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Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Fear Factor

The balance of fear: “ When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.
Thomas Jefferson 1746-1826

On spreading fear: “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.”
Adolf Hitler 1889-19545

The fear of the individual: A new dawn: “ ….never before was there in the hands of men an instrument so powerful to influence the thoughts and actions of the multitudes.”
Ireland’s President on his fear for Televisions introduction in the dawn of 1962
Eamon De Valera 1882-1975

The appeasement of fear: “An appeaser is one who fears yet feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”
Winston Churchill 1874- 1965

The fear of no choice: It take more courage to retreat in the Russian army than to advance“
Stalin 1879-1953

Fearful courage: Cowards die many times before their actual deaths. Men of courage die but once.
Julius Caeser 100 BC-44BC

Prison scribe on his fear for having down nothing: 
“ In Germany they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”
Reverand Martin Niemoller 1892-1984

On unreasonable fear: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Franklin D Roosevelt 1882-1945

Fake news: The Irish Famine

British journalist says truth of British actions during Irish Famine "appalling"

As a journalist, Michael Nicholson has reported from 18 war zones over his four-decade career, including periods spent in Vietnam, Israel, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

After months of conducting his own research, the famed British reporter Michael Nicholson spoke out in December 2015 about the manner in which the British Government dealt with the Irish Famine, declaring, “the truth is appalling.”

Writing for the Irish Times, Nicholson, an acclaimed journalist, speaks of the about turn his opinions took while researching and writing his latest novel “Dark Rosaleen,” as he discovered what he believes are the historical accuracies of the Great Irish Hunger, learning, in particular, about the actions of Sir Charles Trevelyan, the UK government’s director of famine relief.
As a journalist, Michael Nicholson has reported from 18 war zones over his four-decade career, including periods spent in Vietnam, Israel, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

He was awarded an OBE [Order of the British Empire] by Queen Elizabeth 11 in 1992, has received Falklands and Gulf Campaign Medals, a BAFTA, and has been the recipient of three Royal Society Journalist of the Year Awards.
During his time reporting from war zones, he bore witness to a “fair share of man’s inhumanity to man,” counting thousands, even tens of thousands of deaths, none of which came close to the numbers recorded on an island at the edge of the Atlantic in the mid-19th century, he writes.

“‘A million dead. A million fled.’ It was those few words that had such an impact on me,” Nicholson said.
“Think of it. Try to visualize. Try putting it into a modern context, something happening today, something you are watching on television news, an apocalyptic disaster on an unheard-of scale, something that dwarfs Hiroshima.”
“Dark Rosaleen” is a love story set in famine times, telling the story of Kathryn, daughter of the infamous Trevelyan, who falls in love with an Irish rebel and begins to preach insurrection, despite her previous antipathy for the Irish people in their hour of need.
The story of Kathryn’s development is akin to Nicholson’s own thought process during the writing this novel. He first undertook the project to defend his own country and the actions of the British government during this time, long since vilified by what he believed were the exaggerated claims of Irish around the world.

Charles Trevelyan.

In an interview with BBC "Talkback" (which can be heard below), Nicholson said, “When I started off, what I was trying to do was say, ‘hold on, do remember the times, do remember this blight [that destroyed the Irish potato crop] not only hit Ireland. It hit England, it hit Scotland, it hit Wales.”

“Remember there was no television then, there were no handphones, no instant communication. Letters from Whitehall to Dublin and Cork could take weeks. Could you imagine trying to get food aid from Dublin or Cork all the way down to Skibbereen?”
“I started out thinking it’s about time the English were given a fair trial.”
Believing he was to come to the rescue of the historical portrayal of the British at this time, Nicholson revealed that he soon felt taken aback by the books he was reading about the Great Hunger. 
“It didn’t take me long writing and researching it [the novel] to find out, my giddy aunt, did this really happen?” he asked.
“Time and time again, characters in the book would tell me, ‘You’ve got it wrong’ [as he was developing their storylines].”
In particular, he mentions the historic figure Trevelyan, quoting in disbelief the writings he came across from the man sent to Ireland in order to establish famine relief.
“This is his real name and all that he does and says in my novel is as they appear, word for word, in the historical records of the time,” he wrote for the Irish Times. “I make this point because so much of what he said and did is barely believable.

“Trevelyan was guided not by any agreed government policy because there was none. He was guided by God. A pious, stubborn, uncompromising, devout evangelist, he saw the blight and the suffering as an act of Providence and to deny it was tantamount to blasphemy.”

