Housework is the fountain of youth

By Joanna Roughton.


Housework can add three years to your life.

It’s the headline in several write-ups of research by Dr Klodian Dhana and her team at the University Medical Centre in Rotterdam.

Dr Dhana’s study looked at 7,000 men and women. It found that a 55-year-old woman who cleans, vacuums and does the laundry will, on average, live to 86.

A woman who avoids domestic chores, typically, only makes it to 83.

When it comes to academic reports, there have been many variations on this theme. There is a bulging back-catalogue of news items based on robust data, which purport to show that running a home has health benefits for the person doing the running.

Conversely, there are other reports – a much smaller number admittedly – which volunteer an alternative reality. That housework can be bad for you.

Of course, for news outlets which have an unhealthy obsession with health stories, we end up with a see-saw effect. A newspaper like the Daily Express, for example, which has decided that medical reports appeal to its readers (who tend to be older and thus more health conscious), can end up sounding schizophrenic.

Today red wine stops cancer, tomorrow it stops it, and so on.

Media outlets tend to underplay two key points. First, that not all studies are equal. The research I quoted above, from Rotterdam University, is by plausible academics using a large data set.

Other ‘reports’, cobbled together by public relations executive, using small sample surveys, should be treated with far more caution. They usually have an ‘angle’, and often cannot stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

The second point is simply that cause is not always correlation.

Take, again, the new Rotterdam University study about housework. It suggests that housewives are healthy because they do housework. It may be that there are lots of other reasons – and housework is simply one of the things which this group has in common.

A woman who does lots around the home may also take more care of her health generally, might not drink to excess or take drugs, might enjoy better mental health or lead a less stressful life than someone who leads an alternative lifestyle.

The fact she does lots of housework may be incidental, not decisive.

One other point about stories like the one based on Rotterdam University’s work. For all that it is welcome to hear that housework improves health, such a report is typical of the thrust of much research in this field.

The focus tends to be on the individual.

There is, obviously, work about households, but it tends to be skewed towards economics. Which is why the Home Renaissance Foundation’s Global Home Index represents, to me, a step in an interesting new direction.

Because it looks at how the culture, the usefulness, the utility of a home – that wonderful, ancient collective – can succeed or fail.

What creates a good home may be good housework. But it is also lots of other things, not all of which will be of immediate manifest benefit to an individual.

For example, the policy consensus which has evolved around the idea of working women, completely ignores the deleterious impact of fewer home-makers on the home. The data focusses on the individual, not the collective. This is an anomaly, which in its own modest way, the Global Home Index might help correct.

Drone-ing on about the home

By Joanna Roughton.

A word to the wise. When Amazon, or another big American tech company, tell us that the future is nigh – reach for a pinch full of salt.

In the last fortnight alone I have heard of plans to deliver emergency blood supplies by drone in war-torn Rwanda. And of a proposal to ensure every new home has a charging point for an electric car.

These are laudable, noble ambitions. And a world without ambition would be a poorer place. But are they on the point of happening? Or is a PR team congratulating itself somewhere for another publicity coup or two?


Amazon’s latest wheeze is typical. It addresses the growing fashion for home deliveries. There is a Klondyke-style rush to secure the riches of the ‘straight to your doorstep’ boom. It’s a classic illustration of capitalism’s bias towards creative destruction. High-streets are littered with empty retail units as more customers elect to have products brought to them by a courier.

Amazon’s plan seeks to solve the biggest and most obvious pitfall with home deliveries – that the home is empty when the delivery driver calls. The company says it will offer households the chance to create a secure storage area. The door, perhaps to a lobby, utility room or garage, would be opened with an access code. That code would change after each delivery and the driver sent a text with a new code before each new drop off.

It will, claims Amazon, circumvent the most annoying aspect of home deliveries – The Card. The card that waits for our return announcing that the parcel has gone to a depot because you, the naughty customer, didn’t ensure anyone was at home when Amazon called. If the technology can be made to work, this sounds like a sensible idea.

But, in terms of the philosophy of the home, it is another example of how society increasingly accepts the home as a space empty and often devoid of human agency. The idea that there might be some benefit to a home occupied and managed by a real, living person does not feature in any nascent debate about how much a home ought to be colonised by technological housekeepers.

The debate, in fact, is non-existent.

It is taken as a given by every corporate entity, arm of government, media outlet and technologist – that the home has to be an empty shell for much of the time. How else can homeowners perform their principal societal function – of going to work and making the only contribution which seems to matter under our new dispensation – to earn a wage.

