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.

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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.

Phew.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

You can keep your larder!

By Joanna Roughton.

The property section of our national newspapers usually yield little knowledge about what really makes a home.

The minutiae of house-price fluctuations, the pros and cons of the letting market, the best mortgage deals.

There is a lot in these supplements which satisfies the belief that, when it comes to investing cash, nothing beats bricks and mortar.

If, like the HRF, you believe there is more to a home than its capital appreciation, its gentrification or its potential to extend, then the best advice is to insert these inserts straight into the recycling bin.

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However, I did come across one article in a property supplement which I thought worthy of a blog.

Partly because it provides some interesting insights into how some people are changing the way they use their homes, but also because – inadvertently – they remind us of how some householders well, just have more money than sense.

The article in London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper listed the latest must-haves for well-heeled homeowners.

There was a dog shower room for pet lovers and a snoring suite for couples whose sleep was being disturbed unto the point of separate bedrooms.

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There was a puff for orangeries and a glowing review of larders. One paragraph extolled the virtues of a redundant front-door, while another tried to imagine life without a walk-in-wardrobe.

All of these ideas have a germ of good sense. As the owner of two dogs, it is my frequent lament that these animals were created for one express purpose – to spread mud and hair rapidly through an entire house.

But a ‘dog shower’. Oh come on. The solution is to wash off the mud with an outside tap, or encourage Fido to wait in a basket or cage by the door until he’s dried off.

As for a ‘snoring room’. Isn’t that just a re-badged guest room?

A larder appeals to the frustrated Georgian in me, as does the orangery.

But, again, this is to fly in the face of progress for the sake of aesthetics or fashion. A fridge will waste less food than a larder.

A conservatory – at least one with some walls – will usually do a better job of controlling extremes of temperature than an all-glass orangery.

And then there’s the notion of keeping the front-door for special occasions. I could lock ours and insist that the children only entered the house by the side entrance.

But, as wartime generals were wont to remind us, no plan survives first contact with reality. My offspring think every homecoming after a day at school is a ‘special occasion’.

They would quickly find a key and press the front door back into active service. Because children are the missing element in the Telegraph’s article.

The home improvement ideas contained in it are for show homes, properties which end up being photographed for Country Life or Homes & Garden.

When a home is bustling with family life, a walk-in-wardrobe is rarely an option. For all but the mega-rich, a snoring room would be indulgence (we have six bedrooms and our two youngest children still share a bunk-bed).

Ditto the larder. If home life is a constant production line of school lunches, rushed breakfasts and multiple sittings for dinner as children return from after-school activities at different times, then what you want is a fridge.

You do not want to amble into a larder to discover that the only cheese in the house has grown enough fungus for a chemistry experiment.

The Rise of the ‘Mompreneur’

By Joanna Roughton.

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It doesn’t take a survey to know that no two stay-at-home parents are ever the same – but it helps!

I strongly recommend to you the work done by Laura Vanderkam. She calls it – catchily – ‘The Mom Gig’.

Laura has surveyed almost 600 full-time parents, who self-identify as stay-at-home-mums.

That must have been the easy bit.

The hard – and interesting bit – was getting all those mothers to keep an hour-by-hour record of how their day unfolds.

After all, the point about running a home is that free-time can be hard to come by. The picture which emerges is as fascinating as it is varied.

“I knew that people had a lot of misconceptions about how stay-at-home moms spend their time,” Laura told an interviewer from America’s Today Parents website.

“People believe moms are sitting around doing nothing, or that 100 percent of their time is consumed by childcare. Neither is the case — which [this] study showed.”

“Our respondents’ lives were incredibly diverse. One mom spent the day substitute-teaching. Another milked goats and spent five hours building a tool shed. A third played tennis for three hours.”

One feature which does emerge clearly is the hybrid nature of modern stay-at-home parenting, or what some have dubbed ‘mompreneurs’ – mothers who run businesses or generate extra income for the family from home.

Of the nearly 600 parents interviewed by Laura, 62 per cent said they contributed to household income. A quarter said they actually ran a full-blown business from home.

A surprisingly small minority of the parents Laura spoke to said they had become full-time mothers because their careers were not family-friendly (just seven per cent).

More than double that number (15 per cent) cited expensive childcare as the thing which had propelled them away from the workplace and into the home.

Laura explained: “They would like to limit their hours, and they want to work from home so they have the flexibility to attend school events and manage their households. There aren’t many traditional jobs that meet these conditions.”

The ‘Mom Gig’ throws up some really interesting insights, not least how children view their stay-at-home mothers and the rise of stay-at-home dads.

And, as the mother of a large brood myself, I took careful note of her survey findings regarding family size. According to her interviews, mothers of four children emerge as the happiest full-time parents because, as Laura puts it, they have gone “all in”.

“Four children will mellow all but the most stubborn of perfectionists. I suspect moms of big families are more likely to take a little clutter in stride, and just enjoy their boisterous homes.”

http://www.redbookmag.com/life/mom-kids/a43578/stay-at-home-mom-survey/#our-survey

Turning the home into a hotel

By Joanna Roughton.

