Blaming parents is an international sport, and may soon enter the Olympics. Premature greying? Parent. Baldness? Parent. Inability to drive in a straight line and get to your destination? Parent. Poor spelling? Parent. Holes in the socks? Parent. Childless? Blame the parents. You get the idea.
Finally here’s something we can’t blame parents for. On the other hand, we need to thank them. Here it is: I am not a violent criminal because my mother didn’t allow me to take naps in the afternoon. Let me explain. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of York have concluded that teenagers who take afternoon naps are more likely to commit violent crimes a decade and a half later. I am sure other researchers are working on the effect of cutting the toenails on the left foot on future career choices, but we needn’t get distracted here.
Back to the nap. When I was a teenager, my mother appointed a couple of well-muscled researchers to dissuade me from taking afternoon naps. I was occasionally beaten up, and once lost a tooth when they took their jobs a little too seriously. "You will thank me later," my mother told me. I realise now she was right. Mothers always know. I sometimes had breakfast and went right back to sleep, but that was fine. It was the afternoon nap that was a no-no.
But I did break the rule occasionally – I am confessing this here for the first time – and caught a nap with my eyes open and a book in front of me. It took some practice, but I could sleep for a few minutes. That probably explains my minor criminal tendencies, like telling callers on the phone that I am not at home or telling the boss that I have a fever and can’t come to work.
I love the story of Napoleon (I think it was) who held a spoon in his outstretched hand over a steel plate as he eased into a nap. At the moment he fell asleep, the spoon dropped, hit the plate and woke him up. If I tried a stunt like that, the noise would probably throw me into a deeper sleep and you would have to drop the plate, the spoon and a couple of cups on my head to wake me up. Some of us are built differently.
But all this not-napping when young causes the reverse to happen when older. You may not be a criminal, but you have years of sleep to catch up on. This means you fall asleep at the lunch table, while greeting world leaders and even while scuba diving. And then you can blame your parents.