What a load of balderdash!

As this column has argued before, the ledger is only half filled in at the moment. A home – to operate optimally – has to be lived in. There. It sounds such a facile thing to say. But how else can it be run to its full potential?

This is not just about having the time to create an environment apt to nurture a spouse and relatives from more than one generation. It is not just about having the potential to care for children, clean, cook and launder without recourse to sub-contractors.

It is also about being there for unexpected visitors. Business imagines that this means them. But mainly it means neighbours. Because people know I might well be there, my home is often a place where the doorbell rings unexpectedly.

Usually it’s just a social call, but it might be more pressing. An elderly neighbour who needs help getting to hospital. A working parent who cannot take care of a sick child and asks for my assistance as an emergency child-minder.

How do we put a price on this utility? How can we weigh the benefit of the social cohesion which springs from this neighbourliness? It is not Amazon’s duty to answer that question.

But it should be something which occurs to those we elect to govern our lives.

The incredible shrinking British home

By Joanna Roughton.

Does size matter when it comes to a happy home?

If you’re British, like me, you’d better hope not.

According to a new study from Cambridge University academics, Malcolm Morgan and Heather Cruickshank, the UK leads the developed world in homes fit for hobbits.

The average British newly-built home is a mere 76 square metres, compared to 137 square metres in Denmark, 109.2 in Germany, 112.8 in France and 115.5 in supposedly crowded Holland.


The HRF has frequently debated one immediate impact of this shrinkage.

Dining rooms are disappearing. Hard-pressed architects – given a dwindling budget and a diminishing floor space to work with – realise that a family dining room is a luxury.

The lucky ones can do something imaginative with a kitchen diner. The rest must guiltily sketch out a design which, they must know, can only mean meals to be taken on a sofa in front of a TV.

But what must be the effect of the walls closing in beyond meal times?

For one thing, storage is a nightmare in such tiny homes. The lucky ones have a boarded-out loft or a garage which doubles as a repository for household junk. The rest must rent storage off-site.

With small homes everything else tends to be shrunk too. That means postage stamp gardens, no parking and roads just about wide enough for two cyclists to pass one another easily – if rarely two cars.

The sense of claustrophobia is palpable in a couple of the newly built British homes I’ve been inside recently.

And I conjure up the idea of a phobia because there has to be some psychological impact to living in a home where there is not enough room to swing the proverbial cat.

For one thing, such homes do not allow for redundant space. Older homes, really old homes especially, often use space inefficiently.

But the effect of these useless nooks and crannies is strangely liberating. My last home but one was built in the Victorian-era. Many of the rooms had – by modern standards – absurdly high ceilings.

Modernists say that represents folly. What’s the point of heating up hundreds of cubic metres of pointless dead air? The point, surely, was to stop a home feeling like a cramped cave.

Now we hear stories about new homes so small that furniture-makers are having to redesign furniture to give it a chance of occupying a miniature lounge or bedroom. Sofas have shrunk, beds too.

Of course, a small home is better than no home.

But, might it be possible to insist, as a condition for planning approval, that there ought to be a statutory minimum room size? Can we imagine a time when Parliament might set a legal requirement for new homes to include a reasonable dining space – with all the health and social benefits which flow from that?

Builders would demand something in return.

Land is expensive in the UK, and when a developer increases the footprint of a new home, he reduces his profits. One answer is to make land cheaper and, since ‘they’re no longer making land’, opening up the green belt to the bulldozers might represent the only solution.

It would be unpopular with many of my neighbours, who already have large homes in the country, but be a boon for those whose new homes are otherwise likely to retain the unenviable title of The Smallest in the Western World.

The quiet revival of ‘slow’ home ownership

By Joanna Roughton.


What makes a house a home? Of all the questions which the Home Renaissance Foundation was set up to muse on, this one remains key.

I thought about it this week in the wake of a report about the cost of moving. In parts of the UK it has now reached eye-wateringly high levels – £31,000 according to one news report.

Why so high?

Increases in stamp duty – a tax imposed on the sale of a residential property – seems to be the main reason. But there are other causes too. Conveyancing, estate agents’ fees, and the cost of physically emptying the contents of a house and removing it to a new location all add up.

Obviously, many people reluctantly acquiesce to part with the cash. In a housing market which persists in being bullish, moving up the residential ladder has become the dominant philosophy for some individuals and families seeking financial security.

