THREE cheers for Seb Clover! And three cheers for his mum! Seb, who is 16 today, has just sailed the Atlantic single-handed - the youngest ever person to do so. It is a terrific achievement, a real boy's own adventure.

And it was his mum who dared him to do it.

True. Seb's dad is a sailing instructor and the boy has been sailing since before he could walk. He had satellite navigation and all that. But the Atlantic is very big and his boat was so very small.

One wave could have done for him, killer whales escorted him - any one of which could have come up beneath him and holed the boat - he had to do major repairs on the mast.

No wonder his mother lost more than half a stone and came out in a rash as she waited for him to arrive safely in Antigua.

But she encouraged him to go for it, to stretch himself to extremes, to face real danger, not to mention the misery of three weeks totally alone. In those weeks he has doubtless grown up and gained enormous confidence in himself and his abilities.

"People think teenagers have a 20 minute attention span but he has been focused non-stop for 25 days," says his mother. Yet how many other parents would have the courage to let their children tackle anything similar?

Our instinct is always to protect our children, to keep them close to us and safe. But ultimately that might be the worst thing we can do. Cosseting them teaches them nothing, gives them no experience, no independence, no practice at coping. Young people need adventures. Boys, especially, need physical challenges. They need to test themselves as a way of maturing. And if they can't test themselves against the elements, then they are quite likely to test themselves against drink or drugs or fast cars instead. Dolores Clover was very brave to let her son go, and maybe - despite the risks - very wise as well.

Meanwhile, many 15-year-olds are barely allowed to cross town on their own, or to go from one side of the country to the other - and certainly not cross an ocean. And they may well be the poorer for it.

We underestimate our children because we never give them the chance to prove themselves.

Crossing the ocean alone is dangerous. But possibly not as dangerous as being wrapped in cotton wool by over-protective parents.

ANYONE else had problems with the Christmas post? A package from here to Texas arrives safely in four days. But a card from Shildon to Middleton Tyas took two weeks. Other cards - correctly addressed and posted in time - were still limping in up to New Year's Eve, and some cards still haven't made it at all.

Of course, the overwhelming mass of cards arrived safely and promptly. But this year there do seem to have been some very strange blips

MEANWHILE, boys have been beaten around the head and thank you letters written and received.

Favourite was from a young man to his - still youthful - granny.

"I hope you'll be here next year," he wrote cheerfully.

So does Granny...

SO who's going to get Safeway then? Asda would be cheaper... Sainsbury's would be posher... And Morrisons's would clutter up the aisles.

Morrison's always performs well in our Shoptalk surveys - good quality, good value - but I hate shopping there.

Why? Simply because the aisles are an obstacle course of weird planning, oddly-placed special offers and sudden mid-aisle displays of things you don't want.

All that research, all that quality control, all that financial wizardry... and none of it any use at all if you can't actually get your trolley round the store.

GREAT news - more people are training to be plumbers. These include former chartered surveyors, accountants, scientists and graduates of all sorts, enticed by the good money plumbers can earn and the prospect of being loved and appreciated by desperate householders.

For when water is pouring through the ceiling, who would you value more? Someone who can give you the linguistic derivation of "water"?

Or someone who can stop the leak?

"WHEN I am an old woman, I shall wear purple," says Jenny Joseph's famous poem.

The prime minister turned up in purple last week, or fetching shades of plum and berries, depending on the colour reproduction of different newspapers.

Let's just hope he stops there.

Otherwise it's the "red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me."

Not to mention the summer gloves and satin sandals...


Published: 15/01/2003