The fantastically funny LOVE NINA: DESPATCHES FROM FAMILY LIFE by Nina Stibbe is our March Non-Fiction choice: discuss the book and enter comp to win a year's supply of books

(72 Posts)

Our March choice is the freshest, funniest debut we've read in years. LOVE NINA: DESPATCHES FROM FAMILY LIFE is a collection of letters from a nanny living in a North London household. Writing with impeccable comic timing and a finely-tuned ear for dialogue, Nina records daily life and her own thoughts on London literati with refreshing honesty. And in this madcap house, the dialogue is priceless: Alan Bennett (who Nina thinks is from Coronation Street) on pie fillings, a ten-year old on swear words, and many literary arguments on the merits of Hardy and Chaucer. Nina may not have had any traditional childcare skills (a Norland nanny she is most definitely NOT), but she is exactly the right nanny for this particular, peculiar house, as she explains below:

'My book Love, Nina is the letters I wrote to my sister when I was a live-in nanny to two boys in the 1980s. The book focuses mainly on my relationship with the family I lived with and since publication it has been suggested (by some) that I wasn’t a very good nanny. And although I disagree with them (and would argue that I was perfect) I have to admit the evidence in the book for my not being good is quite compelling.

Firstly, I never did any housework. The house in Gloucester Crescent (which was already pretty shabby) became such a dreadful mess that my boss had to employ a cleaner. Not only that, the letters reveal that I felt a bit annoyed about it (‘a guilty/annoyed mix’) and was a bit irritated by the cleaner coming.

Also, after claiming at the interview to be a good cook, I turned out to be a lousy cook. I made a fuss about the available ingredients and used packets of Batchelor’s savoury rice to pass off as a home-made biriyani. I used tinned fruit pie filler and lied about the flavour. I upset the family with barely edible turkey-burgers and complained about my bosses’ cooking methods and tea making. When neighbour Alan Bennett, who regularly dropped in for supper, used to arrive with a thoughtful contribution to the meal, say a green salad, I’d interpret it as competition (or a snub) to my own salad.

Then there was my child-minding style. I put Sam (aged ten and with some disabilities) into a builder’s skip for a laugh and struggled to lift him out again. I pushed him into a swimming pool because he didn’t fancy a swim and read Thomas Hardy to him pretending it was Enid Blyton. I did other things too awful to write here (things that are explained in detail in the book).

I completed nine-year-old Will’s homework for him to get it out of the way so that he could get on with a novel he was writing and taught him to draw a fake tattoo on his arm in ink and took both boys on grafitti-hunting expeditions. I pranged the car and made the boys promise on their mother’s deathbed not to tell her about it. I walked around barefoot and took them to the pub to play snooker. I smoked and swore like a trooper.

Listed like that, I know it looks bad. But what my letters didn’t spell out quite so clearly were all the intangible things that I think added up to my being a great nanny. That I settled in and was very happy straight away and quickly became close to the boys and their mum. And, feeling like an equal - like one of the family - my behaviour, was like that of a fun-loving older sister. And, like an older sister, I was protective of the boys and I wanted the best for them. Not the ‘textbook’ best but what I thought really mattered. I didn’t think maths homework was as important as Will’s creative endeavors so I helped accordingly. I was fun to be with and looked for more fun and didn’t get hung up on Sam’s illness nor the demands of school homework.

It’s true I wasn't very good at the sensible things (except for an insistence on tooth brushing and short fingernails.) I didn’t bother cleaning the house or doing the ironing. I never taught them anything useful except that you stick with your football team through thick and thin and that you should always try to see the funny side of things. And that might have made me rubbish for any other family, but I just happened to be exactly what this family wanted. And I think that made me perfect.

Penguin have 50 copies of Love Nina to give to Mumsnetters - to claim yours please fill in your details on the book of the month page. We'll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, click on these links to get your paperback or kindle version.

If you get a free copy, we do expect you to come and and tell us what you think. So please discuss the book throughout the month and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 10-Mar-14 16:42:54

Mumsnet and Penguin are inviting you to join our Dear Nina competition: We want you to write to ‘Dear Nina’ and share with her your confessions of parenting fails. (if you read the post above you will see that author Nina Stibbe has plenty of those moments during her time as a nanny at Gloucester Road). Nina will judge your letters/confessions and the end of the month and the winner will receive a year’s supply of books for parents and kids from Penguin and Puffin – 12 adult titles and 12 kids titles selected by Penguin.