Also speaking with BBC "Talkback" (and featured below), Queen’s University, Belfast historian Liam Kennedy feels that Nicholson is greatly exaggerating the realities of the famine, however, stating that his book is based on myths and half-truths.

“Historians prefer to rely on evidence,” he argues, announcing his dismay that Nicholson allowed his characters to take over, claiming that many of the actions of the Young Irelanders outlined in the book may have happened on occasions but were not widespread.

“A failure to conceptualize what he is dealing with,” Kennedy stated, relaying that poverty was also widespread throughout Britain at the time and that it should be remembered that income levels in Britain during this period would have been at current Egyptian levels.
“We’re not talking about a vastly rich country.”
“It’s irresponsible to talk about ethnic cleansing. It’s irresponsible to raise the specter of genocide, although it has a life of its own in ultra-nationalist Irish circles, in particular, in Irish America,” he added.
“Responsible journalists and historians shouldn’t go down those roads. You need to be much sharper about the concepts you use. There’s no such thing as accidental ethnic cleansing.”

There has been a push in recent years to rename the Irish Famine the Great Hunger as groups argue the period of hunger and poverty could not be classed as a famine but as genocide by the British government.
This is a long-running debate, which term to used to describe this event in Irish history, with some claiming that the version of events used by the education system and in media worldwide is not a truly accurate portrayal of what happened.
The pain and poverty suffered by the Irish people in the 1840s are often blamed on their reliance on the potato crop that was ruined by blight throughout these years, leaving the Irish people hungry.
Others argue that the blight was not the cause of the lack of food experienced by the population at the time, as plenty of other food types were being produced in the country - more than enough to feed the starving. They argue, however, that it was the choices made by the UK government to export this food from Ireland instead of feeding the hungry that caused the disaster. On these terms, they feel that “genocide” is a more suitable way to describe the tragedy.

A recent online petition “When genocide became ‘famine’: Ireland, 1845 - 1850” seeks support for a campaign to permanently change the manner in which we speak of the hunger and poverty in Ireland in the 1840s that caused the death of one million and the emigration of another million.
In order to do this, the petitioners aim to persuade authors, editors and writers who wrote, write or will write about the period to forgo using the word “famine” and use “The Great Hunger” or the Irish-language version “An tOcras Mór” in its stead.

They also call on the Irish Government and its politicians to make the same change, asking anybody “who wants the truth about Ireland’s history to be faced and justly discussed” to join their campaign.

Frances Mulraney

Outdoor play can help prevent children becoming nearsighted

BEING nearsighted is far more common than it once was. 
The prevalence of myopia, the condition’s medical name, in Americans has soared by 66% since the early 1970s, according to a 2009 study by the National Eye Institute; in China and other East Asian countries, as many as 90% of recent high school graduates are thought to be nearsighted.

Myopia results when eyeballs are longer than normal, changing the angle at which light enters the eye and therefore the ability to focus on distant objects.

The disorder involves a complex interplay of genetics and environment and usually begins before adolescence, when the eye is growing, but it can worsen in early adulthood.
Some experts connect the elevated rates of myopia to the many hours young people stare at computers and other screens.

But a study published this month in JAMA Ophthalmology suggests that a greater factor may be a side effect of all that screen-watching — it’s keeping children inside.
This new study joins a growing body of research indicating that a lack of direct sunlight may reshape the human eye and impair vision.

Researchers at King’s College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and other institutions gave vision exams to more than 3,100 older European men and women and interviewed them at length about their education, careers and how often they remembered being outside during various stages of their lives.

This biographical information was then cross-referenced with historical data about sunlight, originally compiled for research on skin cancer and other conditions.
Strong correlations were found between current eyesight and volunteers’ lifetime exposure to sunlight, above all UVB radiation (which is responsible for burning). 
Those who had gotten the most sun, particularly between the ages of 14 and 19, were about 25% less likely to have developed myopia by middle age. Exposure to sunlight up to the age of 30 also conferred a protective benefit.

This relationship held true even when the researchers controlled for education as a marker — primarily of time spent reading and gazing at screens.
Because this study was not an experiment, it could not determine whether too little sunlight actually causes nearsightedness — or otherwise explain the connection between the two.
“But people with myopia have long eyeballs,” says Katie Williams, a clinical research fellow at King’s College London and the study’s lead author, “so there must be something in sunlight that affects how the eye grows, especially in childhood.”

