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The Independent Culture
"With 10 children I have quite a lot of school runs to do," said Mrs Featherby redundantly. When Janine, prospective nanny, entered the house they were all lined up on the stairs, like a rehearsal for an am- dram production of The Sound of Music. Janine's second interview was with a woman who had fewer children but more homes: "In Berkshire, it is a country estate," she explained, "so you'll have your own flat." Your starter for ten... which employer did Janine choose?

Correct, but her dreams of country splendour evaporated fairly quickly. If you have a Berkshire estate with a separate nanny flat, you end up pretty high in the childcare pecking order; you can peck who you want. Indeed you can probably swoop like a predator on the "simply marvellous" nanny another family has been lucky enough to hand-rear from the egg. So instead Janine had to make do with Mr Lloyd, the divorcee, though he seemed perfectly nice.

It looked at first as if Dornie Watts's film for Cutting Edge (C4) might polarise your sympathies along simple class lines - all those glacial mothers, attempting to discern from a 30-minute interview whether their children would fall into the clutches of a secret child-abuser; all those youthful provincial girls heading for the attic rooms of Edwardian houses. But it soon became fairly clear that the map of power couldn't be drawn so easily. The viewer's education ran parallel with that of the Hunters, solicitors looking for someone to care for four-month-old Joshua. Mrs Hunter spoke in brisk retrousse sentences, each ending with a little upward flick, which announced that she had thought about the matter under discussion and wasn't open to arguments. "I want perfection - the ultimate nanny for you," she crooned to Joshua. By the end of the film, with two days until she had to return to work and no nanny in sight, reality had done its work on that prescription: "If she's OK - if she's what we want, then we'll give her the job then and there."

The Hunters' first bruise was delivered by Carol, who charmed them into dropping their guard, only to turn them down because there was no second car. "I didn't think that they might reject us," said Mr Hunter in wounded tones, "I think we've been played a bit." He struck you as a little naive in this - the employer might well be looking for someone to be "just a member of the family", but it would be decidedly unnerving to think that was what a nanny was after - emotional need turning up on your doorstep with a modest suitcase. Far better, surely, that they think of it as a job than a bizarre form of adoption.

As well as keeping an eye on the tribulations of the Hunters, "Nannies" included some cautionary tales about what can happen if the selection goes wrong. Julia Langdon discovered that her nanny had run up pounds 800 worth of telephone bills, phoning every Samaritan's branch in the country and had left her psychotherapy notes behind when she moved out. Another mother recalled the chilling tip-off she had received when she picked up the phone one day: "My nanny knows your nanny," said an unknown woman, "and my nanny is concerned about your nanny's mistreatment of your child." She recalled her child flinching when she was changing his nappy one day - a vivid memory that was tellingly not date-stamped; had she suppressed a tiny flicker of unease only to find later that her fears were not simply maternal guilt? The dread of losing a good nanny, crowds and hustles the constant fear that your nanny might not actually be any good in the first place.

As the Hunters discovered, you can't be too choosy when hiring someone (they're looking after your most precious possession, after all) but at the same time you can't be too choosy (or you won't get a nanny at all).

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