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How must a home change as our children get older?

I ask this in light of the latest data on children who never leave home. Their numbers are rising – inexorably – in pretty much every western country.

Be Home has considered before why this is happening; high housing costs, rising student debt, parents reluctant to part with offspring, and so forth.

But what about the actual impact on the lives of parents?

What, indeed, of the way a house – geared for a clear delineation between grown-ups and children – must mutate into a dwelling place for multiple adults?

In my own life, I see the seeds of this evolution. My eldest child, now 17, invited a group of friends over at the weekend. They would have quite happily stayed up long after I had gone to bed, were it not for the fact that I had offered to run a taxi service to get them all restored to their parents before the clock struck midnight.

But I do not need to look far to see how the statistical bulge in ‘boomerang kids’ – children who leave university only to return to the family nest thereafter – plays out in practice. Both my sisters have children living at home. All of them are in their 20s. One of them is in his late 20s.

Practically, there are side-effects caused by this arrested development. Both my siblings struggle to park their cars on their own driveways – their children have usually got there first!

The same goes for other shared resources. Television lounges tend to work on a ‘first come, first served’ basis and, as such, they are vulnerable to colonisation.

However, while sources of domestic relaxation – be that a sun lounger or bath – come under strain, white goods which perform vital, unglamorous but essential talks, are orphaned.

Boomerang kids, unless met with determined resistance, often still expect to be waited on hand-and-foot.

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My sisters now do more laundry, ironing, cooking and grocery shopping than ever they did with school-aged children.

They receive occasional financial contributions and, when their kids remember, fleeting expressions of verbal gratitude.

And, yet, running a home still appears to be a source of satisfaction, rather than a burden to be laid down. After all, only this week, new research showed that stay-at-home mothers are happier than people who have chosen any other career path.

The findings come – inevitably – from the financial services sector (the insurer, LV). But let’s not hold that against the data, which has a robust feel.

The researchers surveyed more than 3,100 adults working in 23 areas of work. Full-time parents were almost twice as satisfied with their lot than the average full-time employee.

Overall, 13 per cent of stay-at-home mothers said they were dissatisfied in their role. That figure doubles for retail workers and even civil servants.

The figures were converted into a happiness score for each category of job and, ergo, homemakers ranked top, with a score of 87.2.

Funnily enough, at least for parents of boomerang kids who treat the family home like a hotel, the next happiest group of employees? Those who work in the hospitality sector.

Is Housework Really ‘Sexy’ Again?

By Joanna Roughton.

 

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Is housework sexy again?

There have certainly been lots of articles ventilating this question in the last week.

Why?

Thanks to a speech given at the Hay Literary Festival, in which a professor of cultural history argued for a re-evaluation of the way society views domestic chores.

Professor Maggie Andrews, from the University of Worcester, said that she felt we were witnessing “a shift in our culture”.

Prof Andrews added: “30 years ago, in the 1980s, the assumption was that feminism was about escaping the domestic, getting out of the home, getting a job and being financially independent.

“People are more sceptical about that now – they see a much more complex picture. They see the domestic space as one area of women’s power. Certain elements of the domestic have become much sexier, much more popular, an escape from the horrors of society.

“Part of it also must be that more men are involved in it; cooking is less low status. There’s been a real shift in our attitudes to domesticity, within the feminist movement and scholarship, there’s been a lot of people looking at the domestic in the way they didn’t 30 years ago.

“Maybe domesticity isn’t a bad thing, or possibly work isn’t quite as much fun as we all thought.”

At first blush, it’s tempting to say the Home Renaissance Foundation should be emailing Professor Andrews with a view to commissioning her to produce some work. Afterall, here’s an academic – whose observations broadly seem to align with the central aims of the HRF – and whose work has been disseminated far and wide.

But before we get out the cheque-book, maybe we should give a closer reading to what is happening here.

First, attractive though Professor Andrews’ assertions might be, they do not appear to be supported by a slew of supporting data. They are opinions, albeit from the mouth of a credible observer who has made a study of this topic over some years. This does not invalidate them, but it does reduce their power.

Second, the way this story rattled around the world’s news websites with viral energy tells us something about the modern media, every bit as much as it tells us about new thinking about housework.

The Hay Literary Festival is a content provider on a grand scale. Dozens of news items are produced from its bookish portals. Again, you might ask, why?

Simple. The newspapers send reporters there (from their diminishing pool of journalists) because they know it can be relied upon to generate ‘column inches’. Do a Google search and see how many news articles have emerged from this one literary festival in rural Britain. You will be astonished.

Third, we are approaching the ‘dog days’ of summer when ‘thin’ news days need filling. A counter-cultural story about housework becoming sexy, taking feminism in a new direction, is manna from heaven for commentators looking to stoke up a reaction on Twitter or elsewhere on social media.

All it takes is for the research to have the imprimatur of a serious academic and, off we go.