Sunlight is associated with harmful impacts too, of course. Exposure increases the risks of developing cataracts and skin cancer.
But Williams says that with appropriate cautions, including the use of sun-screen and the avoidance of midday sunlight, young people should be able to reduce those risks while potentially bolstering their vision.
“There is definitely something in modern-day childhood that is triggering a massive rise in the number of people with myopia,” she says.

“And a lack of time outdoors certainly appears to be contributing.”

Gretchen Reynolds

Westport House sold in deal that includes €50m investment

Agreement has been reached for the sale of Westport House in Mayo.

Present owners the Browne family, who have lived there since the 17th century, have confirmed the sale of the historic house and estate, saying it will continue to operate as a tourist attraction with the new owners committed to a €50m investment.

In a statement, the family said it had been deeply touched by the support of the people of Westport over the last few "difficult years" and are confident that Wesport House and its the 455-acre site would continue to be an anchor for tourism in the region.

200 new jobs will be created as part of the new owners' - the local Hughes family - €50m investment plan.

Ms Sheelyn Browne stated: "This is an emotional day for our family. On the one hand, we are handing over custody of our ancestral family home after hundreds of years but we are doing so in the knowledge that the new owners are committed to bringing to fruition the ambitions and dreams of our late and much loved father Jeremy Browne."

"There is one group that deserves special mention. That is our hard-working and dedicated small team at Westport House. We would not have been able to survive the last three difficult years without their unwavering support and loyalty. They know who they are and we as a family owe them a great debt of gratitude.

"We have been touched very deeply by the wonderful support of the people of Westport over the last few difficult years. We are confident that Westport House will continue to be the anchor of tourism in the region and we have agreed to collaborate with the new owners."

She added: "The entire family wishes the new owners the Hughes family every success as the custodians of this wonderful and magical place."

Chairman of the Hotel Westport Cathal Hughes said: "I want to acknowledge all the efforts of the Browne family over the years to maintain this beautiful house and estate and we look forward to continuing this great work

"We plan to invest up to €50m in new facilities which will lead to the creation of 200 new jobs over the next five years.

"I want to assure all the existing staff, suppliers and customers that we will continue to operate as normal under the new ownership.

"As a local business family, we are delighted to be able to make this investment in our home town. We realise the importance of Westport house as a tourist amenity to the whole of Mayo and we will work very closely with the planners in Mayo County Council to ensure that the integrity of Westport House and estate is maintained whilst at the same time creating a viable sustainable business model that is in everybody’s interest long-term."

Westport House has views of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick. The Carrowbeg River flows through the extensive parklands of the property.

In October 2015, Westport House was left out of a sale from Nama's loan portfolio, even though Nama had taken over the estate's loans.

According to reports, the Government intervened to ensure the stately home in the Taoiseach's Mayo constituency was not included in a bundle of properties code-named Project Arrow.

At the time, Minister for Tourism Michael Ring said he believed that Mayo County Council would want to buy the debt in order to keep Westport House, a local tourist attraction, in public ownership.


Original house was built in 1679. Richard Cassels designed the current house 50 years later. Cassels also designed Leinster House and Carton House. The house was completed by renowned English architect James Wyatt in the 18th century. Wyatt also planned the layout of Westport town;

The house has been home to the Browne family since the 18th century. The Browne family members are direct descendants of the 16th century Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley, head of the ancient Mayo O’Malley clan;

Westport House was the first stately home to open to the public in 1960 and has welcomed more than 4 million visitors since;

162,000 visitors in 2014 (up 82% on 2009);

€1.7 million direct expenditure to the Exchequer and the local economy in 2014;

€50.7 million indirect investment to Mayo and the wider region

47 full-time jobs on site at Westport House Estate

84% visitors are Irish

€1.8 million in turnover generated in the financial year ending 30.09.2014

Over 60% of respondents to an on-site survey reported that Westport House was their principle motivation for travelling to Mayo

Friday, January 27, 2017

Photo Minute: Updated with more photos: Moments in time-Russia (1952-1954) in colour

A spy's eye view of Russia: Never-seen-before pictures of Stalin-era USSR taken by a US Army Major deported for espionage
Douglas Smith has lifted the lid on the extraordinary stash of US Army Major Martin Manhoff from the 1950s
The US diplomat was expelled from the USSR for espionage for documents left under a napkin on a train
He had travelled around the country taking thousands of photographs during the Stalin era 60 years ago
They remained untouched in a closet in Washington, US, until Mr Smith asked if he could explore his home 

An American historian has unearthed never-seen-before pictures of Stalin-era Russia which were taken by an Army Major.
Martin Manhoff's collection have been described as a 'unique visual archive' of life in the Soviet Union in the 1950s.
He was deported for spying in 1954, and hid the photographs in his closet in Washington State.
Until today, they remained untouched, but Douglas Smith has lifted the lid on the stash of the pictures taken from behind the Iron Curtain.

