Next Stop for Gene Editing: Designer Parents

Gene editing has been all over the news these past few days. 

While the technique is still experimental, it holds the hope of bypassing defects that lead to life-threatening conditions.  I suspect the level of interest has a lot to do with the universal desire for a baby that’s perfect in every way.

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But, with tongue now travelling towards cheek, I wonder: what’s the point of a perfect baby, if the parents happen to be deeply flawed?

In gene editing, enzymes are used as molecular scissors to snip out certain sequences of DNA and replace them. If I were making a template for a designer parent, here’s what I’d cut out:

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1 Violence

Should be excised from a parent’s repertoire. It’s not even OK to give the little terror a taste of his own medicine. If he kicks you and you kick back, you’re only saying that aggression is acceptable.

2 Swearing

Oh, all right. So Go the Fuck to Sleep was hilarious, momentarily. On the other hand, I’ll never forget the woman who brought her three-year old to speech and language therapy because he knew so few words. But he was fluent at saying, ‘Bugger off’.

3 Impatience

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I’m guessing you too have felt the urge to yank your toddler’s arm out of its socket when he dawdles. Unfortunately, kids learn by example. How do you want to be treated when you’re in your dotage? Enough said.

4 Constant criticism

Yep, even when it’s slick and sarcastic and makes you feel bloody clever, a critical drip-drip-drip of erodes a child’s self-esteem.  Check out Dorothy Lawe Nolte’s poem Children Learn What They Live. 

5 Selfishness

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Only a better-than-average saint could put someone else’s needs first all the time, but that’s roughly what parents have to do. Obviously, it would help if gene editing could also do away with the need for sleep, privacy, quiet, and going to work.

6 Overindulgence

Here I’m thinking of overindulging the child, which is almost as bad as neglect. Growing up without rules or limits doesn’t make for a happy person who knows his place in the world. But, while they’re at it, some parents could also cut down on drink and drugs.

So those are my thoughts on being a designer parent. Sorry if I failed to mention Gucci, Prada, and Tom Ford until the end.

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Are you a parent, or perhaps a keen observer of family life? What do you think?

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The Dreaded Christmas Newsletter

The Christmas cards are fluttering in through the letter box, and so are the round robin letters, lovingly composed to bring you up to date with all the people you no longer remember. This may be my favourite so far.

holly garland

Dear friends

 

 

 

My, doesn’t time fly! I supposed that’s what happens when you’re our age. 2015 has been a very special year for us although, as John likes to points out, it hasn’t quite ended yet.

Our exciting year kicked off with damp-proof treatment to our lounge. The builders got plaster dust literally everywhere, including in my beloved knitting basket. After the re-plastering, we re-decorated. We spent many an evening debating the relative merits of Magnolia versus Almond White. John got the Almond White he wanted. Well, he is the Man of the House.

Here is where I usually include some of the best photos of our year. Our 2014 Christmas letter featured an xray of my new hip, so this one, taken in our garden, is rather different.

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Not, alas, the much anticipated bumper crop of berries on our pyracanthus, because John had a bit of a go with the pruning shears right after his latest parking ticket.  At least this time he didn’t punch the traffic warden, which you will agree is a good thing if you recall our Christmas letter 2013.

Since John and I have long retired, the most interesting career developments are the children’s. I am excited to tell you that daughter Tabitha has finally decided what she wants to do, and is now a tattoo artist’s model.

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Our son Graham, who takes more after me, has found his knitting business has really taken off. To complement his range of egg-cosies, he now offers knitted ties, and he has sold three of them in just four months!

In March I had another bout of shingles, and John had an attack of gout. However this did not stop us from enjoying foreign travel. John and I went to Scotland in April. The weather was not as sunny as we had hoped, but we got to play a lot of gin rummy.

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Six months ago, I joined a book club which seems quite fun. We do not yet have a Book of the Month. There are however a number of wine labels that are required reading.

The rest of our year was taken up with the replacement of my hip replacement. Here I must thank all our medical friends who got in touch just after receiving our 2014 Christmas letter and pointed out that the stem of the prosthesis was incorrectly positioned. 

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Wishing you and yours all the blessings of the Christmas season, and a wonderful new year to come with peace and prosperity to all (with the exception of ISIL, as John wants me to point out).

