Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Naughty Room

Over Easter, Simon, Patapon and I were in France, shipped first class via Eurostar by my parents who needed a grandson fix (Pounet, Mounette, je vous aime, mouaaah). So, we enjoyed free (and eager!) babysitters, a car full of petrol and went about our merry way, enjoying all the beautiful liturgies of the Triduum (O Versailles, they may mock you, but you do deliver). However, Simon eventually had to go back (pesky hospital) whilst I lingered on for a couple of days.

Holidays in France are tough.

The interesting part though, happened during the dreaded train ride back, alone with Patapon (he is great company, but doesn’t take very well to being restrained anymore). The train was crammed, but as I was in first class, courtesy of my wonderful parents (mouaah), it was reasonably comfortable, even with a sleeping 9-month old strapped to me.

He didn’t stay asleep, though.

And it was a Thursday. Which is not a Eurostar family day (first class gets taken over by screaming babies at weekends, I gather). Eventually, one of the stewardesses (are they called stewardesses on a train?), offered me a small compartment all to myself and Patapon.

Obviously, I did what anybody would have done, and sent lots of people lots of pictures of Patapon and I from the “naughty room” (I called it the “compartiment des punis” to the Frenchies, which was funnier, but hard to translate). I was slightly exasperated at our society’s obvious anti-baby attitude, but Patapon was delighted to roam freely at last, creating complicated ballet moves with his beloved Winnie, so really, it was alright.

Le compartiment des punis

But then I wondered, has our society really become anti-baby? I read many American blogs, and it seems to be the consensus amongst mommy bloggers there, yet when I put my historian hat on (I know I’m not really allowed anymore, PhD status en un jour tu vĂ©cu, but old habits...), it’s not that clear cut.

Would a screaming baby on the train have been frowned upon, up until the Second World War?

It would have depended where.

If you were poor, and travelling in third class, well, you would likely share with chickens anyway, so a screaming baby would be the least of your worries.

What screaming baby?

And no one would bat an eyelid if you kept the baby quiet through the good old breastfeeding tactic:

I bet she's got a chicken in that basket, too.

However, had you travelled first class with a child unable to show proper decorum, everyone would have tutted just as much as nowadays (more in fact!) and wondered why on earth was the screaming infant not travelling in second or third with the nurse?

There are two common types of fallacies in dealing with history. One is familiar to us as Catholics: the idea that people from the olden days were not very bright, because, you know, they were from, like, long ago (which is why they bought into all that irrational religion stuff –as an aside, I challenge anyone to show me an irrational argument in Thomas Aquinas. Go on, I’ll wait.)

Irrational moron from the thirteenth century

The other fallacy however is no less potent or dangerous, and it’s the Golden Age fallacy. The idea that, it was so much better before (or elsewhere, in an isolated jungle for example), or that long, long, ago,  people were doing IT right (I’m looking at you Paleo Diet, and all the fads harking back to better, uncorrupted times).

It was always sunny in the Olden Days

As it turns out, the Olden Days have as much of a claim to prejudice and reason as we do, so that any indictment or vindication of our society through comparisons with “how it was before” is likely to have to be met with Simon’s favourite academic answer in the whole universe:

I think you’ll find,
It’s more complicated than that.


  1. Can't remember who this quote is attributed to, but I'll throw it out there anyway: "Things aren't what they used to be and probably never were."

    1. I'd never heard it, but very apt indeed! :-)