Wednesday 16 January 2008

Phil N Teds' excellent adventure

The Phil & Teds has returned home!

Never in my life have I been so glad to see the blasted thing. All its foibles – the squeaky mudguards, the clunky wheels, the unfathomable raincover that still seems to mean the child in the back gets wet – are forgiven.

But most of all I am grateful to the woman who caringly took it in and gave it a home, saving it from robbers and opportunistic parents, not to mention two solid days of torrential rain, and who has restored my faith in humanity. She reunited me with my buggy after I posted a few notes through doors in the street where I had left it, in a last-ditch hope that no-one had walked off with it. (I also persuaded the local newsagent to put one up in his window - when I told him I had lost a pram he looked at me as if I were completely nuts....)

The buggy rescuer is a nurse, and seven months pregnant. Now, if you were going to abandon an expensive buggy outside someone's house, could you have found a more suitable occupant?

Losing it...

I’ve done the stupidest thing known to woman, or at least any mummy in the vicinity of Nappy Valley. I have lost my pram.

Yes, you read that right. I have gone and lost my massive, expensive, Phil & Teds 'E3' double buggy complete with raincover and mudguards.

How, you might ask, can such a thing be mislaid?

Well, the story starts with a large puddle. Which my toddler gaily splashed in the other day in the playground, soaking trousers, socks, shoes and nappy in brown, murky rainwater. I thought about stopping him, but after the initial splash I decided to let him get on with it and completely cover himself in mud, as it was obvious his entire outfit would need removal.

We had driven to an unfamiliar playground to meet up with a friend who lives a couple of miles away. On our return to the car – parked in a residential street - toddler was cold, wet and whingy, and I spent several minutes struggling to remove his clothing, strap him in, and prevent him from jumping semi-naked into the front and pretending to steer. Then I had to scoop up his small, sleeping brother from the pram and strap him into the carseat without waking him up, bundle coats, bags and wet clothing into the car, wipe the sweat off my brow and drive home. Just one problem. The pram - as I realise now, two days later - was still sitting on the pavement……

When I returned to the scene of the crime, there was naturally no sign of the Phil & Teds. I knocked on a few doors in the street, but no-one claimed any knowledge of the enormous, tank-like contraption that had been sitting directly outside.

My husband, when I called him up in tears, had the audacity to laugh. This, from a man who does not have to deal with the daily shenanigans of getting two small children to and from parks, activities and friends houses accompanied by various nappy bags, bibs, coats and bottles. Although he points out that we wouldn’t have needed the double buggy for much longer – the toddler is growing up - he’s never had to contain a stroppy, tired two year old who doesn’t want to scoot any more and feels like throwing a tantrum in the middle of Clapham Common.

My friends tell me I’ll laugh about it someday, and I know I will, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it yet. It'll take a few good glasses of wine this evening to get me even vaguely cracking a smile.

But what makes me most furious of all is that someone, somewhere in Nappy Valley is walking round with a £300 double buggy, only a year old – for FREE.

Bob the Old Etonian Builder

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that my two year old’s favourite CBeebies character is Bob The Builder. After all, builder is probably the trade he comes into most frequent contact with in his everyday life in Nappy Valley. Just walking up to the Common from our house, we will pass about 10 sets of builders, who will either be gutting a Victorian terraced house, digging out its basement, extending the loft or filling in the ‘side return’ at the back. (At least, that’s what they are supposed to be doing. More likely, they’ll be sitting out front having a fag break and chuckling as my son shouts out the theme from ‘Bob the Builder’ on our way past).

So why all this fervent construction work? Basically, the wealthier citizens of Nappy Valley have been priced out of upgrading into Kensington and Chelsea – it’s too full of Russians, Arabs and Americans – so are forced to stay south of the River, even when they’ve made partner in their City law firm or management consultancy. Making their house bigger and posher is cheaper, therefore, than moving to a smarter address – and a good way to invest their hefty salary.

As a result, these narrow suburban houses are rather like Tardises - their slightly shabby exteriors belie the vast, extended state-of-the art kitchens and designer minimalist bathrooms within.

Builders are consequently a favourite conversation topic here. Of chief concern are the woes of the wives, who, because they are not out at work all day, are forced to put up with plaster dust, dirt and chaos, and make endless cups of tea for the builders while trying to look after several small children, cook in a non-existent kitchen and empty the washing machine several times a day. Inevitably, because hubby is too busy, they also have to ‘deal’ with the builders - a delicate set of negotiations that becomes more strained when the work takes twice as long as promised and usually ends in sacking one set and hiring a new, preferably Polish, lot.

As the 'two week' project stretches on into several months, the house becomes more and more unliveable in. Things often get so bad that entire families of four are forced to ‘housesit’ other people’s homes for the weekend, or decamp to a parent’s house for the entire summer. If this is not an option, desperate measures are required; one friend spent several weeks eating her evening meal with her husband in the car, as the only usable room in the house contained her two small, sleeping children. Oh, and because people tend to call in the builders when an addition to the family is imminent, all this usually takes place when the wife is about eight months pregnant.