To get the ball rolling:

Dear Nina, when visiting Paris Disney one year, in the excitement I managed to leave dc3 in his buggy by the Indiana Jones ride whilst we ran on to the next adventure. We were about to get on the next ride when we realised we'd left him. When we got back he didn't even notice we'd gone smile.

We look forward to hearing your confessions to Dear Nina...

Roseformeplease Mon 10-Mar-14 17:44:27

Dear Nina,

When searching in the bottom drawer of the chest, on top of which my son lay, waiting for a nappy change, I realised that the object brushing (or rushing) past my face was not, in fact, an object, but my son who, thankfully, landed unharmed in the bottom drawer, cooing in delight.

Dear Nina, driving through a busy village every day on the school run, we were regularly cut up at a roundabout almost every day. One day DH in the car slammed on the brakes and shouted "dozy cow" at the offending vehicle. Two days later grandma in the car with us and DC when again forced to stop suddenly by roundabout. DS aged 3 pipes up " what's the matter daddy , is it another dozy cow?". Mortified or what!

katb1973 Mon 10-Mar-14 17:55:11

Dear Nina, when travelling with my 2 DCs in Malaysia, I let the two of them go into 2 different toilet stalls by themselves in one of those huge multi storey shopping centres. While I checked my hair in the mirror, my DS aged 2, crawled under the locked door and went out himself to find his father who was 100m away shopping in a store. When I finally realised he wasn't there I grabbed my other son and ran screaming for him around the shopping centre only to find him 5 minutes later with his Dad in the shop. Longest 5 minutes of my life....

KeepCalmAndLOLKittens Mon 10-Mar-14 17:57:11

Dear Nina

Continuing with the theme park think I somewhat failed on the parenting front at Peppa Pig World recently. There is a deceptively fast little roller coaster next to the PP part of the park. DD (3) thought it was a roller coaster and insisted in going on it.

Her little face wore an expression of pure terror as we made the descent and took the 90 degree corner. I lied and told her it was nearly over ... as we hurtled towards the second lap.

angie95 Mon 10-Mar-14 17:58:07

Dear Nina, not long after having my first child, Marcus(now 19) I decided to go shopping,
Took my baby son, in his pram, into Ethel Austins, so far so good,, Found what I wanted, took it to the checkout, paid, said thank you, and walked out of the shop. There was a shout of "Excuse me, excuse me" I turned round, to see a shop assistant, with my pram! Yes,, I had left him in the shop! Exit one embarrassed new mother,,,

KeepCalmAndLOLKittens Mon 10-Mar-14 17:58:45

DD in fact thought it was a helter skelter.

mammamic Mon 10-Mar-14 18:00:55

Dear Nina

When I worked part time, my husband used to have to call me regularly to remind me to change my darling daughter's nappy and feed her.

I was so exhausted being a first time mum and working, plus all the 'unpaid work', such as cleaning, ironing, cooking (none of which you are familiar with, but I can assure you - they are time and energy consuming) that I could go nearly a whole day without changing or feeding the baby (let's not discuss interacting with her...).

I would be blissfully asleep on whichever surface happened to be closest to me. My baby rarely made a peep during the day, though she emphatically made up for this between the hours of 2am and 7am, so I would be in my own little blissful sleep world...

As you say, on paper looks bad but I have a happy, healthy and joyful child and I know I am the most perfect mum on this planet (and she agrees)

mammamic Mon 10-Mar-14 18:04:26

is that too honest... blush

Stockhausen Mon 10-Mar-14 18:07:09

Dear Nina,

The very bad cold that mummy & daddy recently had, which confined us to bed, was in fact a stinking hangover.

Stockhausen Mon 10-Mar-14 18:07:14

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Stockhausen Mon 10-Mar-14 18:07:24

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Stockhausen Mon 10-Mar-14 18:07:26

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Stockhausen Mon 10-Mar-14 18:07:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Stockhausen Mon 10-Mar-14 18:07:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BlizzardInWales Mon 10-Mar-14 18:23:48

Dear Nina,

When my son was 15 months old, he toddled out of his bedroom and down the hall. I went past in the opposite direction heading, sleepily, for the bathroom. I did notice that he was making a beeline for what I thought was an escaped sock at the top of the stairs, but thought nothing of it.

