Magazine article The Spectator

Give Her Space

Magazine article The Spectator

Give Her Space

Article excerpt

Women who were raised in the countryside, but have spent their adult lives in the cities, are as varied in type as you could imagine. They dress in different ways, work at different jobs, have different friends. However, like salmon, they all feel a mysterious urge to go home to spawn. Mysterious, because if they were prompted by memories rather than instincts, they might ask themselves why it is that this is supposed to be the place to raise a family.

My sister lives in London. But since she has had to go into hospital with some ghastly throat infection I've been looking after her 11-month-old daughter. It is bringing back all sorts of memories. When I had my first child I would rack my brains to think what I could learn from the way I was raised by my ancient German nanny. She used to put us outside in our prams for an hour or so every day, rain or snow. But that didn't seem right, any more than hanging a three-month-old baby over a potty or any of her other exhortations did.

I did take my babies for walks, however. How I longed for a nice smooth pavement as I pushed a pram along the rough farm track that ran behind our house. I doubt the air was any more beneficial than that in town, and, as for the scenery, I don't think babies are interested in scenery. The first time I put my baby on the grass he screamed as if I had sat him down on needles. But then boys have to make a noise about everything. My niece is spookily placid. I could have had eight of her staying and hardly notice, which was never true of the boys, even though our house was very efficiently organised to that end.

My mother-in-law designed the layout when we arranged our first house. It would have been perfect if I had had live-in Peruvian servants as she had had when her sons were born. But, as it was, as soon as my babies were off the breast they were put to sleep as far away from the marital bedroom as it was possible to be - and that is quite a long way in a farmhouse. There they would plop out of their cots and rub boot polish on their faces without my noticing before morning. I was too young, ignorant and feeble to dream of rearranging the house which otherwise worked very well, but I did buy several intercom devices. …

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