Love from

Judy and John

 

 

 

holly garland

What They Don’t Teach at Medical School

Today GP Geoff gets a new group of medical students to teach. The names may change from week to week, but there’s always at least one swot from Germany or the Far East, a home-grown rugger bugger who is too big for his chair, a student in a hijab, a gay man, a babe who fiddles constantly with her iPhone, and an argumentative leftie.

HP Rapaport Sprague stethoscope, circa 1981

Geoff is a character from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda.  I made him up, but, if you know much about medicine, he seems real enough.

Education is not a vessel to be filled, Geoff muses, but a fire to be lit.  He has forgotten who said, it, but he’s pretty sure the fire should stay lit for the whole of their careers. So the students need a dose of reality.

fire in the political belly

Geoff reflects on his fifteen years of practice. The reality is that patients wangle sick notes because they don’t like their work. They get prescriptions for things they could have bought from the chemist. Well, par for the course.

They also suck you into their lives and dump their shit.  So you get involved when they tell you about their affairs that went wrong, the drugs they score on a Friday night, or how much they hate a sister or brother.

Or when they’re still driving even though they shouldn’t be.

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Case in point: nice Mrs Thingy. Geoff is not too hot good on names, but he knows he advised her very clearly not to drive until her seizures were under control.

The snag is her three children. Geoff instantly forgets what she says her husband does, but he gets the gist. Mr Thingy has to get to Ealing Broadway station by 7am so he can’t do the school run.

“Can you walk them to school instead?” asks Geoff, ready to extol the benefits of blue skies, fresh air, exercise, autumn leaves, and the rest.

suburban street

“Doctor,” she says in a wheedling tone, “if I did that, it’d be a mile and half each way just for the boys. And Poppy is at a different school. There’s just no time. I’d run myself ragged, and that’s not good for my seizures.”

“Perhaps a neighbour can help?” suggests Geoff.

She gives a pitying look. “They’re all pensioners near us.”

“What about asking at the school? You may find a parent of a child in another class who lives near enough to you.”  Geoff is aware he’s running late now.

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“Well, I don’t know,” says Mrs Thingy.

“Why don’t you talk to the school secretary?” Geoff suggests. He may even need to involve Mr Thingy, find out if he can start work later during term-time. This is as far as one could possibly get from looking through the test results and reminding her about her smear. Geoff makes a mental note to do all this later.

Mrs T says nothing. She stares as if the GP is the baddie who makes up the laws.

Geoff continues, “If you have a seizure at the wheel… Well. It hardly bears thinking about.  Remember the Glasgow bin lorry crash last year? The driver blacked out at the wheel and killed six people.” 

“I know, I know.”  Her glance at the door shows she’d like to end the conversation as soon as possible.

Geoff leans back in the chair, which isn’t far as he has a cheaper model than his partners. “You realize, don’t you, that I’m obligated to contact the DVLA myself if you don’t.”  (For readers outside the UK, this is the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.)

Her expression freezes.  “But I thought confidentiality…”

“Doesn’t extend to situations where the public is in danger.” He shakes his head slowly as he pulls a sympathetic face.

“Oh,” she says in a small voice. “Right.”

Geoff knows what he will discuss with his students today. Confidentiality.

And the knack patients have of sucking you into their lives.

***

Easy tweet: “What They Don’t Teach at Medical School http://wp.me/p3uiuG-14k via @DrCarolCooper” #medicine #students

Back to School, and Not a Moment Too Soon

The summer holidays begin full of promise, as ever. Karen has loads of ideas. It’s only when she begins to take her four kids on outings that she remembers everywhere is (a) crowded (b) expensive (c) leads to whining from at least three of them. Nothing ever changes.

Karen is a newly single mum from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. She has one daughter and three sons.

At nearly 11, Charlotte is the eldest so she whines loudest and longest. Damon is 9 and his speciality this summer is sulking.

They go to Wales for a few days to a friend’s cottage, the cheapest family holiday Karen can think of. It’s a long drive in the ancient Toyota, with plenty of time for daydreaming. What might it be like to go off to the Gower for a mini-break with a nice man?  

Wales beach at dusk

Her reverie is broken by the youngest who wants to be sick, so they stop by the side of the road. Edward aims most of it into the plastic bag she holds out for him, but inevitably a few blobs fall onto Charlotte’s new pink T-shirt.

