I’m not a captain of industry and I’ve no degree in economics but I’m pretty sure I could boost the productivity of this country overnight. How you ask. Well, okay, you didn’t ask, but this is my column so I’m going to tell you anyway.
I would ban Facebook.
Now, now, don’t panic. You will be relieved to hear I do not in fact have the power to pull the plug on this bastion of social media. I mean how else would we know what level people had reached on Candy Crush?
But however vital we find Facebook in our lives you have to admit it does waste hours of time. And nothing does this more than the new craze for sharing online quizzes with your friends. Yes, apparently, by answering a few simple questions you can now discover every-thing from which capital city you should live in to the Game of Thrones character or Disney princess you most resemble.
I wish I could tell you I have never succumbed to such nonsense, but sadly how else would I know that I am Ned Stark from Game of Thrones (gruff, holier-than-though and beheaded before the end of season one ... in case you were wondering).
Thankfully I am at least immune from one quiz – which royal consort are you? – because I already know the answer. Yes, that’s right. I am Albert Saxe-Coburg, Queen Victoria’s better half.
I’ve always had an inkling. I mean I love Christmas and I happen to think women look terribly chic in black, but last week I really understood just how ‘Albert’ I am. We were holidaying on the Isle of Wight and somewhere in the midst of miniature village trips and rockpooling, we found time to visit Osborne House. This was the favourite residence of Queen Victoria – a place built by her and Albert as a home away from court.
As a getaway pad it’s quite impressive: 340 acres of grounds and gardens, ornately furnished royal apartments and even it’s own private beach. But my favourite part of all was The Swiss Cottage. Theoretically I suppose I should term this a ‘playhouse’ but considering it’s larger than most people’s homes that seems like an undersell.
Albert had something similar as a child (of course he did) and here he wanted the children to learn domestic duties such as cooking and, yes, gardening. There. You see. I am SO Albert.
This meant that as well as beautiful rooms filled with scaled down versions of the latest ovens and cooking equipment, outside Albert laid out nine gardens, one for each of his children. As they spent up to a third of the year at Osborne, the children were able to sow, plant and tend to their gardens – all using their own monogrammed tools and wheelbarrows of course – whilst an under gardener kept them up to scratch in their absence.
As the original house husband Albert oversaw his children’s education including their gardening efforts. He was also smart enough to motivate them. The children’s produce was bought by their ‘Papa’ at market prices and they could then use the money to buy themselves treats or presents for friends and family.
Whilst I haven’t gone as far as paying cold hard cash to my kids, I have at least given them a mini garden each. This is because I’m convinced nothing motivates children more than a plot of their own. And over the years they have added various features to these few square metres such as mini wildlife ponds, dwarf apple trees and even a scented hopscotch.
In fact a child’s garden could be far smaller than this and still incredibly effective. One or two square metres would do, or if you don’t have beds a large container serves as a pint-sized garden that can grow a range of small plants.
In fact one of my favourite ways to set up a child’s garden is to give them an old wheelbarrow with drainage holes drilled into the base. This holds enough compost to grow a range of small vegetable varieties, herbs or flowers. Best of all, if you’re going away for any length of time, it can be wheeled into a shadier spot to stop it being frazzled by the sun.
One word of warning though: if the wheelbarrow bears a monograph, it’s probably best not to drill holes in it. Albert can get quite tetchy about such things.