If you can’t stand this mayhem, there is another option – Seb, the Nappy Valley Fixit Man. A tousle-haried Old Etonian, Seb chucked in his City job a few years back when he spotted that megabucks were to be made from locals desperate to improve their homes. He now directs a posse of East European workmen whose USP is to complete their building projects in record time, for a hefty premium. No tea breaks, fag breaks or popping out to Topps Tiles for several hours on end for these guys. With Seb haranguing them via the hands-free mobile that’s permanently glued to his cheek, they work 12 hour days to complete the task in days, rather than weeks - even if they look fairly glum about it. As for Seb, his shiny fleet of cleverly-branded Fixit Man vans grows larger by the month, and he lives in one of the most sought-after streets in Nappy Valley, where his wealthy neighbours helpfully recommend him to all their friends.

So, in Nappy Valley if you can’t beat Bob the Builder, there seems to be only one answer – become him.

Friday 11 January 2008

Off to Rabbit Rhymes

It’s Friday so we’re off to Rabbit Rhymes - a Nappy Valley institution. Although Rabbit Rhymes actually exists all over London, it is particularly prevalent in those postcodes where parents are prepared to shell out £70 a term for ten minutes of their toddlers listening to a teacher warble made-up tunes about a blue plush Rabbit, followed a short march around the room and a few seconds lying on blankets. That's before they have to kiss Rabbit goodbye and vacate the room sharpish because the next army of mothers and prams has arrived.

You can spot where a Rabbit Rhymes is taking place because of the dazzling array of brightly coloured Bugaboo buggies outside the venue. There isn’t a cheapo pushchair in sight, and those pushing them are a collection of Nappy Valley Yummy Mummies clad in jeans, boots and cashmere cardies, East European nannies and the odd, shifty-looking Dad. Occasionally, you might spot some grandparents saddled with taking the kids to Rabbit Rhymes. “My daughter’s in Courchevel,” they tell you (sounding slightly boastful but also slightly disapproving because in their day, you didn’t just bugger off skiing and leave the kids with your parents for a week), before making the standard remark: “Isn’t it funny how everyone round here has the same pushchair?”

Our particular Rabbit Rhymes takes place in a church hall slap bang in the centre of the trendy ‘Village’ and as such is filled with particularly well-heeled types, their kids dressed in mini-Boden and cute knits from JoJo Maman Bebe. My own sons , sporting those desirable labels Early Days by Primark and George at Asda, are definitely letting the side down. As am I, having struggled half a mile in the rain with a double buggy and rubbish umbrella. I am soaking wet, dishevelled and wearing my hiking socks; considerably less soignée than most mothers, who either live around the corner or have driven in their 4X4. (The one time I drove, I got a parking ticket and ended up in a screaming match with a traffic warden – one of the many amusing pastimes of being a local parent in this part of London).

The permanently harrassed looking Rabbit Rhymes teacher looks resigned to her fate as she takes the register and prays that her CD player is working this week. The toddlers, who are supposed to be sitting on mats on the floor, are racing around the hall in a state of minor frenzy. At least one has slipped over in a small puddle where the roof has leaked (the teacher looks aghast, no doubt imagining lawsuits to follow). Their mothers are more than likely ignoring them either to tend to a howling younger sibling, whom they are trying in vain to get to sleep in the pram for the duration of the class, or alternatively texting on their mobile.

Ludicrous names abound as the teacher greets her class. “Hello, Inka.” “ What a lovely smile, Horatio!”

“What’s your baby brother called?” the teacher asks little Ophelia one day. “Sal,” she replies. “Sam?” says the teacher doubtfully. “No, Sal.” We all look a bit perplexed. “Salvador,” explains Ophelia’s mum, as if it were obvious that that would be the case. (I wonder about the origins of this name – she certainly doesn’t look Hispanic, and the Ophelia and Salvador are as blond as they come, suggesting dad isn’t either – maybe they are big Dali fans?)

Then we all sing the Rabbit Rhymes welcome song, some more enthusiastically than others. You can spot the career mums, having Friday off, who look as if they would rather go home and chew off their own toenails than sit in a draughty church hall singing “Rabbit loves to clap his paws.” Or, worse, those who have given up a high powered career to be a stay at home mum, their expressions almost writ-large on their faces: “I used to run public affairs for a City mega-giant, but now I sing songs about my daughter’s pink wellies”.

Despite it only being a 30 minute music class, there are little cliques within the mothers at Rabbit Rhymes. Some are friends from NCT classes who have joined up together; some are neighbours. Those who are neither (ie., us) are consequently regarded with slight suspicion by the other mums. I also (shock, horror) sometimes chat to the nannies while we’re waiting outside – I remember the horrified look one mother gave me when I asked an au pair whether she was going home for Christmas. Round here, Mums talk to mums and nannies to nannies and never the twain shall mix. Except, of course, if you are trying to poach someone else’s nanny, a phenomenon I’ve seen on Desperate Housewives but also heard anecdotally goes on in Nappy Valley.

After the class, it’s off to Starbucks for a latte, a ‘babycino’ for the kids, (a cup of hot milk and chocolate sprinkles for the princely sum of £1) and a gossip about the latest organic food shops, how wonderful it is that Waitrose now delivers and – wow – there’s a Jigsaw Junior on the Northcote Road now. All part of a day in the life of a mum in Nappy Valley…..