Magazine article The Spectator

Talking Points

Magazine article The Spectator

Talking Points

Article excerpt

Nanny is a full-time 'scrubber' as she puts it. She scrubs for a Mrs P and a Mrs R. She's not used to being on holiday. The inactivity is profoundly disturbing to her. She doesn't know what to do with herself. Most of the time she perches on our fixed caravan's concrete step, puffing unhappily on a succession of Superkings, and staring balefully at the passers-by.

Our caravan is at the entrance of the Valley caravan and camping park. Everyone entering or leaving goes right past our door. All day long the campers and caravaners come and go, surfboards and bodyboards tucked under their arms. Those going towards the beach, from left to right as we look, are generally more cheerful, their heads held higher, than those coming the other way. Nanny hasn't been to the beach herself yet, though it is less than 100 metres away. She isn't interested in beaches. Messy things, beaches. Too much sand all over the place. She would rather spend the week watching other people come and go to the beach, and pass comment on them, than go there herself. And that's how it's been. Nanny perched on the step, smoking and commenting; me inside the caravan asleep or watching TV; the boys out God knows where.

`Look at 'ee!' says Nanny, over her shoulder, to me. I look out of the door. An AfroCaribbean man is going by. He is wearing a wet suit. `Look at 'ee!' says Nanny. `Black as a badger'stit!'' Being a countrywoman, Nanny's similes are usually drawn from Nature. Some I find instructive. The suggestion that badgers' tits are jet-black has, I feel, enriched my imagination. A little later on she draws my attention to a family -- mum, dad and a pair of toddlers in turquoise swimsuits. Their skin is extraordinarily white. In fact it is actually the colour white. `Look at they!' she says excitedly. `White as a dead pig's eye!'

From time to time the boys reappear briefly to demand money or food. `What's for dinner, Nanny?' they say, or `What's for tea?' `Mutton rings,' says Nanny, to both questions.

When not drawn from Nature, her similes are based on familiar items in the workplace. This man trudging back from the beach in the rain had a face like a `stewed broom'; another's looked like 'a dog's arse with a hat on'. The man with a face like a dog's arse with a hat on was also `staring like a conger' apparently. …

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