Anna Burnside: The Cleggs’ childcare cojones

Nick Clegg and wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez. Picture: Getty
Nick Clegg and wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez. Picture: Getty
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WHAT is the point of Nick Clegg? Finally, last week, an answer. As well as sharing the work of looking after his three sons with his lawyer wife, the normally underwhelming walking cardigan wants businesses to face up to the reality that men and women are equally responsible for childcare.

At a speech in the City last week, the Deputy Prime Minister laid into “old-fashioned” employers who “raise an eyebrow” at men who take time off for sick kids and ballet displays. The old distinction between breadwinners and carers is, he said, dead.

It got better. Mrs Clegg, who understandably prefers to be known as Miriam González Durántez, microphone-bombed her old fella. “Taking care of your own children and being responsible for your children does not affect your level of testosterone,” she told the assembled currency traders. “Those men who actually treat women as equals are the ones with most cojones.”

These are all excellent points that need to be made everywhere, not just to select gatherings of men in Paul Smith suits. Children are the responsibility of both parents. Their care is of the utmost importance to everyone: their formative experiences have enormous effects on how the rest of their lives will pan out. Looking after kids is a two-person job and it is to the Cleggs’ credit that, as well as being leader of the Lib Dems and running the EU department at an international law firm, they share domestic duties equally.

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, please watch and learn. Childcare is not a women’s issue and presenting it as such will not persuade them to vote for independence. It is an issue for everyone: how to make sure both parents can accommodate the needs of their family without alienating their child-free colleagues.

Looking after children is not something instinctive to women or a skill that can only be acquired with huge effort and much applause by a tiny percentage of exceptional men. It does not require different names when done by persons who wear different undies. If a man passes on a night out because he is at home with his kids, he is “babysitting”. When a woman does the same, that’s just life.

There is nothing that difficult about playing Hungry Frogs, explaining why you would rather not hear My Humps by the Black Eyed Peas (with actions) again, sandblasting dried-on spaghetti off the kitchen floor, applying plasters to flesh wounds and listening to the eight times table. Much of childcare is banal, repetitive and brain-meltingly dull. It’s also annoying, inconvenient and relentless. No matter what crises of EU legislation or Ukip mania the González Durántez-Cleggs face at the office, they still have to find the shin pads and remember the World Book Day costume before they get out the door in the morning.

González Durántez can even confirm playing hunt the football boot while typing an e-mail and eating a dry Weetabix (I might be embroidering here) has not undermined Clegg’s masculinity.They have buried the distinction between breadwinner and carer where it belongs – beneath a heapof dirty laundry.

Cumming man for 2018 opener?

ALAN Cumming, wayward son of Aberfeldy, has just opened on Broadway. Fifteen years after he first knocked the Marni socks off New York as the master of ceremonies in Cabaret he is back in lipstick and jackboots, dominating the stage, stealing the show from Michelle Williams’ fragile Sally Bowles.

It’s easy to forget, among the Yes-vote property speculation, deification of his dog Honey and general picaresque campery that surrounds the handbag-sized actor, what a huge talent he is. “Alan Cumming must have sold his soul to the devil to acquire his divinely debauched persona as the Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub in Cabaret,” speculated Variety, clearly unfamiliar with the demi-monde of rural Perthshire in the 1970s. Given the enormous success of his one-man Macbeth in 2012, which transferred from Glasgow’s Tramway to Broadway, there must be scope for a Scottish run for Cabaret. Alan could stay in his flat in Polwarth, Edinburgh, during rehearsals and take Honey for walks along the Union Canal. It would be the cultural equivalent of the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup rolled into one, but with fantastic songs and filthy dancing.

Part of the opening ceremony for an independent Scotland’s parliament in 2018? Just a suggestion.

Deck stain for Debbie

THE magazine Saga has an interesting cover star this month. Debbie Harry. Having helped many men in their fifties through their teens, and inspired a generation of ill-advised bottle blondes, she will be 69 in July. So that you don’t have to be seen in public with the house journal of the Alan Titchmarsh fan club, I can tell you she is to play Glastonbury, is apprehensive about approaching 70, has a personal trainer and drinks coconut water smoothies but puts her cheekbones and chutzpah down to “genetics”. She is also on the lookout for a nice young man. Something for Saga’s male readers to consider while staining the decking this weekend. «