“Eeuw!” shrieks Charlotte, even though there are several spare pink sequinned T-shirts in the boot.  At the moment everything she owns, whether it’s clothing, a pencil case, or her duvet cover, has to be pink and have sequins.

Karen is concerned for the next mile or two in case there’s more vomiting but she needn’t worry. In less than five minutes, Edward pipes up “I want salt and vinegar crisps!”

When they get there, they find acres of soft white sand, perfect for jogging off excess fat, building sandcastles, and losing young children. There’s a moment or two on every holiday when Edward can’t be found. For a four-year old, he can go a long way in just seconds. Ashley, being a year older, is infinitely wiser and spends his time searching the sands for buried treasure. He’s sure there are shipwrecks around here, and he’s determined to find gold coins for his mum.  “Cos we need more money, don’t we?”   

shipwreck

Treasure hasn’t been found in Rhossili Bay since about 1834, but that doesn’t stop people looking. Karen is pleased to see her children so happy, even if Charlotte is channelling Lolita in her pink sparkly swimsuit. Only Damon, sitting hunched in the depths of his hoodie, hasn’t got into the beach thing yet.

They stay in Wales four days in all, during which Edward behaves and doesn’t try to run off again. Karen feels a mite guilty for threatening that big red dragons would get him, but at least he’s stopped having nightmares about them.

They return to London with a carful of sand, a carrier bag loaded with shells, and couple of pieces of driftwood. Now the children are playing nicely in the garden. Correction: the younger boys are playing while Charlotte is on the phone to her new best friend Belinda, and Damon sulks under a tree.

Karen is about to ask Damon what’s wrong when she sees he isn’t sulking. He’s reading! An actual book! With pages and words and everything! This has never happened before, so it’s quite a turn-up for the books. Literally.

book

Now Ashley is crying because Edward has peed into his toy wheelbarrow. When Karen tells Edward off, he says he thought it was a toilet.

“Rubbish” says Karen, even though it does look a bit like a loo.

It’s now the last week of the holidays and it can’t be put off any longer.  Buying school uniform and such is a hassle. They have to contend with umpteen other families looking for shoes that fit, while shop assistants try to fob people off with insoles. Karen steels herself for Charlotte’s inevitable hissy fit when she realises she can’t have pink heels with rhinestones.

But maybe some things do change, thinks Karen, because this year Charlotte falls in love with shoes that come straight from the pages of an orthopaedic footwear catalogue. Apparently they’re just like the ones her best friend Belinda has.

Back in the car with the shopping (and the sand, shells, and driftwood), Ashley says “You know what, Mummy? When it’s school-time I want it to be the holidays, but when it’s holidays I want it to be school-time.”

She smiles and knows exactly what he means. 

sea shell

Where on earth can you meet someone?

When you’re 30-something, it’s tough to meet people.  I know a couple who met on an allotment, but, when I tried growing vegetables, all I pulled was a bunch of deformed carrots.

Laura has a similar problem.  At uni, men were young, plentiful and persistent.  Now it’s a different story.

She dreams she’ll randomly meet a hot guy while out shopping.  He’ll have eyes like molten chocolate and a French name like Yves.  They’ll swap phone numbers and then – well, the rest will be in soft-focus.   shoppingIn point of fact, the only time she spotted anyone attractive in a shop, she up-ended her handbag in the aisle.  Instead of helping her collect coins and tampons off the floor while begging for her number, the guy turned away and carried on studying tea-bag prices.

Back to dating websites then.  Where she’s 34, called Emma, pretends she’s not a lawyer, and gives a fake phone number.  It’s a pay-as-you-go mobile she can easily discard.  All those phoney layers will have to come off if (or when?) when she meets someone nice.  She’ll cross that bridge when she gets to it.

Geoff is another character out of my forthcoming novel.  He’s a newly divorced doctor, and the nice pay packet no longer makes up for sky-rocketing patient demand and new government diktats every other day.  During his years working in hospitals, women threw themselves at him, and academic awards came equally fast and thick.  stethoscopeBut he’s been a GP for over 10 years now, and the sea is remarkably empty of fish.  GMC guidelines forbid relationships with patients, and he doesn’t fancy the new receptionist, even if the patients adore her.   Plus there’s a new problem now.  He can’t perform as he once did.