And for workers, a new address is often the price demanded by a flexible labour market which requires employees to move to a different part of the country at the drop of a hat.

But the truth behind the statistics may surprise you. In reality, and counter-intuitively, British people are spending longer in their homes. Research by the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association published last year found that the average UK home changes hands every 23 years — up from every 8 years in the 1980s.

A little over 4 per cent of the UK’s private housing stock was bought and sold according to the most recent figures. Three decades ago that turnover figure was 12 per cent.

So much for all those people who view their homes as chips on the housing market roulette wheel, or as temporary digs until the next job promotion comes along.

These figures show that, contrary certainly to my intuition, people and home are enjoying a longer union.

And, if you feel, as I do, that a happy home takes years to create, then there is cause for cheer here.

But why is turnover falling so quickly? Partly, it’s a function of the growth in the rented sector. Sad to say, people are also taking longer to buy their first property. But the research also attributes a desire to be less itinerant on the part of middle-aged homeowners who are ‘staying put’ in record numbers.

Some people will decry this as the inertia of boring middle-aged folk. I prefer to see it as uplifting.

After all, in a world where communal bonds are decaying, social cohesion requires some stability. Remaining in the same home allows families to put down roots. Properties which encourage inter-generational living send those roots ever deeper. Oh, and it means you don’t have to pay £31,000 every time a ‘for sale’ sign is erected in the front garden.

Homes of Hope & Glory

By Joanna Roughton.


My 13-year-old daughter, Agnes, was nodding-off during Mass this morning.

“It’s your fault Mum,” she yawned. “You got me up to watch the Last Night of the Proms!”.

Aggie has a point.

I think there are some cultural reference points which a family need to share. In a globalising world, it is increasingly important – in my view – to make a conscious effort to expose the next generation to the things which make them who they are.

And so, all the children were kept up late to watch the BBC’s wonderful coverage from the Royal Albert Hall.

Vaughan-Williams, Elgar, Jerusalem. The same line-up every year, the same rousing crescendo.

Some people can think of nothing worse. Hymns like ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ sound a little like an Imperial mission statement, with the lyrical injunction to “make [Britain] mightier yet”.

But I love the gleeful celebration of national identity. Patriotism need not be jingoism. The promenaders who wave their union flags are not lamenting the passing of Britain’s colonial history.

They are participating in a slightly tongue-in-cheek collective act of remembering what made the UK what it is today.

Of course, it would be lovely to be there in person, but TV captures the boisterous essence of the occasion.

It is an example of how ‘the box’ can be an aid to household cohesion. Overdone, as it often is, and TV can seem to have the opposite effect.

This week we learned, for instance, that the decline in family dining is showing no signs of slowing. A survey for IKEA showed that the UK had experienced a 22 per cent decline in weekly family meals.

It is facile to blame TV dinners. For sure, there is a negative inverse correlation between consumption of television and consumption of meals eaten at the dining table.

But the real villain, when it comes to the demise of the family dinner, is changing habitation patterns. The same IKEA survey notes that a quarter of Brits eat at least one meal a day on their own. A quarter feel they simply don’t have the space in their home to invite people to share a meal there.

The truth is that more of us are living alone, in homes which do not have dining rooms and scarcely have enough space for a dining table.

I thought about this when the death was announced earlier this year of Caroline Aherne. This talented comic and actor created a lasting image of a dysfunctional but happy home in her award winning Royle Family.


If you haven’t seen it, the comedy involved a working class Mancunian family whose life is spent eating, talking and sleeping in front of the television.

They are not held up as high-achieving, for they are not. But they are shown to be a successful household because three generations have chosen to live under one roof. They come together in front of the TV. They stay together because they love one another.

Unfathomable mysteries of the downstairs toilet…

By Joanna Roughton.

My husband went to Suffolk for a wedding reception for an old college friend this week. Afterwards, I enjoyed listening to his description of what people wore, summaries of the speeches given, and interesting life stories glimpsed over the wedding breakfast.

One thing caught my ear. “It was the downstairs loo,” he said. “Just brilliant. Old school pictures, campaign medals worn by great-grandparents, maps of the local area.”

I saw another fantastic example of the genre last month, when invited to dinner by a new friend. Her husband, a successful banker, had once scaled Mount Everest. This was not something which had ever come up in conversation, but there, in the low-altitude ground-floor restroom, was evidence of his high-altitude heroics.

Did the guest bathroom always perform this function? When did the Brits – a race noted for a certain reluctance to be ostentatious – decide that it was okay to flaunt their hinterlands to the accompaniment of a flushing toilet?

