We had no say in the matter, we humans, about whether our parents should bear us or not. And many of us – with unspeakable hypocrisy – go on to create children without ever even consulting them. And so families are everywhere, and children are everywhere – especially your own. You just can’t shake the blighters off. Around you they roam like village drunkards, knocking things over, spilling their drinks, ripping their clothes off and calling you ‘Big Dada’. Machell was raising his young family in the ’70s, but those were different times, and Disraeli’s second ministry now feels a very distant memory. And yet those keen cries of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’, ‘Yah boo to you and your carrots!’ and ‘Home rule all round!’ have never ceased reverberating round his poll. Still, families can come together to help make this whole business of species propagation more amenable and, if things go aright, enjoyable enough. So here’s fifteen tips from the top-hat:

  1. Be sure to name your child something viable. To find out whether it passes that test, check that it (i) doesn’t prompt the glazed-eyed, fading-out response of ‘Ohhhhh!’ from the grandparents, (ii) isn’t the registered trademark of an automotive air freshener, and (iii) doesn’t include any marks of punctuation, arabic numerals or emoticons.
  2. Facebook is a minefield: you can’t launch any family photo into that world without some far-flung relative frenziedly ‘liking’ every single picture, instantly debasing that function to nothing more than ‘Yes, I’ve looked at this’. So test their commitment by including some unstintingly aggressive domestic shots – of your baby crawling into the oven, your toddler precariously perched on the shed roof, or your five-year-old downing his first Blavod.
  3. Never buy grandparents technology: your evenings will be endless over-the-’phone sessions explaining what-shaped buttons they should and should not press on a device whose form and function you can no longer recall to make happen or not happen events they don’t have the vocabulary to describe.
  4. If – for some reason – you’ve taken to the idea of convening ‘family meetings’, teach the importance of equal rights by making every vote equipollent, regardless of age. We live in a democracy, and if you’ve bred a brood to outnumber the parents, prepare to harvest that bitter fruit.
  5. Teenagers being teenagers, they’re destined to pass through their Contrary Phase. It’s vital, then, to handle this properly. When they’re aged ten to twelve fill them with ideas entirely opposed to what you actually think: ‘knowledge is boring’, ‘cycling is a sophisticated sport’, ‘the news isn’t worth following’, ‘social media is exciting!’, ‘Joy Division are woefully under-rated’. As teenagerhood unfurls, watch them rebel with a heart-liftingly sensible and sound-minded outlook on the world.
  6. Be brutally honest when appraising your young children’s ‘drawings’: a chaotic scrawl of crayon lines is not a Leonardo or LeWitt, it’s manifest dross; a random medley of potato prints is under no circumstances fridge-worthy; and the clay renderings of daddy à la Botero alongside a mother à la Giacometti are frankly toast-chokingly insulting. Enjoin them to do better.
  7. Ban these words and phrases from the household: ‘yummy mummies’, ‘Because I said so’, ‘How was work?’, ‘Can you pause Naked Attraction?’, ‘Mmmm… uh huh’ – and, of course, ‘loo’.
  8. When three generations are gathered around the television, and the period drama lunges clumsily into a sexual scene, the pressure in the room palpably triples. How to diffuse that tension? Well, it looks artificial for seven people to head off communally to make a pot of tea. Far less contrived would be to launch mutually into a pre-agreed ‘Song of Embarrassment’. To cover the full gamut of foreplay-cum-intercourse, Machell recommends anything from the back catalogue of Yes.
  9. Cleave to the traditional customs for children’s presents: aged one, nothing but wrapping paper; aged two-three, nothing but cardboard boxes; aged four to six, moving wooden things; aged seven to nine, variously-shaped balls; aged ten to twelve, variously-sized books; aged thirteen, a triple-subscription to the New Statesman, The Spectator and Viz; thereafter, sagely advise that they are ‘too cool for presents’.
  10. Distribute all household tasks on the basis of comparative advantage: match skill with skill, interest with interest, passion with passion. When dealing with the would-be houseworker who claims to be devoid of all skill, interest and passion for such things, get them to buck up their ideas by changing every duvet in the house, one-handed.
  11. Be sure to observe appropriate pitch-side etiquette when young Jonty or Julipha is flying the family flag on the turf. Reasonable whooping is fine; a modicum of name-specific shouting is permissible; pinging the referee diverting ‘sexts’ or gnawing the legs of opposition parents is a step too far. It’s also prudent not to turn up squeezed into the full school kit.
  12. To add frisson to the earliest years of speech, replace one in every ten new words you teach your youngster with gentle expletives. Call, for instance, a spoon a ‘wazzock’, grapes ‘plonkers’, and the sound of the doorbell ‘bugger’. Now enjoy the unpredictable mirth of infant conversation.
  13. When things ‘get real’ domestically, you’re going to struggle to resist the push for a joint bank account. Budgets will rear their heads, and monthly spending limits haunt your waking thoughts. But it’s prudent to stress-test this system by exceeding those limits one or five times during the year; to make the experiment fair, try doing this without prior consultation or subsequent explanation.
  14. One of the great societal blights of our age is the exponential uploading of baby photos online. Proud parents, unless you have formal written consent from your wee one, you will have to pace yourself in this regard. After the initial public exposition of Nature’s good work having been done, limit your photo-albums to genuine milestones (first smile/footsteps/novel/Olympic medal), remembering that milestones appear, er, miles apart.
  15. If you have more than one child, never elect to put them in the same clothes (physically an intolerable strain) or in matching clothes (visually an insufferable pain).