Geoff returns the call to the nursing home.  Bad news: 94-year old Mrs Montgomery fell out of bed again so he’ll have to visit.  She seems fine, they say, but as always the staff want to ‘cover’ themselves.

Get yourselves a duvet, thinks Geoff as he gets into his car.

Karen, now.  Men haven’t exactly been beating a path to her dilapidated front door.  No, her best friend tells her, the meter reader doesn’t count.

Newly single, Karen has 4 children and no job.  She’s still confident she’ll meet someone eventually, even if all the evidence so far is against it.

After a clear-out, today she’s headed for the recycling centre.  It’s on her way to the hairdresser’s for a much overdue appointment, via the shoe repairers and the bank.  Why spend more on petrol than you have to?  Karen doesn’t obsess about her appearance, especially when she’s busy cramming her clapped-out Toyota with bags of garden refuse, broken toys, mouldy trainers, 994-piece puzzles, and clothes that her kids have worn to death.recyclingParking her car in front of the containers, she notices a man in a green T-shirt unloading a wardrobe from the back of his estate car.  Nice buns.

He turns to face her.  It’s a Nike T-shirt, and more to the point he has a great smile.  She makes eye contact and returns the smile with a Hi, ready to talk about the wardrobe, or anything really.

He clocks her, but his smile promptly fades.  In fact he hot-foots it back to his car, driving off a lot faster than the 5 mph limit.

When she gets to the hairdresser’s, Karen is ashamed to see in the mirror just how bad her roots have got, how much garden rubbish she has on her sweatshirt and, in short, how bad she looks.

Michael knows exactly where to meet women.  After all, he’s an accountant, so he’s got it planned down to the last detail.  That’s how he does everything, even watching porn.

More to come in my novel on dating. Meanwhile why not take a moment to share your experience of meeting people? I’d love to hear your tips too.

A cure for the shopping habit

I doubt I’ll ever buy another thing. The price of accumulating stuff is a periodic clear-out, and if that means another car boot sale, the aversion therapy has worked.1181530_at_the_flea_market crop

Car boot sales mean getting up ridiculously early.  At 6.45am the venue was already buzzing. We’d barely opened the tailgate when people started poking around, helpfully extracting our stuff from boxes and baskets.  They drifted off when they realised we had no vinyls, military badges or priceless artwork going for a song.

We did have clothes, books and general bric-a-brac.  One man spent ages doing and undoing every zip on a rucksack.  He returned half an hour later to do it all again before buying it.

Some had a specific mission: football club badges, trousers for work, king-sized bed-linen.  For others it was a day out.  One young woman sipped from a trendy Mason jar drinker as she strolled around.  I looked for the cameraman, sure that she was on a shoot.

When we weren’t helping folks try on suits (‘It’s a 42” chest’ I reminded the XXL man who was trying to pour himself into a pinstripe jacket), there was always people-watching.  Ankle socks and high heels were the favoured footwear for women.   One woman walked around with Chihuahuas stuffed down her front.  Her puppies?  I’ve no idea.  

chihuahuas cropThere were lots of kids, not always supervised.  A toddler bashed a wooden train to pieces on the concrete. His parents ignored him in favour of bargaining over a laundry bag.  Many people had brought their dogs.  A spaniel cocked his leg against a tyre.  A man with two boxers asked about a picture-frame.  When I said it was 50p (about 75 US cents), the man said he’d go away and think about it.

Some people can’t resist the lure of towels they don’t need and books they don’t want. One woman picked up every book on our table, from Angels and Demons to Weaning Your Baby, then shrugged and told me she didn’t read.

The weather turned windy and cool, but I could take my pick of warm clothes off our cheapo clothes rail.  By now the rail had toppled over several times.  Here it is lashed to the car with a printer cable.car boot sale

Nobody bought the printer anyway.  Seems there’s not much call for elderly printers with empty cartridges. Who’d have thought?

We had to keep our eyes open or things could go walkies, but there were sales to make.  At £8-£10 each (about $13-$16), the suits went fast. ‘Looks great on you’ said my husband as another punter tried on a jacket, checking his reflection in a car window.

For those of you who’ve never done a car boot sale, you can buy or sell almost anything there: bikes, baby clothes, furniture, you name it.  It’s a bit like a flea market, minus the fleas.

Though, come to think of it, I’ve been itching quite a bit since.