2007, 21st Century Child aims to follow the progress of a dozen children from birth to age six.

Possibly because very young children are less interesting to outsiders than older ones, someone seems to have decided that this third series should be exclusively about the parents and how they're coping in the recession.

Last week's episode concentrated on the mothers, who, almost without exception, made rearing children sound like a burden to be shouldered rather than an experience to be treasured and explored.

Last night it was the turn of the fathers, who at least were a slightly more varied bunch.

Frank, a plasterer whose livelihood has dried up, has been forced to become a househusband while his wife goes out to work. "I'm a 40-year-old man who's not used to being in the company of children all day, every day," he said, although he seems to be coping well enough.

Matthew, a farmer and valuer for the Department of Agriculture whose income has also suffered a hit, takes a more traditional approach to raising his eight children: "I wouldn't have a huge belief in your kid being your best buddy. They have to be your kids."

There were five men featured in all and the younger ones were noticeably more upbeat about their role as fathers -- especially John, who, after a rocky introduction to fatherhood, is positively revelling in his burgeoning relationship with his son Oscar.

Worthy and well-made as the programme was, it was also a tad repetitive (there are only so many recession tales you can bear in an hour) and lacking in focus -- it is, after all, called 21st Century CHILD, not 21st Century Parents.

Maybe the kids will get a look in next week. Or next year.

I wonder what David Coleman would make of the two families, the Radfords and the Sullivans, featured in 15 Kids and Counting? I imagine they'd test even his famously oyster-like patience. I know they tested mine.

Noel and Sue Radford had 14 kids when the programme started; by the end, Sue had popped out no 15 and was contemplating having another one. Or maybe two. Or possibly three.

"I think she's addicted to having babies," said one of her older daughters. "It's like her own personal drug." Sue, who's 36 now, was 14 when she first gave birth and has been in a state of near-permanent pregnancy since.

The film didn't need to dig too deeply into the reasons why the Radfords feel the need to keep procreating; it didn't have to. Sue volunteered the information that both she and Noel were given up for adoption.

Do you think that might be a clue?

The Radfords are comparatively normal compared to the Sullivans.

When we met Tania, she'd had nine children and eight miscarriages, and was about to give birth to twin girls.

She and husband Mike are devout Catholics who radiate the glassy-eyed certainty of true zealots.

They pulled the kids out of school three years ago so Sue, who has no teaching qualification, could educate them at home.

"I am not prepared to let my children be exposed to something they're not equipped to deal with," she said. Can you guess what this might be?

Yup, got it in one: sex education.


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