Once upon a time, a long time ago, before I’d wasted three years of my life at university and spent another year desperately trying to persuade anyone that would listen that I’d make a really good reporter (even when young I was an adept liar), I was a nanny.
I figured that nannying would be a fairly easy way to make a living; all you have to do is keep a few children alive during the day while you watch TV and drink tea, read the odd story, make a few models out of cereal boxes and, Bob’s your drunken uncle, you’re a childcare professional.
I had no brothers and sisters, very few friends with younger siblings and basically had no idea whatsoever what I was letting myself in for. I thought that looking after children would be fun. I thought it would be easy. I soon learned otherwise.
By the time I was 18, the only things I’d ever had to assume a degree of responsibility for were guinea pigs.
I say that I assumed a degree of responsibility for them – I named them.
Feeding them, cleaning out their cage, clipping their hateful nails, dealing with their hideous mange, attempting to stop them copulating with their own brethren, I left this all to my mother; had it been up to me, the guinea pigs would have resembled hair-tufted skeletons within about a month.
After all, she didn’t have anything better to do, what with being a 24-hour carer for my bed-bound Dad, running a house without a bread-earner, running my social diary and putting up with me wafting round the house like a little black cloud in gothic rags; I expect that sifting the guinea pigs’ food for tiny turds was a bit of light relief.
I hasten to add that now I have children of my own, the circle of life is complete: having promised faithfully that they would take on full responsibility for their hamsters, the kids have interpreted this to mean that they’ll occasionally ask me if I’ve fed their pets/cleaned out their cages/ refilled their water and so on. This is, to be fair to them, a step up from the respect I showed my guinea pigs (or my mother).
Suffice it to say that I didn’t expound on the whole guinea-pig-responsibility-issue when I went for my first job as a nanny, not that my interview was particularly soul-searching. The closest we got to probing was when my potential employee asked if I knew how to use a microwave oven.
Ah, those were the days. No police checks, no health and safety, no NVQs in bead threading or papier mache, just honest-to-goodness unqualified, useless teenagers looking for jobs that didn’t involve getting on a minibus at the crack of dawn and driving to a grim poultry factory to masturbate turkeys for pennies or stacking shelves at the local supermarket (worse than the turkeys. At least someone in that transaction was enjoying themselves. And I don’t mean me, before you ask).
Within a week of my interview, I was in charge of two small children for five days a week, from 8am until 5pm. One of my tiny charges was a very sweet little girl, aged about four, who was genuinely a pleasure to be with, on the basis that all she wanted to do was (a) sleep (b) watch TV or (c) play with Lego.
The boy, on the other hand, was somewhat more of a trial. As his mother flitted out of the house on my first morning, she told me that little Rupert had “toilet issues” and was, as I was to find out later, an anal-retentive in the truest sense of the term.
For those not familiar with Sigmund Freud’s theories on the anal stage in psychology, and trusting that you have not recently finished eating your dinner, I will explain.
Dr Freud believed toddlers were fixated with their bowel movements and that the way toilet training is carried out can determine the way a person develops in later life (I am paraphrasing here somewhat, if you want the full story, ring my premium rate line for more anal chat).
Heaven knows what kind of toilet training little Rupert had had, because he hadn’t bothered waiting for later life, he’d become an anal-retentive at the age of two. He would do anything whatsoever to avoid going to the toilet and was, therefore, suffering from self-imposed constipation and fearsome flatulence.
On the plus side, I never had to change any rancid nappies. On the minus side, I was a slave to a toddler’s bowels, and expected to use my most impressive powers of persuasion to cajole him into evacuating them, a task which Hercules would have passed on had he seen the glint of determination in little Rupert’s eye.
His mother admitted, at a later date, that one time, when matters had reached crisis point, an on-call doctor had once “manually evacuated his bowels using a teaspoon”. I never made a cup of tea in that house again.