A child walks through a run-down street in Russia in one of a number of extraordinary photographs taken by a US diplomat

Women cross the street in a busy Russian city in a set of photographs unearthed by an American historian - Douglas Smith

A picture taken from a car shows cars and a bus trapped in a massive flood sweeping through the streets of a Russian city

Russian officials walk an empty street in a picture taken from a building above the road by the US diplomat who was deported

Army Major Martin Manhoff served in the US embassy in Moscow from February 1952 until June 1954, when he was expelled from the USSR on charges of espionage. 
During his two years in the Soviet Union, Manhoff traveled widely and recorded much of what he saw on both color slides and color 16mm film. 
All of this material ended up in a closet in his home in Washington State where it lay unseen for over half a century.
Mr Scott, who has a new book out called Rasputin, said: 'After his wife's death, I was asked to visit the Manhoff home this past summer and see whether Martin had left behind anything of value. I was amazed at what I discovered. 

For the past several months I have been digitizing and organizing the photographs and films. 
'Among the gems is approximately 15 minutes of color movie footage of Stalin's funeral taken from an upstairs window of the old US embassy in the Hotel National. 
'There are thousand of color photographs taken on the streets of Moscow, Leningrad, Murmansk, Yalta, and at points along the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
'I am now working on finding the best way to make this unique visual archive available to the public and to find a permanent home for the entire Manhoff archive.' 

A woman walks down a busy Russian streed holding the hand of a youngster while a man in state uniform strides alongside

Another picture from the previously unseen set of Stalin-era Russia photographs from Martin Manhoff's personal archive

A photograph taken by US Army Major Martin Manhoff of what looks like a state-sponsored public ceremony in Russia

Three boys appear happy as they sit on a bench somewhere in Russia in front of what looks like a dilapidated building

The four American diplomats expelled from the USSR on espionage charges traveled around Russia taking photographs

Thousands of photos are said to have been found by Douglas Smith, including this one of what appears to be a typical day out

A woman poses for a photograph in a Russian street as other women rush by behind her in the collection unearthed in the US

A group of teenage girls gathered in uniform smiling and laughing as they pose for a photo taken by the Army Major

                                                 Pictured, Manezhnaya Square

                                            Pictured, Pushkinskaya Square 
                                             Pictured, a market in Yalta, Crimea

                                           Pictured, swimmers, unknown location

 Pictured, street cleaners in front of the GUM department store in the Red Square

              Pictured, Trinity Lavra of St Sergius, about 45 miles northeast of Moscow
 Pictured, two women outside train window, unknown location
                                                              Pictured, unknown location
         Pictured, Trinity Lavra of St Sergius, about 45 miles northeast of Moscow

In the Chicago Tribune on March 26, 1954, the paper covered the story of Manhoff being sent home.

The story said he and three other American diplomats had been sent packing for abusing the hospitality shown to them by Russia. 
It said a local state-run paper carried news that the men had left espionage documents under a paper napkin while on a Trans-Siberian train the previous year. 

The Russian newspaper said: 'If the above mentioned persons would like to get back their documents, which were evidently forgotten in a rush, they can do so by calling the porter's office.'

A conductor claimed the men were making hurried notes on every passing freight train and took photographs of them.

Gareth Davies

The Irish woman who shot Mussolini in the face

Violet Gibson, the woman who shot Mussolini: From an upper class life on Merrion Square to the mental asylum and what if she had succeeded.LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

On April 7, 1926 an upper-class, 50-year-old Dublin woman shot Benito Mussolini, Italy's fascist leader, in the face. 

How had Violet Gibson’s life gone from the well-heeled upbringing of Merrion Square in Dublin to dying in a mental asylum having attempted to assassinate a world leader and how different the world may have been if she had succeeded?

If she had hit her target Mussolini’s reign as the “strongman” would have ended and his successes could not have emboldened Adolf Hitler. Il Duce’s legacy is still felt in Italy (his granddaughter Alessandra is a Member of the European Parliament) and in Greece, the Golden Dawn proclaim themselves fans of the fascist leader. 

