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.

kazlau Fri 14-Mar-14 13:16:05

My mother told my brother that when I was born (wee sister) he was going to help with looking after me. She possibly took it too far because when I was born he asked her if she was going to help him because he was worried he couldn't look after me all on his own. Fast forward 2 years and she had been explaining starting school to him - told him that he would be in primary school for until primary 7 then on to "big school" after that. On his first day, standing at the school gate he asked her if she would make sure that she would remember to come back and get him in 7 years!!!

Nina818 Fri 14-Mar-14 17:26:42

loving all these confessions... and keep remembering awful things I've done. I remember sticking my tongue out behind the back of my daughter's 10 y/o friend (who was whining). She saw me in the mirror and burst into tears.

Uzma01 Sat 15-Mar-14 18:49:30

When my daughter was much younger and still needing the rocker chair - the doorbell went, so I placed her in to it to speak to the person who'd come to check out something in the kitchen, a few minutes went by and then I heard a thud followed by an ear piercing scream/cry - I'd forgotten to tie the straps. shock

petalsandstars Wed 19-Mar-14 19:54:24

Not content with giving myself the heart attack that happens when you realise you've driven home down national speed limit roads with DC1 strapped into the car seat but the car seat not strapped into the car, I then did exactly the same with DC2!

Can't wait for the next stage car seat! !

Lovescourgettes Wed 19-Mar-14 20:19:23

In a horrifying mixup I once managed to substitute my own gigantic granny pant type knickers for my daughter's little ones in her nursery bag .

motherofallwimpykids Fri 21-Mar-14 12:12:41

Whether this is a parenting fail or not depends on your point of view....but the fact that this story was repeated to me a mum's coffee morning as an example of what-not-to-do makes me think that others didn't see it the same way as I did.....

...so bedtime one night and "click" out goes the light of DS1 then aged about 7 or 8. In the darkness I hear the words "Mum I think the rubber from the top of pencil may be stuck in my ear". The only reasonable response to this is "Why did you wait until now to tell me?" Grrrr.. on goes the light again, white wine repatriated to fridge door and I take a look in the ear. Sure enough I can see it, the little greyish white end of an eraser is just visible. I reckon that if I unbend a paper clip I'll just be able to hook the rounded end around it & lift it out. But the paper clip won't fit in between the ear canal & the rubber, so I straighten the paper clip and attempt to spear the rubber but no matter how I try I cannot pierce the rubber and it remains firmly in situ.

At times of medical emergency, I always phone my father as he is immensely knowledgeable in this field and always gives sound advice. In his opinion it is the lack of lubrication in the tight space that is causing the problem with prising it out and suggests a little olive oil to ease the passage of the eraser. Unfortunately, as I usually buy my salad dressings ready made I didn't have any olive oil ready and tried instead to use a little balsamic dressing made & sold by a large well known supermarket chain. The addition of the balsamic dressing did in fact hinder rather than help my activities with the paper clip and I was forced to consider alternatives. I thought that as leverage was not successful, perhaps suction would be effective in removing the rubber. So I removed the carpet cleaning fitting from the hoover and stuck the nozzle straight onto his ear & hit the max power button. I am not sure if my vacuuming skills are always deficient or if it was just on this occasion but certainly, no matter how I tried, the rubber remained well and truly lodged in the boy's ear.

With the arrival home of the spouse came the possibility of leaving the other children with their father and taking DS1 to the local Accident and Emergency department. Fortunately he was seen rather smartly and shown into a curtained area by a young and sensitive trainee doc. It was a completely straightforward matter and the young doc would remove the "foreign body" with a pair of crocodile forceps and we would be on our merry way. Unfortunately, due to the earlier addition of the balsamic dressing, the young doc was not able to get any purchase on the rubber and he persisted in inserting the forceps further and further into the ear. As you may know, the ear canal is an extremely sensitive part of the body and this caused such severe pain to DS1 that full volume screaming was accompanied by various attempts to kick the young doc to get him to stop what he was doing. Not much comforted by my offer to hold his legs to stop the kicking, the young doc decided that no more could be achieved that evening and we were sent home with an appointment at the ENT clinic the following day.