For what it’s worth, I think the point about cooking becoming less ‘low-esteem’ has some merit. But, as the HRF is wont to point out, there is more to running a home than producing lovely meringues and fairy cakes.

And, while it is indubitably true that many women find moral worth and emotional succour in the creation of a nurturing family home, the evidence is that fewer can exercise that choice.

The data shows that a majority of working mothers, for instance, want to spend more time at home with their children, even as governments – like the UK’s – are making it harder to achieve that aspiration.

 

The Great British Pave Off

By Joanna Roughton.

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When it comes to a happy home, how important is a nice garden?

The answer, it seems, may depend on whether you own or rent.

The Royal Horticultural Society, which this week is the organising force behind Britain’s biggest gardening-fest, has been busily lamenting this divide between owners and renters.

“There is a crisis in our front gardens and one of the major strands in it is the growth in rental properties,” Sue Biggs, RHS director-general, reportedly told the Financial Times.

The problem, apparently, is two-fold. First, landlords do not feel that an attractive garden adds significantly to rental income, so they don’t pay to maintain it, or stipulate in any detail that it should be well kept.

Second, tenants do not feel they have a stake in the property. If they see a lawn, they are as inclined to park a car on it, as they are to fire-up the mower. Renters, who might be willing to spend their own money wall-papering a bedroom, do not feel it’s worth planting bulbs that may only bloom long after they’ve moved on.

The decline of gardens – particularly highway-facing front-gardens – is rapid. The number that have simply been paved over has tripled in a decade. People like to park their vehicles off the road. So do insurance companies, which charge less for policies if a car is left on a private driveway overnight.

But once a garden is paved over it is not only unsightly, but it ceases to serve as a soakaway. Recent flash-floods in the UK have been partly attributed to this trend.

And a garden that is paved over is simply less nice to look at.

Last year the RHS calculated that one in three British gardens now have no plants growing in them at all. That means fewer sights and smells to feast on, and not just for the homeowner concerned.

For, once a garden disappears, a whole neighbourhood sheds a little aesthetic self-respect. Flowers, shrubs, hanging baskets, borders, flowers and trees lift the mood of passers-by every bit as much as they put a smile on the face of the green-fingered owner.

How much does this reflect changes to the housing market?

Well, seemingly quite a lot. The change in UK property ownership is rapid and stark.

The proportion of households in the private rented sector nearly doubled from 10 per cent to 19 per cent in the decade to 2013. Among the young the shift is bigger still. Almost half of those aged 25-34 were renting, up from 21 per cent ten years earlier, according to the English Housing Survey.

Renting has its fans. And certainly its uses in an economy where labour mobility is king.

But it is surely relativistic folly to maintain, as some do, that a community is just as cohesive regardless of whether residents are renting or owning.

Bowling alone

By Joanna Roughton.

When people of my parents’ generation got married, one of the wedding gifts they could reasonably expect to receive was a dinner service.

It was a major and expensive gift, sometimes bought piecemeal by different friends or relations, depending on their financial circumstances.

Just how far we have travelled from that world was underlined by research this week. It revealed that, when it comes to buying crockery, fashions are changing fast. Bowls now outsell plates.

Not by a little bit either. Something like 40 per cent of all the crockery bought here in the UK now has a high, food-corralling rim. Sales of plates, by contrast, now account for just nine per cent of the market.

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Why the shift?

The researchers speculate that responsibility partly lies with social media. Diners reportedly want to photograph their efforts in the kitchen and, before eating it, want to share it online. A bowl, apparently, is more apt for this act of ostentatious cookery.

This is what my parents’ generation would have called ‘showing off’, but which is now considered the hallmark of a fully-engaged human being.

Less trivially there is another – and more disturbing – twist to this trend.

Instagram may have something to do with this newfound passion for bowls, but by far the greater cause is our evolving (should that be ‘regressing’?) eating habits.

You see, bowls work better than plates, when food is eaten on the sofa. That is the real driver at work and, as the Home Renaissance Foundation has highlighted before, this retreat from the dining table, is to be lamented.

Our patron and celebrated chef, Richard Corrigan, has written compellingly for the HRF about the societal, familial and individual health benefits of family dining.

A growing corpus of research underlines the importance of families coming together to share a meal, away from the distractions of televisions or other electronic devices.

Data shows that the simple act of sitting down together, often at an appointed hour, to break bread and share news of the day endows young people with soft-skills and much-needed ‘emotional capital’.

They learn good manners and good conversation. Without them, the very social mobility of youngsters is jeopardised.

Conversely, households where individuals eat when they like, usually in front of the TV, sitting on a sofa (and, as we now know, often eating from a bowl) suffer.

Exposure to ‘risky’ behaviours increases, negative outcomes which include obesity and depression.

Of all the simple activities that a good, nurturing home should promote, the case for family dining is the most convincing.

Families that do sit down to enjoy food together, need not break out the full dinner service. They could even eat from a bowl. But they must sit down together, unencumbered by the manifold distractions of the digital age, and eat, talk and listen.