The logic of this arrangement is clear. For reasons that sometimes defy explanation, the Brits do not like conspicuous celebrations of success. Put charitably, this reflects a creditable humility, a self-effacing diffidence, a determination not to brag and boast.

But there is a way of looking at this aversion to household self-promotion as grey and dull. Why not trumpet to the world, or at least someone visiting your home, what makes you tick? Why not let guests know what it is that fills your heart with pride?


A British visitor to an American home might wince at the sight of the paterfamilias – his oil painting staring down in the lobby. He would certainly stare up at Trump Tower and see a culture which had less difficulty than his own in turning a building into a personal statement.

So the Brits fudge things. They are, of course, just as proud as anyone else that they have been to a good school or dived in a shark cage. But many of them would look askance at photographs of said activities displayed prominently in the entrance hall.

No, for them, the effect must be subtle and unlabored. They know, full-well, that most visitors will, at some stage, need to take a “comfort break”. They can be certain that, when the bladder requires emptying, a visitor can take their fill of a biography laid out on the walls of a small cubicle.

And this has become an art form almost in its own right.

Some downstairs loos allow the householder to poke fun at themselves, with pictures of bad haircuts at university or awkward falls from a pony.

Others offer a sort of virtual scrapbook amid the sanitary ware, with snaps from family holidays or embossed invitations to memorable parties.

In this regard the downstairs loo can be seen as a precursor to Facebook; a place where people present an image of themselves which appears spontaneous and free-wheeling, but which is actually ruthlessly edited to create a desired effect.

Or perhaps I’m reading too much into things. Maybe it’s just a way of giving a guest something to look at while they spend a penny or two.

A masterclass in getting the kids to do their chores

By Joanna Roughton.

In 2007 my jaw dropped and my tummy heaved with laughter as I watched an internet revelation. It was courtesy of an American Christian comedian, Anita Renfroe.

Drawing on her experience as a mother of three, she took all the things that a mum might typically say to her children in the course of a day – and then set them to the William Tell Overture.

The result – the Mom Song – is simply brilliant and has been viewed millions of times on Youtube.

This week I was again left wonderstruck at the apparent ingenuity of another mother. As with the Mom Song, it comes to us via the internet.


What cunning!

Unlike the widely shared Renfroe video, I can’t vouch for the provenance of this post-it. Under the headline – ‘Mumbelievable” – Britain’s Sun newspaper carried the story, without attributing it to any particular individual.

But be that as it may. Let’s assume this was an authentic attempt by a savvy mum to get the kids to do their chores.

My first thought, a little disgracefully, was – ‘why didn’t I think of that?’. However, as a ruse, this is one that requires some effort on the part of the mother, albeit just a picture taken on her smartphone, with a few words scribbled on a note.

It is a sophisticated act of virtual nagging.

And, like all the most effective acts of parental chivvying, it requires a gentle form of blackmail.

Indeed, there is something slightly underworld about it. Requiring a photo to be texted each day showing a new object to establish its originality is the stuff of hostage demands, where a newspaper – showing today’s date – is included in the picture of a detainee to prove that they are still alive.

It’s that hint of menace which gives this post-it note – and many of our more efficacious threats as parents – the power to persuade unruly children to do what we want, not what they want.

And this smartphone variation has an additional element for the modern age. By using our children’s addiction to the internet, this mother sets up a reward system which really works.

I would love to know more about who came up with the post-it idea.

It smacks of someone who works in internet security, perhaps a computer programmer who works in the burgeoning area of online validation, who has seen an opportunity to ‘read across’ from work to home.

Was it in fact a mother at all? “Today’s WIFi password can be unlocked by texting a photo of a clean kitchen to mum”, says the opening line on the post-it. Perhaps it was one of ‘mum’s’ grown-up children, or a husband.

Who knows. It really doesn’t matter. As with the magnificent Mom Song, we have the internet – not always a force for positive change – to thank for showing parents a new way to smile at the challenges of parenthood.

What is Good Housekeeping anyway?

By Joanna Roughton.

I’ve just pulled up the Good Housekeeping website and my worst suspicions were instantly confirmed. There were four headline stories. One concerned a celebrity chef and his ‘secret’ girlfriend. Another was about a woman called Katie and why she feels hormonal. There was some advice on credit cards and the virtues of a bar which has banned mobile phones.