What’s worse is that Gibson’s attempted assassination triggered a wave of support for Il Duce which possibly helped strengthen his grip on Italy. 

Mussolini walks alongside Adolf Hitler.

So what drove Gibson to this fateful act? 

Her upbringing was one of privilege. Her father was made 1st Baron Ashbourne and went on to serve as Lord High Chancellor of Ireland from 1885 to 1905. She grew up dividing her time between Dublin and London and at the age of 18 was a debutante in the court of Queen Victoria.

It was noted however, that as a child Gibson was often sick with scarlet fever, pleurisy, bouts of ill-defined "hysteria" and that she had a “violent temper.” During her younger years she also showed an interest in Christian Science and then theosophy, but at the age of 26, in 1902, she converted to Catholicism. 

By 1913 Gibson had been married, to an artist, and widowed. She then moved to Paris and worked for pacifist organizations. In this year she contracted Paget's disease (an abnormal breakdown of bone tissue) and a mastectomy left her with a nine-inch scar. She then returned to England where a surgery, for appendicitis, left her with chronic abdominal pain. 

Gibson became more and more obsessed with religion during her 40s. She went on retreats, followed the Jesuit scholar John O'Fallon Pope and became fixated on the ideas of martyrdom and "mortification."

By 1922 she had had a nervous breakdown and was committed to a mental asylum having been declared insane. Two years later, along with a nurse named Mary McGrath, she traveled to Rome where she lived in a convent. By this point she was convinced that God wanted her to kill someone as a sacrifice. 

In February 1925 Gibson got hold of a gun and shot herself in the chest. Miraculously she survived. 

In March 1926 Gibson’s mother passed away. By April of that year her obsession with killing someone had refocused; it was now trained on Mussolini. 

On the fateful day she went to Palazzo del Littorio with her gun wrapped in a black veil and a rock, in case she needed to break Il Duce’s car windshield. While “Il Duce” drove through Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, on April 7, after leaving an assembly of the International Congress of Surgeons, to whom he had delivered a speech on the wonders of modern medicine, Gibson jumped from the crowd and shot the leader.

Her rock was unnecessary as the leader walked among the crowds just feet from Gibson. Her first shot grazed his nose and on the second shot the gun misfired. The fascist leader stayed very calm and told the crowds “Don't be afraid. This is a mere trifle." Mussolini was only slightly injured and after having his nose bandaged he continued his parade.

Later he said that while he was ready for “a beautiful death” he did not want to die at the hands of an “old, ugly, repulsive" woman.

In custody for her crimes Gibson said she shot Mussolini “to glorify God,” who had sent an angel to keep her steady. 

The Gibson family wrote to the Italian government to apologize for her actions. Gibson was then declared a "chronic paranoiac" and returned to England and St Andrew's Hospital. She died in 1956. There were no mourners at her funeral. 

Benito Mussolini was finally killed on April 28, 1945, during the final days of World War II. He and his mistress were taken to Milan and left in a suburban square hanging upside down from a metal girder above a service station.

Kate Hickey

Calm down! Anxiety is contagious

A trouble shared is a trouble multiplied. Take a calm approach to other people’s stress and you’ll help them, and yourself. Take ebola, and people clearing their throats at the theatre, emotions are contagious. One example: if you’re unhappy, and then for some reason you become happy – a new relationship, say – according to one 2014 study, a close friend living within a mile of you has a 25% greater chance of becoming happy themselves. (On the flipside, researchers have found that college students obliged to share rooms with depressed classmates are at heightened risk of "catching" their thinking styles.) And its been shown that merely seeing someone acting stressed, even a stranger, can elevate your own levels of cortisol. From an evolutionary point of view, this isn’t surprising. After all, if a person in your visual field is making faces as if a marauding tribe is about to attack you from behind, that’s probably because they are – in which case, being suddenly on edge could save your life. These days, when marauding tribes usually aren’t an imminent risk, anxiety isn’t much use. Sadly, it remains contagious.

