Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. HAHAHA. Laugh-out loud funny. Thank you for the recommendation, S.
Not since the original Bridget Jones hit the shelves back in 1996 has a book made me cackle so merrily. Helen Fielding had us all vicariously reliving our boozy office days nigh on twenty years ago, fancying the boss and counting calories like there was no tomorrow (not much has changed since then, except the boss is perhaps of retirement age now so less stratospheric) – more recently, Nina Stibbe recalls her nannying days with charges S&W (Sam and Will) and employer MK (Mary-Kay, ex wife of Stephen Frears, notable for founding the London Review of Books and all the more fascinating for having been reported as moving into the oxfordian Randolph Hotel with her father for her week of finals!!).
She moves lock, stock and barrel from Leicester to London and hangs out with the likes of Deborah Moggach, Alan Bennett, Claire Tomalin and hubby Michael Frayn all living in close proximity, not to mention their own hired help Nunney, who eventually in real life becomes Nina’s permanent other half.
Nanny Nina writes very, very comical letters to her invisible sister Victoria who was working at the time in a nursing home back up North. You can’t help but suspect that her replies were pretty funny too, yet sadly hers weren’t kept and so she is actually the secret power behind the throne who has hung on to these witty pearls, enabling them to become fully-fledged oysters on their own account.
I mention food, because there are quite a lot of ongoing references to feeding the family in these pages. As a Brit reading about Brits, the spot is perfectly hit, and the dinners are in fact more often miss than hit, so there is much to empathise with: I loved all the references to throwing a ready-made tin into the mix, and the concoctions souped up to the table with varying degrees of success. Not a hint of Mary Poppins here – Nina S sees herself more as a kind of itinerant older sister, and frequently doles out advice that would have Julie Andrews diving into her carpetbag, but by golly Miss Molly it is warm, fuzzy and genuinely funny stuff.
Sheer brilliance in evoking the nanny-employer relationship (“Dear Vic, Good news. Mary-Kay has pranged the car at long last – a relief after all mine (prangs). She drove into a rope, which was ‘the same colour as the road and sky’.”).
And many burst out loud laughing moments, including this vision of after school activity going pear-shaped :
“Sam: I’m never going to trust her again.
Sam: She pushed me in (to the swimming pool).
MK: (a bit shocked) You pushed him in?
Me: I had to.
Me: He didn’t want to go in.
MK: Surely that’s a reason not to push someone in?
Me: Unless it’s Sam.
Sam: Anyway, I’ll never trust her again.
Will: I haven’t trusted her since 1981.
Sam: You didn’t meet her till 1982.
Will: Well, there you are.”
Do read this if you haven’t already, it is a laugh a minute and makes you feel resoundingly good about life. The second half of the book sees Nina propelled into college life after spending so much time hobnobbing with literary types, slightly Pygmalion style, but still very refreshing and of course awash with references to the books she now comes across. Indeed, ‘tis thanks more to Nina Stibbe than the BBC Best Loved Reads list that found myself ordering a copy of a book I’d not even heard of a month ago: “Showed Mary-Kay the reading list. She also thinks “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” is a good place to start… So that’s where I’ll start”.
Read in April 2015.
Rating : 10/10
National Book Awards UK – Popular Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2014