Walking the streets of Nappy Valley recently, I've noticed something odd: the average age of the people pushing prams seems to have increased by around 30 years. Hordes of grey-haired ladies appear to be looking after small children at the local cafes, and I've spotted more than one sixtysomething couple dropping off tots at the Littleboys' nursery. It's not, I think, down to an IVF-fuelled baby boom among the older generation. My theory is that grannies are new nannies.
Yup, the recession is biting and Ana from Poland, Kirstie from New Zealand or Mila from Bulgaria have been replaced by Vera and Stanley, imported from Esher to look after their grandchildren while their children are at work.
The typical granny/nanny wears an expression that is half-indulgent and half resigned to their fate. There are some who are obviously thrilled to be spending so much time with their grandchildren, but there are others (particularly the middle class, Barbour-wearing variety) who would obviously so much rather be spending their retirement on an upmarket tour of India or a cruise in the Baltic than filling little Evie's Anyway Up Cup with apple juice and hauling a Bugaboo around the Common. Sure, they love their grandchildren, but this wasn't quite how they envisaged the golden years.
Having seen their houses rocket in value over the past few decades, their generation have enjoyed a period of wealth that mine will never experience. But suddenly their investments aren't generating so much income, and their children are demanding their help with childcare in order to keep payments up on their massive mortgages.
In truth, I've always been rather jealous of people who can rely on their parents for childcare. The Doctor and I both lost our mothers before we had children, and while my father is a very good babysitter, and great with the Littleboys, I think even he might baulk at being asked to look after his riotous grandsons all week. (The Doctor's father, meanwhile, would be quite appalled by the idea).
This leaves us with no other option than to pay out when we need childcare. We pay extortionate nursery fees, and when we went to Paris for our 10th wedding aniversary last year, we paid a trusted babysitter to look after the Littleboys for the whole weekend. In contrast, I know of several couples whose parents and in-laws take it in turns to look after the children during the week so that they don't have to pay out for nursery. Then there are othes who invite their parents or in-laws on holiday entirely so that they can help with the kiddies (although there is a tendency to complain about them vociferously afterwards and wonder whether it was worth it).
I can't decide whether using grannies as nannies is a fantastic idea, or whether I actually feel a little bit sorry for these grandparents. I like the idea of extended family stepping in at times of need (and I'm sure that the recent study that said nurseries were better than grandparents at looking after kids was wrong). But I do wonder if some people are just cutting back on childcare costs so that they can still afford their 4x4 and expensive summer holiday. Granny slave labour?