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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)
TillyBookClub Thu 06-Mar-14 11:59:02

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.

GingerMaman Mon 10-Mar-14 20:53:29

Dear Nina,

My DD has a loving obsession with watching videos of herself ('selfie videos'), in fact at times it's the only thing that stops her whinging! I am so tempted to commission someone to put them together into a film which will repeatedly play on a huge screen in each of the rooms in our house, then we might get some peace!


Nina818 Mon 10-Mar-14 21:12:53

these confessions are hilarious! Keep them coming.
Nina x

JoggingKeepsMeSane Mon 10-Mar-14 21:16:25

Dear Nina,

Whilst sitting on my bed reading a book the other evening my ds appears and says to me 'mummy, why is one of my molars in the pot on top of my cupboard?' ummmm quick thinking 'perhaps it was too heavy for the tooth fairy to carry on this occasion.......blush

madeofkent Mon 10-Mar-14 21:52:29

Dear Nina

I changed all the clocks forward an hour on more than one occasion to get my kids to bed earlier.

There are lots more things but I have been hiding them deep down in my subconscious for years! They may need some digging out, but I am sure it will be an extremely cathartic experience.

minimalisthoarder Mon 10-Mar-14 22:19:22

Dear Nina,

I was out with a friend walking DD, aged about 3 months, in her pram, when a wasp flew up my t-shirt sleeve and stung me under the arm. I performed an entertaining flap-dance-and-shriek to get it out again, only to come to my senses to find my friend hanging on to my abandoned pram, one wheel hanging over into the road where I'd let it roll....

Apparently you're meant to take the pain for the sake of your child. Lesson learned!

minimalisthoarder Mon 10-Mar-14 22:28:14

Dear Nina,

I should probably add that my in-coordination and clumsiness are probably responsible for about half the bruises my child has ever had. I pulled her elbow once, took her to A&E and confessed, tearfully; she of course then put it back herself by pointing up at a mobile over the reception desk. I'm not sure which was more embarrassing, them suspecting me of wilful abuse or neurotic-first-time-mother syndrome. They were very nice about it actually and she probably got the dodgy joints from me too.

These days, at nearly 5, she just cheerfully says 'you're a clumsy mummy, never mind, I know you didn't mean it!' when I clout her on the head with my handbag or get over-enthusiastic with the cuddles and headbutt the poor thing (as I did the other night, blearily, as she came racing out of her room at 1am screaming something about spiders, and I ran smack into her, going the other way as fast as you can while trying to decide whether or not to stop for a dressing gown and if speed of response or not being naked is more important)...

justmuddlingalong Mon 10-Mar-14 22:47:41

Dear Nina,

I washed my 4 year old son's hands before making the bread, honestly. I scrubbed them with warm soapy water, really I did. And everyone said that the bread tasted lovely. I wanted to eat some of our delicious homemade bread too, warm out of the oven, with Lurpak dripping off of it. But my son's comment about how clean his nails were after all that kneading put me off slightly...

stephgr Tue 11-Mar-14 01:41:47

I taught my eldest daughter how to sew but then went off and bought the costume I was supposed to make for the school pantomime. Problem is the school has asked me to make the costumes for the school play....

kateandme Tue 11-Mar-14 02:25:07

dear nina i will teach my children not to lie as they grow up yet every day i tell them little white ones!!to try and get them to eat their vegetables or get the tooth fairy to come,be good for santa or the easter bunny!!oops

Parrish Tue 11-Mar-14 10:40:46

I decided a good way to stop my 3 year old's epic tantrums was a dose of distraction and surprise. So, if at home, I would drop my trousers in front of him and show him my bum. Tantrum stopped dead every time. Of course, now he's 8, his own trouser dropping has got him into a lot of trouble at school.

mjmooseface Tue 11-Mar-14 11:03:54

Dear Nina,

Once, not too long ago, I had put my 16 month son into his high chair just as my husband got home from work. I left him where he was in the living room and went to the kitchen to say hello to my husband and put away the bits he'd brought home with him... He went through to the living room whilst I lovingly made snacks for everyone until I heard a bang followed by a cry... I ran to the living room to see my son in my husband's arms... I hadn't strapped my son in to his high chair and he'd pulled himself up, fallen (not without getting his legs trapped in the straps and dangling halfway to the floor before falling) and banged his head on the floor!!! He was absolutely fine. But I felt awful for days after! Needless to say, I double check he is securely fixed into his high chair before I dash to the kitchen to grab something now! Lesson. Learned. smile

Nbennion Tue 11-Mar-14 12:58:55

Dear Nina
When my son was 6 months old I gave him the car keys to play with while I loaded the shopping into the car. Imagine my horror when having just closed the boot he managed to press the lock button leaving me outside the car and him trapped inside on a hot sunny day with my bag and phone inside!
Thankfully shortly after as my panic was rising he then pressed the unlock button. Needless to say I never gave them the keys to play with again !

Nina818 Tue 11-Mar-14 14:26:04

when my dd was in hospital, I knocked her drip out trying to get a better view of the telly.

mishroo Tue 11-Mar-14 20:56:27

my youngest child had a bad tummy upset and just as i was about to leave to do school run filled his nappy i was in a rush so quickly changed his nappy.I got to the school gates a little frazzled but on time but unfortunatley did not realise that i had a an arm covered in poo there was no hiding it oh the shame it was not my finest moment!

nerysw Wed 12-Mar-14 10:05:00

Dear Nina,
I tell my children terrible lies - they think the pub we go to for lunch is a 'cafe' and that the music from the ice cream van means it's run out of ice cream.

thekitchenfairy Wed 12-Mar-14 22:33:43

Dear Nina

I missed DS1's first ever school assembly... because I kept forgetting to look in his blue book bag. Remarkably at 11 he remains unscathed by this form of parental neglect.... but I am still singled out on occasion as That Woman... the only mother in the class to miss her son's first ever school assembly.