But set aside idle prejudice. Good Housekeeping may have moved a long way from the core editorial values of sound housewifery and thrifty domesticity, but for all its obsession with glitz and gossip, it can still throw up the odd gem for home-makers.

Last month, for instance, it produced a truly thought-provoking list. Ah – the list. Another staple of the publishing industry. But, no, hear me out. This was a good one. Genuinely useful.

This list sought to identify and prioritise housework, separating chores into those which must be done daily, every week, once a quarter, and annually. You may not agree with the choices made by the authors. But there was at least a sort of coherent logic at work.

Here’s the list:

Daily chores

1. Making the bed.

2. Washing the dishes.

3. Wiping down the kitchen surfaces.

4. Sweeping the kitchen floor.

5. Wiping down the bathroom surfaces.

6. Sponging off the shower walls.

7. Sanitising the sinks in your house.

Weekly chores

1. Mop the kitchen and bathroom floors.

2. Scrub the bathroom surfaces.

3. Polish mirrors.

4. Dust furniture.

5. Vacuum all floors.

6. Change all bedding.

7. Bin expired food.

8. Wipe down kitchen appliances.

9. Clean the microwave (including inside).

10. Sanitise your sponges.

Chores that should be done every three months

1. Wiping the inside of the fridge.

2. Wash the shower curtain.

3. Clean under and behind furniture.

4. Wash pillows and duvets.

5. Vacuum all mattresses.

6. Freshen the drains.

7. Clean inside the oven.

8. Clean out the freezer.

Annual chores

1. Clean the fireplace and chimney.

2. Deep clean the carpet and upholstery.

3. Deep clean the windows.

4. Clean curtains and drapes.

5. Clean out gutters.

Okay, so all a little Mission Impossible. The one which actually made me titter was the daily ‘sanitising of sinks’. Really, with six children, two dogs and a permanently hungry husband. The sinks might have to wait.

But for all this a list for people who do nothing other than housework and have no children or pets, there is still something useful to be gleaned here. I do try to get the oven cleaned every three months or so. I did have the chimney swept annually (when we had one). Even the idea which tops the Good Housekeeping list – making the bed – is a daily ambition I endorse and aspire to (even if it’s not something I always achieve).

I shan’t be trying to tick off each item on this list, as and when required. Anyway the annual gutter cleaning and quarterly ‘drain freshening’ fall into my husband’s orbit.

But for homemakers who sometimes feel they are operating in a vacuum this list does help with calibration. That’s because our efforts on the home front – if recognised at all – are usually judged subjectively (by ourselves, our spouses, children and relations).

Obviously each family has its own priorities. Ours are skewed by the fact we have a relatively large number of offspring. But it is still useful to see an attempt being made at a prescription for domestic success. It may not be consensual or representative, but at least it’s not celebrity tittle tattle.

Summertime Nagging!

By Joanna Roughton.

Do you set a curfew on housework?

Here’s an interesting article by a columnist who thinks a healthy home relies on a deadline, after which the bulk of our domestic duties ought to come to a halt.

She says that after 6pm, it should be time for relaxation.


It’s thought-provoking idea, and one which has pretty obvious attractions. For stay-at-home-parents like me it is feasible, if largely unachievable. With sufficient premeditation and organisation, everything except the cooking of an evening meal (and clearing up afterwards) could – theoretically – be concluded by six.

For working parents, however, 6pm is often when the housework begins in earnest. What’s their cut-off? 8pm? 10pm? Thank goodness I’ve been able to leave that insoluble juggling act behind.

However, I have to say that much of my most productive housework time happens in the evening. After six in fact. Laundry and ironing often get done only once the children have gone to bed. It means I can commandeer the TV and work my way through piles of clothes while my brain goes into sleep mode in front of some mind-numbing detective drama.

The big household jobs often get done after sundown. My husband (I think it’s a man-thing) likes to tidy a room in one go. He will decide that the study/family bathroom/hallway need a deep clean and that’s him gone for three hours.

He reserves his most frenzied acts of domestic godliness for the bedrooms of our younger children. These are those who are, as yet, resistant to all scolding and exhortations. Kids who, regardless of how big the stick or carrot, cannot be persuaded to keep their sleeping quarters tidy.

I cleave to the view that if our offspring are prepared to live amid squalor then that is their choice. They have (not) made their bed, so they can lie in it, you might say. My husband takes a different – and more charitable – view.

Whatever your approach, it is certainly true that a home has its own distinctive rhythms; periods of inactivity and calm, moment of frenzied activity, and lots in between.

