Our interests used to be called hobbies. You liked gardening or DIY or buying clothes or cooking. You watched Fanny Craddock or Percy Thrower on the television — entertaining eccentrics who offered suggestions. But now that the culture has become so secularised and obsessed with the notion of the “inner self” we appear to believe that we can get in touch with the good, pure, wholesome person inside us via wooden decking or the right V-neck jersey and, worse, that we can only find the decking through the auspices of a decking guru.
I am particularly disturbed by the childcare gurus. Being bossy about the disgustingness of battery chickens or the importance of a well-fitting bra is one thing; making sweeping and generalised pronouncements about bringing up babies and children quite another.
I heard a really horrifying story from a friend this week: a friend of hers, the first-time mother of a month-old baby, had purchased Ford’s The Contented Little Baby Book, a volume that advocates “controlled crying” in order to force babies to sleep through the night. She was using the Ford method on this baby who, pathetically, was waking up because he was four weeks old and hungry. But his cries were ignored, until my distraught friend pointed out that Ford’s method — which she herself makes clear — is not designed for newborns…
When did we lose all our self-confidence? Why are we so anxious about doing things the wrong way when we’ve muddled through perfectly happily for centuries? People have always liked guidebooks, which is absolutely fine and comes from a commendable urge to be practical and informed. But now advice has turned into a branch of metaphysics: eat the McKeith way, dress like Trinny, plant whatever shrub some random gardener recommends, and you’ll be a better, wholer, person.