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Not without my kids

Have you ever forgotten about one of your children and left them behind? Well, the British Prime Minister did...

brunch Updated: Jun 16, 2012 17:11 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times
Modern Family,Claire,Phil Dunphy

In one of my favourite episodes from the sitcom Modern Family (which is slowly taking the place of Friends in my life), Claire and Phil Dunphy are at a child psychologist’s clinic with their son Luke. Claire thinks he may have learning disabilities; Phil disagrees. The couple continue to argue as they head out, Luke trailing behind. And then, they get into their respective cars and drive off – leaving their son standing alone in the car park.

Worse is to follow. Each parent thinks Luke is with the other, so they go through the routine of their day not sparing as much as a thought for the abandoned boy. It’s only in the evening when they meet up at a family dinner that they realise that he is with neither of them. Just as they are berating themselves (and each other) a huge stretch limousine drives up and disgorges Luke. The enterprising youngster has managed to hitch a ride home.

British PM David Cameron with wife Samantha

Yes, I know, hilarious stuff, right? Well, so long as it is a sitcom, and no child is actually being endangered by being left all alone in the big, bad world, we all laugh (and shake our heads over the folly of the Dunphy clan). But when something like this happens in real life, it can get a bit hairy. Then, it’s all wildly beating hearts, sweaty palms and an imagination that runs away with you, as you think of the worst things that could happen to your child because of a momentary lapse on your part.

That’s probably how David and Samantha Cameron felt when they drove up to Chequers (the country house of the British Prime Minister) and discovered that they had left their eight-year-old daughter, Nancy, behind at the local pub, where they’d gone to have lunch with some friends.

Samantha had thought that Nancy had climbed into her father’s car, as he drove off accompanied by bodyguards. And David believed that she was in the second car, with her mother and her siblings. It was only when the two cars disgorged their cargo that the Camerons realised they were missing their eldest child. Nancy had apparently wandered off to the loo while the party was leaving and that’s where she was discovered by the pub staff, who kept her entertained while David did a quick U-turn to pick her up.

No harm done. All’s well that ends well. Or any other cliché that you’d like to pull out and employ to describe the situation.

Of course, this being the Camerons and the British press being what it is, the parents were rapidly hauled over the coals for being so irresponsible as to ‘forget’ their daughter at the pub (though, in all fairness, they didn’t forget about her; they just thought she was with the other parent). David was advised to attend one of the parenting courses he is so keen on; Samantha was berated for not keeping all her children well within sight at all times; and there were those mandatory musings about how the social services would have been called in double quick if the parents had been working class ‘chavs’ rather than posh folk like the Camerons. And yes, the term Nancygate cropped up in news reports soon enough.

Victoria Beckham confessed to a similar lapse when she drove off to drop son Brooklyn to his school only to realise halfway there that he was not in the car

But while this was, no doubt, an honest mistake that the Camerons won’t be repeating any time soon, it does make one think about the British Prime Minister’s security detail. It’s one thing for harried parents to miss one child out of three. But quite another for a Scotland Yard close protection team to miss the fact that a child of the PM was unaccounted for as long as 15 minutes. Thankfully, Nancy remained safe – but the alternative really doesn’t bear thinking about. (And I do hope that some heads have rolled as a consequence.)

Though the rules must be different for David Cameron and his family – who are high value targets for any terrorist group – this is a situation that any overworked, harried parent can identify with. Victoria Beckham, for instance, famously confessed to a similar lapse soon after the birth of her daughter, Harper. All set for the school run, Victoria buckled Harper into her car seat, got behind the wheel and drove off to drop son Brooklyn to his school. It was only when she was halfway there that she realised that Brooklyn was not, in fact, in the car.

And for all those hemming and hawing about the Camerons and their irresponsible parenting, here’s an interesting statistic. According to an online poll conducted by The Daily Telegraph, a little over 33 per cent of parents have forgotten and left a child behind on one occasion or the other. And while some put it down to momentary forgetfulness there are many who – like the Dunphys and Camerons – did so in the belief that the child was safe with the other parent. This kind of stuff is really more common than you think.

So, if anything, this incident just shores up David Cameron’s credentials as a regular bloke. Now, his security detail – they’re a bit of a disgrace to their service, aren’t they?

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From HT Brunch, June 17

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First Published: Jun 15, 2012 13:43 IST