Our home, during term-time, is at its most energetic – and stressful – in the morning. The countdown to the school run is the thing about parenting I shall miss the least, when the children have flown the coop.


Now, during the school holidays, the tempo has changed. Langour is in the air. Especially in this brief hot spell in the south of England. But the house still needs attention, particularly with six children at home.

Sometimes it feels like the summer school holidays are one long moan. Variations on the eternal directive: “Get outside, the sun is shining!” Mud is no longer a problem, but flies are. The hunt for hats and scarves has been supplanted by the search for suncream. The Sunday roast has been upstaged by the BBQ.

And this is when we need our resilience as home managers most. A house can really slide in the summer vacation. Children, in residence 24/7 have enormous destructive capacity.

Only a system of chores will hold back the tide of disorder. And, being children, this is not a policy which meets with unfettered joy.

But it’s vital to nag, gently if possible, persuasively at least.

For the summer is when we get our children to ourselves day after day. This is the time of year when we can teach them how to become co-operators in the successful running of a home. Without them the housework would finish at 6am, not 6pm.

Outside the home, ditch the flip-flops

By Joanna Roughton.

Imagine turning up to a wedding to find the vicar wearing jeans and a football shirt.


Newspaper reports this week have conjured up this scenario in the wake of a ruling by the Church of England’s General Synod.

The decision, which will require final approval next year, is the result of a campaign to allow Anglican priests to ‘reach out’ to modern worshippers.

If rubber-stamped, it will permit the ditching of clerical robes for more casual dress, for services ranging from weddings to funerals.

Does it matter how we dress outside the home? Haven’t starchy old uniforms had their day? Shouldn’t people be allowed to wear whatever clothes they feel comfortable in?

At the risk of sounding like a complete battle-axe, I’m afraid that – for me – it’s no, no, no. Formal dress matters. Not because of some outmoded attachment to fusty garb. But because it makes sense.

Only this week, for instance, I went to a school Open Day. This is a scene being played out at scores of sites across the UK at this time of year.


It is a little like a village fete, with teachers, pupils and parents coming together, in the school grounds, to dodge the showers while listening to the headmaster give an uplifting speech before everyone tucks into sandwiches and strawberries.

It is a punctuation mark in the academic year, bringing the final term to a satisfying conclusion. The children looked immaculate in their school uniforms (compulsory even though it was Saturday).

Shoes were polished, ties carefully knotted, blazers worn in spite of the muggy heat. The teachers no longer wear gowns, but they were universally smart. The head set the tone, sporting a three-piece suit.

And then there were the parents. Most of the mothers had made a big effort. Floral summer dresses were much in evidence, even the occasional trouser suit. No hats – this wasn’t a wedding – but plenty of style.

Then there were the men. A smattering had turned up in ties and blazers. A larger number wore tailored shorts and short-sleeved shirts. A substantial number were unshaved, in sandals or flip-flops, t-shirts, looking much as they would if they were at home on Saturday afternoon, ready for a doze in front of the TV and the Wimbledon women’s tennis final.

Were they worried about looking ‘overdressed’. The invitation did not stipulate a dress code. Perhaps it ought to have done. Without one, a large cohort of modern British manhood feels it has permission to dress as it might on the seafront at Ibiza.

And why not? The answer is so blindingly obvious that it really should not need underlining with an instruction about dress on the invitation.

If we expect our children to be smart, it behoves us to do the same. If they have gone to the trouble, so should we.

Otherwise we are sending out mixed messages. Be smart, take care of how you present yourself to the world, we are saying on one hand. On the other, in our appearance as parents, we are saying quite the opposite. Don’t care, don’t mind how you look, dress doesn’t matter.

There is another reason for the men to ditch the flip flops. It is less compelling, but still valid.

Donning a blazer in spite of the heat, suffering a little modest discomfort, expresses an individual’s determination to respect the institution which has extended the invitation.

It is a mark of respect to the school, in this instance, and by extension, to other parents. It is not mildly masochistic, but a show of reverence. Far from being ‘showy’ or ostentatious, the effect is the reverse. When enough men gather in shirts, ties, blazers and suits, the impression is one of uniformity. It turns a group of diverse individuals into a collective.

Yes, critics might call it conformism. A kinder reading would be to see it as a show of unity. These men, from a range of backgrounds, doing many different kinds of jobs, with varying success as fathers and husbands, assert that they sign up to the project.

In short, that they care.