Both DS now have football training at a Friday tea time. I finish work early so I can get there on time... and catch up on a #Salamander download with a glass of wine.

And we eat tea in front of the telly or a movie. Regularly.

Punkatheart Thu 13-Mar-14 08:37:32

Dear Nina - When my daughter was seven years old, she had a friend over to play. The little girl was the most obnoxious child I had ever met - I caught her taking the hose to fill up my daughter's playhouse at the end of the garden, she also told me that she had spat on one my t-shirts. She was like a member of the Addams' Family. I was counting every second on the clock before her mother picked her up.

On my desk in my office - my very private space - I had lots of keepsakes that were personal to me. In a bottle, I had some luminous lagoon water that I had brought back from Jamaica. When I first had it, I could shake it and all the Tinkerbell-like organisms would sparkle and shine blue-green, before they came to rest.

Yes, this little girl - who also stole some jewellery from my bedroom, managed to drink the lagoon water - it was in a lemonade bottle and she drank pretty much the whole thing. It was months' old but she must have had a cast iron gut. I did ask about her when she got home, but she was fine.

AliceMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 13-Mar-14 14:22:51

The book giveaway for Love,Nina is now closed. We will notify those who have been selected to receive a free copy of the book via email. Please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month and don't forget to post your letter to Nina to win a year's supply of books.

mrscumberbatch Thu 13-Mar-14 17:41:41

Dear Nina,

I'm probably not the most tactful of mothers and I have to admit that I panicked when Dd came barging into our room one morning when, seconds previously, DP and I had been feeling rather amorous....

We dragged ourselves out of bed to start the usual morning palaver when Dd piped up, 'Mummy what is that?!'

She was pointing to DP's willy.

It was too early for this conversation and I was mortified so I just told her that 'Daddy had done a poo.'

Now Dd tells everyone that she has seen Daddy do a poo in the shower, he had a poo in his pants, Daddy has a brown poo....etc.'

It's a shame because she is right by her logic but either people think she is a bit strange or think that DP is incontinent.

sigh Im hoping she'll just forget before she starts school!!



Ruby6918 Thu 13-Mar-14 17:56:13

Dear Nina,
On a day out at bangor marina, with my sister and 18 month old son, i was too busy eating chips and hadnt strapped my son into his buggy, and he jumped into a fountain when i finally noticed it took me my sister and a passer by to pull him out. because his padded coat and soaked up so much water He was freezing and we had to bring him to adams to buy all new clothes.
Another confession is i got so fed up with my son aged twenty coming in after a few pints and raiding everything in the kitchen and leaving a mess so i made up a plate of cat food sandwiches and covered them in tin foil - and he ate them all!!!!!!!
I forgot to put money out for the tooth fairy and when my daughter woke up i nearly died, so I told her that the tooth fairy was sick and could'nt get to our house, but this made her even worse because she was so worried about the tooth fairy! Super guilty - she did get her money fter i calmed her down when i put it under my pillow and said she must have got in while we ere chatting

Yes guilty as charged

Sleepyk Thu 13-Mar-14 18:25:54

Dear Nina

Merrily dozing in the land of nod I was awoken by a little voice "mummy I have a poo" my 2 year old whispered. I sleepily tried to force one eye open but to no avail "ok I will change you in a minute sweetheart" I muttered. Now I had had every intention of doing so I assure you but my semi unconscious state rendered it impossible. Im not too sure how long I was asleep but the aroma of what I presumed was a freshly filled nappy was too much to bear and I rolled over, opened my eyes and took in the full glory that was my daughter holding a large, thankfully firm, deposit that she had fished out of her nappy....

juruga Thu 13-Mar-14 18:53:34

Dear Nina,

The boys were told that if they ate a lot of carrots, they will get curly hair. Carrots went unharmed in the house since then. Differences in aspirations between boys and girls, I suppose.

CockBollocks Thu 13-Mar-14 20:30:57

Dear Nina,

So many parent fails I could tell you about but I think this one is up there with my most shameful.

DS (6 at the time) has a constant need to wind his Dsis up. On this particular day I had uttered shouted the words "leave her alone" after what felt like every single breath.

Finally, in complete exasperation, I shouted that if he did not stop I was going to write "Leave her alone" on his forehead so he never forgot.

"go on then" he says. The red mist descended and I only blooming did it, in biro and backwards so he could read it in the mirror secretly proud of myself for that.

Can imagine how that little story went at school the following day.


nickyh173 Fri 14-Mar-14 06:35:08

While shopping one day, I silently needed to pass wind, which I did. When my sister noticed and started complaining about the odour, I did blame the toddler.....

oldgreybird Fri 14-Mar-14 11:36:24

Dear Nina
A rather extreme example of my parenting skills happened when we were on holiday. We were renting a friend's house and discovered that some other friends were also renting a property a few miles away. One evening, the two families got together and we cooked a great meal and had plenty of wine, chit chat and hilarity. But all the kids were getting fed up with the adults so I let them go and do their own thing in the rest of the house whilst we got on with enjoying ourselves. It didn't occur to me that the kids needed supervising. They were 12yrs, 10yrs, 8yrs and 9yrs.
However, I discovered many months later that they had been playing some sort of a game and my 9yr old son had ended up literally dangling over the side of the terrace on the roof by his finger tips. Apparently at one point the oldest of the children had thought they might have to call us as my son was finding it difficult to get back up but they didn't as they preferred not to get us involved as they were having such fun. Eventually with much effort my son did get back up and so avoided plummetting to his death - all this going on while we were carousing on the ground floor!

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