"What the heck is that?" My husband said from the bedroom moments later. I came out and found my darling son holding a deceased, fat, fluffy rodent. Not just holding it though, no no. He was gripping it upright in both pudgy little hands and squidging it enthusiastically.

"Squishy, squishy, squishy, squishy," he chanted as he abused the poor thing on his way to show daddy.

"Put it down!" I shrieked, shaking his hands by the wrists till he dropped it. There ensued a long hand washing session and much shouting at the husband to get rid of it.

Not a sock then, ah well. Thanks kitty.

madeofkent Mon 10-Mar-14 18:56:27

When DD was almost exactly three, in the dark frozen depths of one January she had a small friend to play. It was a dreadful day, we had had to break the pony's ice on the water trough several times and I had a stinking cold, so I refused to take them swimming. They were a bit upset, but seemed ok after a bit.

They played happily in front of the fire for a while and I half-dozed, but they got bored and wanted to play outside. It was getting towards dusk, but I wrapped them up warmly and told them to stick to the sandpit, returning thankfully to the fire.

I woke up an hour later, it was dark and the fire had almost gone out - no sign of the children. I went outside to call them in, no sign of them in the playhouse or sandpit. I went to the paddock and could hear voices, and there they were. Stark naked in a bath of frozen ice and water with the pony happily chewing away at them. I screeched at them to get out, grabbed them and their clothes and hauled them inside for a hot bath. I got them dried and dressed just before small friend's mummy arrived. Looking at her son's damp curls, she said 'Oh, did you take them swimming after all?'

'Yes', I replied.

StillNoFuckingEyeDeer Mon 10-Mar-14 19:04:31

Dear Nina,

When DD2 was a few weeks old, I was breast-feeding her whilst sat on the bedroom floor one night, when a massive spider scurried over her. My instant reaction upon seeing the hideous beastie, was to get it away from me as fast as possible. So I threw DD2 off my lap onto the floor.

daimbardiva Mon 10-Mar-14 19:44:17

Dear Nina, whilst moaning to a friend about how my husband let's our kids take too many risks whilst 'helping' him outside, I turned round to find my 8 month old dangling silently upside down from the booster seat I'd poorly strapped to a dining room chair...

Mamafratelli Mon 10-Mar-14 19:52:01

Dear Nina

I once told my dc's that the alarm sensor flashed when Father Christmas was watching. They behaved impeccably for the entire month of December but I felt so guilty that I told them he was so impressed he had disconnected the camera.

Sorry kids.

sjonlegs Mon 10-Mar-14 20:07:58

Dear Nina

I'm not sure I ever had the energy to 'nip' to the shops after the arrival of child number three ... Now, I prefer my tea herbal .. but fortunately my lactating meant that we never ran out of milk for my husband's early morning brew!

grin

sjonlegs Mon 10-Mar-14 20:16:02

Dear Nina

I'm happy to confirm that the 10 second rule works with pretty much any food stuffs.... in fact where raisins are concerned ... this rule sometimes extends to weeks, possibly even months.

I know this because my 3 children are still alive!

RuthPat76 Mon 10-Mar-14 20:17:24

Dear Nina, as a parent to be we all have ideas if what life will be like idealistic views and the reality is bribery gets you everywhere lol the sticker chart plus prize the if you are good we will get a magazine... It is always on my terms either this croissant or fruit based sweet and not the lolly you want but even so the no food will ever be a reward rule has never really been easily employed by anyone I know. Of course they know a "treat" when they eat one!!! Pudding if planned as part of a meal is still offered as long as they try everything on the plate but if no pudding is planned we do say if you eat this then... We have a fussy eater who loves fruit and veg but no sauces so although a pain is very healthy - so a failure or success in the main? We are all guilty of mistakes but I am sure our kids are all worth being proud of :-)

aristocat Mon 10-Mar-14 20:48:50

Dear Nina,

When my son was just 3 months old I had such a bad parenting fail. We were going on our first holiday with him and needed to stop at the services after travelling for more than an hour on the motorway.
As my DH and I got him out of the car we noticed that the 5 point harness on his car seat was not fastened!
How could we have done this - two sensible caring parents and a neglected child.

Needless to say, every journey since then had the car seat double checked .....

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