This month our youngest child, John-Jo, begins his First Holy Communion course. It is a mini-milestone. His five older sisters have been there already. I wonder how mid-life would feel without these temporal punctuation marks. The life of a child provides the over-40s with a vicarious aide memoire, anchoring the passing years with landmarks. Theirs, not ours.
In years to come, looking back on 2017, what will come to mind? I can take my pick. Agnes, 14, had her waist-long hair chopped off for charity. Constance, 13, took possession of her first smartphone. Gwendolyn, 11, started at grammar school. Katharine, 9, won the junior cup at our local pony club summer camp. Most memorably, our eldest, Edith, left home for university, depriving her siblings of a reliable child-minder and her parents of a free(ish) taxi service.
I am left pondering on how childless friends curate the passage of time. Bookmarking the story of their lives with chapter headings provided by a promotion, a new cruise, a replacement pet, a bigger car. Some, tragically, will recall the year of an only child’s death or miscarriage. Maybe a final, failed-round of IVF. Perhaps even a bitter, irrevocable, conversation with a beloved partner about “having children”. So many shared interests; save the one that matters most.
At the risk of undermining my own argument, I could remember 2017 as the year that I clocked up 20 years working for Rupert Murdoch.
It might be interesting to compare a news bulletin broadcast when I began working at Sky TV 20 years ago, with one today. A striking change is the way in which surveys, polls and studies have become journalistic stocking fillers. This is a function of the way news is generated as much as how it is reported. And one of the biggest generators of these stories is the “think tank”: a not-for-profit body which commissions research, publishes reports and organises events. There are, according to Wikipedia, now almost 7,000 of them worldwide.
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