Something to cry about: The screaming baby, the stand-up comic and the spat that says so much about infantilised Britain

Earlier this summer, I went for lunch with a girlfriend at a gastropub. We hadn’t seen each other for some time and as we chinked wine glasses we were looking forward to a long- overdue catch-up.

That is, until a family took their seats at the table next to us with their two young children. To say they were badly behaved is an understatement. The kids made more noise than a jet engine — a combined cacophony of screeching and cutlery clanging that pretty much ruined the appetite of everyone around them.

But were the parents mortified? Apologetic? Far from it. In fact, they were wilfully oblivious.

This incident instantly popped into my mind when I read yesterday about the predicament faced by comedian Matt Forde.

The 39-year-old is performing his one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival — or was trying to. On Tuesday he posted a statement on Twitter to explain that large parts of the previous evening’s production had been ‘derailed’ because someone had brought their baby along who had proceeded to cry throughout.

‘Sadly,’ he wrote. ‘They wouldn’t do the decent thing and just leave when [the baby] started crying.’

He followed his lament with a plea: ‘I get that it must be tough as a new parent. But please, don’t bring babies to adult shows.’

KATHRYN KNIGHT: This is where we find ourselves in 2022… a place where it has become taboo to say that some events – be it a theatre show, a comedy gig, dinner at a restaurant or a pub – are for adults only, so please leave your kids at home with a babysitter (stock image)

Queue the inevitable outrage. ‘This is incredibly sexist,’ one Twitter user wrote.

‘He should’ve done the decent thing and asked if the baby and parent were OK,’ blustered another.

Forde was accused of selfishness, misogyny, a lack of understanding and — my favourite — bullying a ‘young mum’ just trying to have a ‘night out’. As he later clarified, the baby was actually with its father — not that such details matter to the baying Twitter mob.

For this is where we find ourselves in 2022. In a place where it has become taboo to say that some events — be it a theatre show, a comedy gig, dinner at a restaurant or a pub — are for adults only, so please leave your kids at home with a babysitter. 

In a place where you’re labelled ‘oppressive’ simply for pointing out what is obvious to everyone else: if you do bring along your young child and they start to cry — as babies are prone to do — show consideration to the other paying adults present and remove your bawling offspring forthwith.

I wish I could say I was surprised by what happened at Forde’s show and the reaction unleashed on social media. But as the parent of a nine-year-old daughter, I have long been flabbergasted by the self-absorption and sense of entitlement of some fellow parents.

Political comedian Matt Forde took to Twitter to voice his frustration after a parent did not leave his Edinburgh Fringe comedy show when their baby started to cry (Pictured in 2019)

From the mums crowding pavements outside coffee shops with their buggies (forcing everyone else to step into the road to walk around them), to those who think it is perfectly OK — positively hilarious even — for their little darlings to fling pasta around a restaurant, the attitude of many young parents, frankly, stinks.

We all know the type. I spent most of a two-hour plane journey last year with the back of my seat being kicked violently by a small boy. When I turned and — very politely — asked his mother if she could get him to stop, she looked at me as if I’d asked her to throw him out of the cabin window.

On arrival at our hotel, I heard a mum-of-four express her outrage that one of the three vast pools at the resort was adults-only. It goes without saying that her children were exceptionally badly behaved throughout our stay. 

When they weren’t screeching at top volume, they were chasing each other with water guns — and soaking the paperbacks of adults lounging nearby in the process.

I could go on. There is now a new breed of selfish mums and dads who believe that the world should be tailored around every need, want and whim of their little Teddy and Tallulah . . . at the expense of anyone else. 

The prize offenders are largely the self-regarding middle-class; the kind who want to be ‘best friends’ with their kids, who pride themselves on meticulous recycling habits and liberal views, and love to boast about the benefits of co-sleeping, or how reprimanding a child is a ‘micro-aggression’.

Matt Forde compared the crying baby at his show to ‘someone’s phone continually ringing and them not turning it off’ 

It would never enter their minds that raising the next generation does not discharge you from thinking about every other generation.

How did we get to a position where the boundaries between child and adult have been all but eroded? That isn’t how it was during my upbringing in 1970s Bolton where — alongside my peers — the prevailing parental sentiment was ‘do as you’re told’.

There was never a choice of what to have for dinner (and I had to finish everything on my plate!); I didn’t ever have a say on what we watched on TV, or at what time I went to bed. And if ever I whined about it all and demanded an explanation, I was told ‘just because’ — meaning my parents felt no need to justify their decisions to me. Quite right too. 

They would never have dreamed of taking me, as a youngster, along to a pub or restaurant, or to the theatre with them. They wouldn’t have wanted me there and nor, they knew, would anyone else.

Today, that style of parenting has all but vanished.

I like to consider myself a reasonably strict mum, but I do offer Connie a choice at mealtimes and I always try to explain why I have taken a particular line on something. She’s no stranger to the odd pub supper either, now she’s older.

By and large this loosening up — including our children in our lives more fully on occasion — is a good thing. No one wants to return to the Victorian era of cruelly strict boundaries between adults and children. 

Or even to our own childhoods, when a lemonade and a packet of crisps on the back seat of a blisteringly hot Ford Cortina was as good as it got while our parents sat in the pub from which we were barred.

Matt Forde said the person ‘wouldn’t do the decent thing and just leave’ when their baby started to cry, and is now urging all new parents to avoid bringing their newborns to shows

Today, most pubs welcome children, while cafes and restaurants pride themselves on special child menus and gimmicks such as colouring books and crayons.

Cinemas put on mother-and-baby-friendly screenings, and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to children’s entertainment and activities — all balm to the rattled parental soul.

But it hasn’t stopped there — and that pendulum swinging towards inclusiveness has ticked too far into over-indulgence; allowing children to call the shots, aided and abetted by parents who should really know better.

And let’s not under-estimate the consequences. Young people have always believed that they know better than their elders, but the current crop of children and teenagers have been so indulged and molly-coddled that they don’t expect to be challenged . . . at all!

They believe they should be educating us . . . on the climate, race, gender wars and the horrors of colonialism. And too many parents let them.

This may all seem a long way from a crying baby who annoyed a stand-up comedian, but it occupies the same territory: one which puts individual rights above those of others. It is what allows a parent to sit with their crying baby alongside hundreds of other adults who, like them, have paid to have a fun night out and not —for one second — think that perhaps it would be better if they left with the baby.

None of this is to undermine the well-documented difficulties of parenting. Most people are doing their best and it would be a flinty-hearted person who didn’t feel desperately sorry for struggling parents trying to keep naughty children under control.

We’ve all been there and, in the more stressful moments, I cling to the words of a friend who told me, shortly before my daughter was born, that I didn’t need to be a perfect mum, just ‘good enough’.

It’s a mantra I try to stand by, not just as a parent but as a member of society, too — because, after all, being the former doesn’t preclude you from being the latter.

Parenthood doesn’t give you an exemption from considering others. And pointing that out, as Matt Forde did, isn’t bullying — it’s just common sense.

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