Monday 18 March 2013

Book ~ "A Spoonful of Sugar" (2013) Brenda Ashford

From Goodreads ~ From Britain's beloved oldest living nanny comes a charming and uplifting memoir of a real-life Mary Poppins.

In her extraordinary memoir, Brenda Ashford shares her endearing and amusing experiences as a British nanny caring for generations of children over the past sixty-two years.

Brenda's lifelong love for children began the minute she laid eyes on her baby brother, David. As a teenager, she applied to London's Norland College, famous for producing top-class nannies and, after a grueling interview, she was accepted on scholarship. It was a radical change from her idyllic country life in the village of Surrey. The training was rigorous and discipline strictly enforced, as Brenda and her classmates scrambled to pass inspections on everything from morality and neatness to needlework and pram pushing. Meanwhile, World War II began, and Brenda's heart was broken twice. She vowed never to fall for a man again and devoted her life to caring for other people's children, never having any of her own.

Brenda's memoir offers readers an enticing glimpse into the joys, frustrations, adventures and mishaps of children of all ages and situations. She peppers her story with delightful bits of cultural history and timeless life lessons. A Spoonful of Sugar is an irresistible Mary Poppins story that will touch your heart and remind you of what is truly important in life.

Brenda was one of six children.  She wasn't fond of school and didn't have the aptitude for it so quit at age sixteen.  Because of her love for her baby brother, David, she decided to become a nanny and was accepted in the prestigious Norland College in London in 1939.  It was a strict two year program that taught everything from cleaning and sewing to manners to taking care of children.

This is Brenda's story of being a nanny for over 60 years to many many children ... some families she stayed years with, others she stayed for a couple months as a "troubleshooter" (helping new moms get settled in after they have had their babies).  She fell in love twice but it wasn't meant to be so she devoted her life to taking care of children and never had any of her own.

I like reading bios and I liked this book.  As I was reading it, I could hear an elderly English woman's voice in my head, almost conversational-like.  I think she would be fun to sit and chat with over a cup of tea.

It's quite a life she led.  I don't have children and I can't imagine having to boil and scrub diapers by hand to clean them ... but that's what she had to do back in the day.  It was interesting to get her perspective (she has strong opinions) as times changed ... families taking in strangers' children (evacuees) during World War II, women losing their jobs when the men came back from that war, wealthy parents only spending an hour a day (from 4pm to 5pm) with their children, rock 'n roll music, the invention of the Pill, hemlines getting shorter, etc.  You realize how much things have changed and how good we have it today.

At the beginning of each chapter is a schedule of an average day for her ... getting up at 6:30am, taking care of the children, doing chores and going to sleep at 10pm.  In theory, she was supposed to have an evening off a week and every second Sunday off but it didn't usually work out that way.  It didn't give her a lot of time for herself.

At the end of the chapters, she provides nanny wisdom:

“I had puzzled many times over the ingredients for a perfect recipe for a happy home. Throw in some stability, a dash of routine and respect. Sprinkle some fun and imaginative games and stir well. But the most vital ingredient is the mother. The mother is truly the heart and soul of a family.”

“As for fussy eaters? I don’t stand for it. I have taken a hard line on this topic. This is a home, not a restaurant and you will jolly well try it before you turn your nose up at it.”

“If a child has sufficient breakfast, lunch and dinner they shouldn’t need a snack. I don’t really like it today when I see children being wheeling along in a pram stuffing things in their mouth.”

“Children cannot get up to your level, so you have to get down to theirs; try and understand how the world looks through their eyes.”

“If we respect little people then they in turn will grow up to respect others.”

“Put a book in a child’s hands or plant them in an empty field or park, and suddenly the world opens up and becomes a fantastical place of make believe and adventure.”

“Never let a house define you. You can make a home anywhere from an air raid shelter to a shed, if you have to. Riches and wealth don’t matter a jot.”

“I was always honest with my charges. In fact in every area of my life I have been most careful to never tell a lie. Why can’t everyone be more careful to tell the truth? At least we would all know where we stand in life.”

“Little folk deserve a childhood that’s full of fun. It’s the single most valuable lesson in my eyes. I have always encouraged children to have a giggle wherever and whenever they can.”

She also includes recipes for pies and puddings and cures (for example, if your child has diarrhea,  heat a cup of milk and two glasses of port wine and give a tablespoon of this once it's cool).

It's an enjoyable book and I recommend it.


Masshole Mommy said...

Awesome. I have to read this - I bet there are so many good tips/stories in there.

CMash said...

This sounds like a delightful book. Being a parent of 2, now adult, sons, I want to read this to see if I did things right. :) Very nice review and post. Thank you!

Dustykatt said...

I love this. So much to learn.