The ugly truth

29th November 2013 at 00:00

A new road sign has appeared near my house. It features an impressive model of a bird of prey perched on top of the legend "Red Kite Country".

Although there are a few of these big feathery beasts flitting around the region, it's not an entirely accurate summation. Given that we have the UK's highest rate of hospital admissions for alcohol-related problems, an enormous bottle of vodka and the words "Cirrhosis of the Liver Land" might be more realistic. Or, in recognition of our status as a hypertension hot spot, we could have herbaceous blood-pressure gauges planted on all our roundabouts. Although it's likely that the council gardeners would collapse from strokes before they finished planting out "Home of Heart Disease" in pinks and petunias.

The red kite is a red herring, a marketing ploy to attract tourists to an area blighted by the recession. In less than 12 months, nearly all the shops on the main street of my village have closed. Even the Spar. Its demise is particularly worrying, as these hardy little retail units are the cockroaches of the grocery trade. They're the last thing to go before the world collapses.

Today, we shy away from the truth. We'd sooner have a body-sculpted, spray-tanned, teeth-whitened version of reality than the ugly brute itself. I'd rather spend my time watching The Great British Bake Off or rushing around supermarket aisles looking for spatulas, sprinkles and enormous silicone cupcake moulds than face the grim truth that one in five of the UK's children lives in absolute poverty. Reading the grimy facts of life - that some parents have to feed their families on less than #163;13 a day or that rickets, a predominantly Victorian childhood disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, is now on the increase - isn't half as much fun as making a fruitcake.

When my daughter was younger, I used to despair of her need to see the world through rose-tinted spectacles; her fondness for scripted reality shows drove me round the bend. But now programmes like Made in Chelsea aren't a million miles away from the airbrushed version of the life I lead.

In my school department, we regularly bring in huge polka-dotted containers of Krispy Kremes or retro-style boxes of cupcakes. When you're munching your way through an apple pie doughnut, it's easy to believe that Doris Day will burst in singing A Woman's Touch and shake the crumbs off your gingham tablecloth while sorting out the recession.

You can't blame us for preferring this version of reality. Earlier this year, England's North East was named as the region experiencing the biggest rise in child poverty in the UK. In one area, 56 per cent of children were deemed to be in need. But that's hardly a great slogan to stick on our signs. Which is why there's a bird rather than a bow-legged bairn standing at the side of my road.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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