“Anxiety is conductive,” argues the designer Mike Monteiro, in an old essay that got a new surge of online attention a few weeks ago. “It wants to travel from one person to another person.” At his design studio, they have a rule: Stop Adopting Other People’s Anxiety. “Once a client becomes anxious,” Monteiro writes, “their primary goal becomes to make you anxious, because that justifies their own anxiety.”
The other major hazard when it comes to worry and anxiety is that, unlike other negative emotions, they seem productive; chewing over a problem feels like doing something about it. And so we’d like others to share our worry: that way, several people will be “working” on the problem. The hitch, of course, is that worry isn’t really productive: usually, it’s a distraction, and leads to lower-quality work. Alan Watts made a version of this point bacon 1951: ironically, what causes our feelings of insecurity is the desperate quest to feel secure. Worrying is the practice of trying to reach a state of serenity by engaging in precisely the activity that guarantees you’ll never get there. So you’re hardly helping an anxious person by joining them in this self-defeating spiral.

“Imagine slicing your finger open cutting a bagel,” Monteiro writes. “You freak out. You wrap it all up. You go to the emergency room. Do you want your doctor to scream when she sees it, or to look at it and very calmly say, ‘Let’s take care of that’?” This echoes the argument made by Paul Bloom, a Yale psychologist, in his book Against Empathy, out in the UK next month. Feeling others’ pain sounds like the compassionate thing to do, but it’s frequently counterproductive. (It can also lead to bad decision-making, Bloom argues: for instance, it’s easier to empathise with people who look like us, so we end up empathising in racist ways.) The truly compassionate thing, Monteiro says, is to “be the calm doctor”, which helps to keep your own worry levels in check, too.

There’s enough in the world to freak out about. No need to go sniffing around for more.

A Burkeman

The science behind holidays

Parents have been wasting hundreds of pounds on toys, according to one of Britain’s leading child psychologists, and should be spending their money on holidays instead.
“Do you have any idea what an extraordinary proportion of presents we give children aren’t actually wanted or valued?” asks Oliver James, Britain’s best-selling psychological author, whose numerous books on the relationship between children and their parents includes Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat.
The answer ranges from one-in-five to two-thirds, depending on the survey you choose. Still, since Britain has the second highest annual spend in the world, splashing an average £508 a year per child, it adds up to a depressing figure either way.

“The whole business of providing material commodities for kids - in ever more expensive forms as they get older - is entirely, 100 per cent, about propping up the industry that profits from it,” continues an animated James.

“On the other hand, family holidays are definitely valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterwards in their memory. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense.”
Research, of course, repeatedly indicates that, despite the fact that we go on buying more stuff, adults really regard experiences like travel as far more fulfilling. Children, says James, are no different. It’s just that they value different aspects of that travel.
“The first and simplest mistake that an awful lot of parents make is confusing what they find exciting about a holiday with what their children will,” says James. “So many of the ‘interesting’ things about a new place are deathly boring to the vast majority of children - high culture, for example, in almost all forms. So your child, if at all typical, will grumble at the ghastly business of being dragged round.”

What kind of holiday is best for children?

Crucially, however, that does not mean that the holiday is wasted on them. “Children see the world differently,” explains James, “through consumption for example: the way that French cafes have Orangina instead of Fanta is fascinating to kids, and details like that will stick with them for long after the holiday ends.”
It is a compelling argument for not imposing culture on family holidays. “Give a two-year-old a present and she’ll get absorbed in the box instead,” says James. “It’s similar with children and travel. We should let them explore their own ways of finding wonder in their surroundings.”

He gives the example of taking his own children, then aged 10 and 14, to Paris: “She was quite interested in the art. The only thing that even vaguely interested him was a shop that was essentially the French equivalent of Sports Direct. They both, however, really enjoyed mocking me for the cheapskate, appalling accommodation I’d booked. After the holiday, it became the stuff of legend. And that’s not to be sniffed at.”
Because, according to James, what children really value about holidays is the rare possibility they create for prolonged periods of playfulness with their parents.
“The exam system that we put children through these days can be incredibly stressful, just as much so as the strains of adult life,” he explains. “Holidays remove us, physically, from our highly pressured everyday lives where everyone’s focused on meeting targets. They are times when everyone can relax and be playful together.”

Of course, toys are all about play too. Or they should be. But then the days of the cheerful board game are over. Increasingly, modern toys put distance between family members, removing children to their own room, screen and insular worlds.
The play Oliver is talking about is collaborative. It is also silly, not educational, and it is, he says, “a crucial human experience, for children especially, but for adults too. Without it, life is very empty and lacking in joy.”
It is “talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account.”

That is what children value, James argues. It is certainly what they remember, long after the latest toy lands up as landfill.

Hattie Garlick