Gina Davidson: ..and they call this a holiday?

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IT starts sometime around Easter. The unbidden thought surfaces that there are only a few months left until the seven blank weeks of the school summer holidays loom, but like the suggestion of beginning to buy Christmas presents in July, it gets pushed to the back of the mind where it rattles around with other “to do” ideas like cleaning the dirt out of the door jam or putting the kids’ old toys on eBay.

By the beginning of June it has become more pressing, like the gnawing pain of a toothache. Holidays are coming . . . holidays are coming. A Coke advert of creeping dread.

I spent a lot of time at my gran’s during the primary school summer holidays. My parents both worked, there were no such things as sports camps or week-long drama groups or even CBeebies, so the holidays stretched out in a never-ending stream of boredom with the occasional sojourn to Yellowcraigs or Dalkeith Adventure Park.

You might think that, 30-odd years on, things would be different. To some extent they are in that there are many and various choices of where to send your kids all day while you work if you’ve got the money. Holiday clubs, knowing they’ve got you over a barrel stuffed with sports equipment, and depending on how many kids you have, can cost the equivalent of a week’s holiday abroad.

Trying to juggle childcare at any time is hard for working parents – especially those with no family to help out or who are single parents. The school summer holidays feel like they’re there to make a mockery out of your attempts to earn money and be a good parent.

A look on websites such as netmums shows just how desperate the organisation gets, between splitting time off work between parents – dependent on how much annual leave they’re entitled to – childminders, in-laws and the ultimate possibility: seven weeks of unpaid leave and the financial impact that will have.

There’s certainly no mention of having one of those family holidays that are constantly advertised on TV at the moment. Those are taken, if at all, during term time.

Not that I’m advocating the reduction of the school summer holidays. For children the break is incredibly beneficial – especially when you consider that we start them in school at a far younger age than most of the rest of Europe. What we need to is a shift in thinking about childcare and how society should deal with it and pay for it.

In Finland the kids get 11 weeks off in the summer, start school aged eight and spend the shortest hours in the classroom, yet it is apparently the most successful country in the EU in educational terms. Swedish schools take ten weeks off in the summer – time which can be covered easily thanks to a system of 480 days of paid parental leave and childcare costs based on family incomes with a government enforced maximum – so a month’s nursery costs are on average around £130. Imagine. Of course, higher taxes are levied, but as the saying goes, you gets what you pays for.

Surely reducing stress levels on working parents – who pay their taxes – would be a good thing for employers, employee and most importantly, the children.

In the meantime the juggling continues. Look out for me on the Fringe.

Never forgotten

PRESERVATION of the “practice” First World War trenches at Dreghorn as a monument of national significance is to be warmly welcomed. They are a real physical way of helping to ensure that we will never forget.

Bats life in the Craighouse row

THE campaign to save the green space at Craighouse from a housing development is still ongoing and the latest weapon is . . . the pipistrelle bat.

According to Friends of Craighouse, the council is attempting to drop the nature conservation designation of the buildings and grounds to allow development – yet this is where these protected tiny creatures live, and doing anything to affect them, such as wiping out their habitat – is illegal according to Scottish Natural Heritage. Planners love regulations but these must be driving them absolutely batty.

Crown appeal for McCourt welcome

IT is excellent news that the Crown Office has decided – perhaps at the behest of thousands of petitioners – to appeal the lenient sentence handed out to Gary McCourt for his careless driving.

A five-year ban after he knocked pensioner Audrey Fyfe from her bike in an ­accident which resulted in her death is nowhere near enough – and certainly not when you take into account his carelessness behind the wheel also killed cyclist George Dalgity three decades ago.

If he’d been drunk McCourt would automatically have received a lifetime ban among other punishments. Why is being sober and careless better?

A message to all drivers needs to be sent, so a life driving ban for ­McCourt is the only option.

Bridge’s name is not too bad

SO the new, and apparently unnecessary bridge, across the Firth of Forth is to be christened the Queensferry Crossing. I voted for St Margaret’s Bridge, (well I would wouldn’t I?) but I suppose the new name does what it says on the tin.

Ultimately it’ll just be called the new bridge or the ‘Ferry Bridge. Let’s just be thankful we won’t have to pay the ferryman to cross – well, not yet anyway.