On arrival at our appointment, I was delighted to note that we would be seen by the eminent Professor of ENT and we could not possibly consult any more knowledgeable person in the area of eraser removal. "At last, someone who knows what they are doing & an end to this matter" I thought to myself. Quite early on in the consultation, the Prof advises us that the ear canal is a very sensitive part of the body and extreme pain can be caused by agitation of this area. Yes, this was in line with our findings to date & confirmed his status. He continued that as a result, the only way to proceed would be to admit the child to the hospital and remove the object under General Anaesthetic.

Having had 3 children by C-section under a local anaesthetic, because of "the risks associated with a GA" I was somewhat alarmed & not convinced that this was entirely necessary especially given that the rubber was still entirely visible in its current location. "Couldn't you just put some numbing cream on his ear & take it out?" I pleaded, possibly somewhat hysterical by this stage. It was clear that you do not rise to the top of your profession by being swayed by hysterical women & the Prof was most insistent on the chosen course. Consequently, the following day a fasted DS1 was admitted, gowned and wheeled into the pre-op room where he was asked to count backwards from 10. He got to about 8 before he was wheeled through the swing doors by the caring and dedicated staff of the hospital theatre. I do not mind sharing with you that I shed a tear as my DS1 departed through those doors and I joined the other nervous and anxious parents in the waiting room.

After the operation he slept for most of the day, and when he woke up the kind nurse gave him the rubber in a specimen bottle and cut off his wristband before discharging him. Those items formed the basis for the next "show and tell" and I like to think it was probably one of the better ones he did that year.

scootercat69 Tue 25-Mar-14 11:27:50

Dear Nina,
When my car wing mirror was smashed by a passing motorist he graciously left a note on my windscreen with his contact details offering to pay for the damage. I made the mistake of taking toddler dd with me when I went to collect the cash for the damage, explaining to her beforehand that we were going to see the 'naughty man' who had broken Mummy's mirror. The amicable and apologetic handover of the cash was marred by my daughter's constant chirruping 'Is this the naughty man? Is this the naughty man?' which not even my sudden loud coughing fit could manage to completely conceal.

DanielMummy Sat 29-Mar-14 22:53:08

Dear Nina,

After hubby managed to lose DS1's favourite cuddly toy and one of his first pair of shoes on their day out (when DS1 was nearly 18 months old), I bought 3 more of the same toy via ebay, since no longer sold in the shop. DS1 was blissfully unaware that there were multiple versions of the toy for a couple of years until he accidently saw one pegged on the washing line whilst holding another one.

crybabybunting Mon 31-Mar-14 14:04:54

Dear Nina

One summer evening, my friend and I were sitting with the back doors open enjoying a g&t and I was telling her that the neighbours, who had a baby daughter the same age as mine, were getting a bit hardcore with the 'controlled crying'. I was getting into my stride, onto the second g&t at this stage, muttering 'what kind of a mother is she ...' when my friend (as yet childless) picked up the baby monitor which I'd left on the kitchen table. 'What do the flashing red lights mean?' she asked, showing it to me.

I had left it on silent.

I dashed upstairs to find my child, who we had recently moved onto solids, had been crying for quite a while, due to an extraordinarily evil poo in her nappy. Which served me right.

My friend likes to remind me of this whenever I have one of my (very rare ... ahem) parent fails. 'What kind of mother ...?' she says in my ear.

CBB

Carriecakes Tue 01-Apr-14 18:52:30

Dear Nina....

