Magazine article The Spectator

The Tyranny of Nanny

Magazine article The Spectator

The Tyranny of Nanny

Article excerpt

BIG BABIES by Michael Bywater Granta, £14.99, pp. 262, ISBN 1862078831 . £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Grumpy grand-dads do their job best when, behind the façade, they pretend to be really loveable. Michael Bywater, who accepts the irritating label of 'baby boomer' (born 1953), makes no pretence of loveability. Instead he is very, very funny. 'Something has gone wrong, ' he says, and he knows what it is; the nannying that we all put up with in practically every transaction of our lives. A lesser man would blame it on the obvious culprits, the lying advertisers and politicians and health-and-safety regulators and all the jumped-up 'authorities' whose condescending orders and advice and cajolements plague us every day. Bywater knows that the ones to blame are ourselves, the big babies who put up with the nonsense. It is all, he rightly points out, our own fault, and there is no chance that we will do anything to stop it.

The idea is simple, the execution sharp.

Example after example hurtles painfully off the page. He finds 25 separate, mostly meaningless, written notices on a single carriage of the train to Swindon, deconstructs an advertisement for an impossibly expensive watch, and wastes little time on our prime minister and his friend in Washington.

The jokes, some of them as disgusting as Swift's, do not flinch before things people hold dear, including religious belief. Facing the absurdity of 'intelligent design', he can only point out that 'eighty per cent of everything is stupid'.

This review would give you lots of laughs if it consisted entirely of Bywater quotations.

But he is a hard man to quote. The fun of his method is to wrap a simple story in elaborate sentences, curling down the page with afterthoughts and timely self-contradictions. He casts himself as an accomplished and welleducated person (can fly an aircraft, remembers Latin tags, refers glancingly to Derrida), and ruefully acknowledges his own pretentiousnesses. …

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