Harriet Walker: How hard could it be to look after a baby?

Share
Related Topics

I spent the first half of this summer only too pleased at the clouds, downpours and lingering chill in the air. I wanted the skies to reflect my mood, and if I wasn't feeling sunny or blithe, I was damned if anyone else should be.

But my spirits have risen with the mercury. As it has got warmer, I have come back to life under the sun's gaze, from dining al fresco to singing in the street in the small hours. As it has heated up, the surface area of my clothes has been inversely proportional to how sociable I have been feeling, and I have made fair-weather friends that I know will last me into winter, too. So I have been glad of this summer, after all.

Until, that is, two weekends ago, when things just got silly: 31 degrees in an urban heat island? I ask you.

I sat at an outside bar on the Friday night, my jeans sticking to me and my make-up evaporating, watching a man in his pants jump from the roof of his houseboat into the canal. The first time he did it, everyone cheered at his joie de vivre. The second, third and fourth times, we were a bit more British about it and shouted at him to stop being such a poser. The fifth attempt warranted gestures so obscene that I couldn't possibly set them down in print.

As I finished a frozen margarita and turned to the prosecco (drinking like this in warm weather invariably makes you feel like carrion the next day, so watch out), I got a message from my friend.

A brilliant opera singer, the after-effects of whose wedding I will be sleeping off by the time you read this, she had a rehearsal that clashed with her life as a mother, and needed help with childcare. So I said I would look after her baby the following afternoon. I said I would because I knew it was the right thing to do, and that it would help her out of a tight spot. I said I would because I was a bit drunk and I thought it would be easy.

Had I been less drunk, I would have remembered that I am not very good with children. Some of them, I really like. Others, I loathe. Some of them actually make my skin crawl. Most of them, I have no idea how to relate to and end up conversing with them as if they were miniature adults, like so many early modern woodcuts of the baby Jesus, in which he just looks like a shrunken 40-year-old. Every so often, a child will look at me with such boredom and disdain – or start crying so ferociously – that everyone in the room, me included, begins to wonder whether I'm actually a paedophile.

But I'd met this one before and read him a story, and he looked at me with such intense need and gratitude then that I had decided he was pretty great. So I said I'd look after him for an afternoon. How hard could it be?

The thing is, I hadn't banked on the summer having kicked off in earnest and the effect of heat exhaustion on my frail constitution. I am a delicate flower, me, all grey-skinned and translucent with an unfixable glitch in my homeostasis and the radiator behind my face which means I am always just a bit too hot. While everyone else looks impossibly cheerful and vibrant in the park, I am more often found draped in front of the TV, curtains shut, wearing my pants and chewing an ice cube.

When I met my friend and her son in Hyde Park, she was bound for the Proms, I for the pram. "He just likes to wander really," she said of the adorably squashy-faced Albie, "so don't worry too much about having to entertain him." Music to my ears: I planned to lie on the grass in the shade next to some Highland dancers upon whom Albert soon became transfixed.

But no, after five minutes, Albie wanted his sandwiches. Except he didn't want his sandwiches – which he threw on to the ground like a Medici flinging down a poisoned chalice – he wanted the clicky Tupperware box they lived in. Which he clicked and clicked and clicked. No problem.

Soon, he wanted to push his pushchair around, a fact I only realised when he became increasingly frustrated about the brakes being on and started barking at me. "There we go," I said, easing them off and watching horrified as he sent it rolling away down a hill.

But, by that time I had already strong-armed him into his buggy and marched him to a restaurant, plied him with shortbread and another friend had accidentally spilt beer on him (just a little bit), so Albert and I were firm friends; united simply by the fact of both being hot and a bit bothered.

This summer is nice and all, but I'm ready to put my coat back on again.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah ibn Abd al-Aziz Al Saud back in 2010  

The media cannot ignore tricky questions when someone dies. But it must stick to the facts

Will Gore
SEEN graffiti Wonder Woman  

Warner Bros’ bold stance on Wonder Woman opens the door for Hollywood evolution

Matthew James
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us