I cannot cook, but I can read a book,
I cannot sew, but I'll give it a go,
I cannot drive, we're the last to arrive!
Homework, can't do much, and a wee bit out of touch!
I have dropped each child, but the concussion was mild!
I have set fire to the home, when trying to make scones,
But I still get my kisses, despite these near-misses,
and despite being so darn poor, I'm the mum they adore! :-)

BlizzardInWales Thu 03-Apr-14 00:23:29

I have started reading the book! I'm really enjoying it! As a pregnant woman I am finding that my current attention span is slightly shorter than that of your average newt. The bitesize chunks nature of the book means that it can be read anywhere, no matter how long you have.

I am now almost halfway through. I have become really fond of Nina. The fact that she's clearly mad can only be a good thing and there have been a number of laugh out loud moments.

Further updates to follow! X

katb1973 Thu 03-Apr-14 11:28:42

I received my copy the other day, thanks Mumsnet, and must say reading it was like a breath of fresh air. In letter form, it was very easy to read and because it was set in the 80s nostalgic at the same time. It is more than a collection of observations about family life, it's also a social commentary on a particular class system at a particular time. Something I found very entertaining. Very funny and and heart warming. Thoroughly recommend it.

hackmum Sat 05-Apr-14 12:47:47

I loved this book too. I'm the same age as Nina and it amazes me that these letters were written when she was 20 - when I was that age, my letters were terribly intense and self-absorbed, whereas Nina's have a wonderful lightness of touch and a remarkable observational skill. An absolute delight.

mummy81 Tue 08-Apr-14 14:09:37

Dear Nina,

When picking my two year old from nursery I asked the new teacher how her day was. The feedback was minimal and I told my husband I thought she was rubbish. When next in nursery trying to get the teachers attention I ask my two year old the teachers name. She replies with a straight face "Rubbish".

Lesson learnt...watch what I say in front on kids now.

AliceMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 09-Apr-14 10:35:40

Thanks for submitting your letters to Nina, this competition is now closed. Nina will be judging your entries over the next week and we will be announcing the winner shortly after. Good luck grin

TeeBee Wed 09-Apr-14 11:20:58

Really enjoyed this book as a light read. Very easy to dip in and out of because of the format. I'm a massive fan of Alan Bennett so it was great to get insight into his personal life through this book. What I loved most about this book was the author's ability to see the hilarity in everyday interactions and conversations. This was so reminiscent of Bennett and I spent a lot of time wondering who had influenced who. Those children must have had an amazingly eclectic upbringing and this shines out in their witty observations and conversations. Beautifully written and full of cleverness and humour. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book, it was an absolute privilege.

CarolLesley Wed 09-Apr-14 11:34:48

Thank you so much for the free book - I loved it. It is a great read, and a wonderful snapshot of north London life in the 80s. Nina's relationships with everyone are fascinating, but for me AB is the real star.

I'm laughing out loud at this book and really enjoying it. Big fan of Alan Bennett too so interesting to see that side of him. Will certainly buy her new book when it is out later in the year.

gailforce1 Mon 21-Apr-14 19:09:59

Thank you for my free copy - very enjoyable. I have already passed it on to a friend and am looking forward to reading her new book.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 30-Apr-14 12:46:13

Congratulations to StillNoFuckingEyeDeer - Nina has chosen YOUR confession as her favourite and you have won a year’s supply of books for you and your kids from Penguin and Puffin – that's a whopping 12 adult titles and 12 kids titles selected by Penguin.

Thanks again to everyone who joined in with their confessions which Nina really enjoyed reading and also to those who have (or are still going to) post feedback about the book on the thread. We're pleased you loved it as much as us.

hunhun007 Wed 30-Apr-14 21:10:43

Dear Nina,
Our 9 years old hit the ground while playing on the swing in the park... the hand was a bit painful... nothing to scary but pain didn't go away... 3 days later hand became green, ER doctor decided it is a green stick fracture... I feel so ashamed that I did allow my kid to run around with a "broken" wrist for almost 3 full days. Epic failure :-(

hunhun007 Wed 30-Apr-14 21:13:44

This book is a must read.
Light and very enjoyable.
I really enjoyed it and loved the humor.
This is a title worth sharing around.

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