Magazine article The Spectator

Always Keep A-Hold of Nurse. .

Magazine article The Spectator

Always Keep A-Hold of Nurse. .

Article excerpt

Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

Viking, £12.99, pp. 318,

ISBN 9780670922765

Spectator Bookshop, £10.99

Nanny Knows Best: The History of the British Nanny by Katherine Holden

The History Press, £18.99, pp. 224,

ISBN 9780752461748

Spectator Bookshop, £16.99

Secrets of a Pet Nanny by Eileen Riley Elliott & Thompson, £11.99, pp. 228,

ISBN 9781909653221

Spectator Bookshop, £10.79

Soon after moving to London at the age of 20, Nina Stibbe wrote to her sister Vic saying, 'Being a nanny is great. Not like a job really, just like living in someone else's life.'

She was working for Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review of Books, and her letters home to Lincolnshire give a hilarious picture of her new life. She gets on well with her charges, Sam (ten) and Will (nine), treating them as equals and often playing tricks on them:

Sam was invited to supper at the Tomalins' - his first ever (official, evening) meal. Told him that Claire had rung to ask him to bring a potato with him. Will and me thought it was hilarious when Sam set off with a potato in one hand and his football cards in the other.

Alan Bennett comes to dinner most nights, despite some rather dodgy cooking:

Seeing such a lot of my Florida coleslaw left in the bowl, AB made one of his usual food pronouncements: 'You'd be better off with mayonnaise or yoghurt, and perhaps not the tinned oranges.'

Much of the book is made up of entertaining snatches of conversation, which always seem to conjure up something essential about the people who are talking:

Nunney [Nina's friend and now husband]:

What are you doing?

Me: Cutting out shapes, it's Will's homework.

Nunney: (cross) Why isn't Will doing it?

Me: He doesn't like paper craft and he's writing a novel.

Nunney: Cutting out paper to exact measurements is maths. . . Will should do it - it's a life skill.

Will: I'll never need to measure paper in real life; I'll buy it already measured.

Nunney: (to Will) Don't let her ruin your life.

Will: She's helping me with my novel.

Now and then Nina's friends turn up with silly hairstyles and odd requests. One asks Alan Bennett for acting tips: 'It was strange having Amanda in the kitchen ripping the flower and shouting at me in an American accent and AB sipping his camomile tea. …

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