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Parent substitute

29 July 2016

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IT IS one of the details of a nanny’s life that they left out of Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee. If you want to keep your diary secret from the prying eyes of your employer, then invest in some invisible ink. That way, when the lady of the house is snooping around, she will find only blank pages.

There is enough dysfunction packaged up in this revelation from The Conversation (World Service, Monday of last week) to keep a Relate counsellor going for weeks. But such are the daily trials of the jobbing nanny, as experienced by Philippa Christian, a “nanny to the stars”; and Tatiane Dias de Oliveira, who campaigns on behalf of nannies for better working conditions.

They both work at the high end of the international market, but that is not to say that the indignities that they suffer are not recognisable in the wider world. Lack of privacy, lack of free time, arbitrary changes in contractual arrangements: these are ubiquitous, whomever your employer might be.

Then there are the attachment issues: a nanny might be the only constant in a child’s life; handing the child back can be agonising. What makes Ms Christian and Ms Dias de Oliveira such consummate professionals is their ability to dissemble. They will, for instance, never admit to having witnessed a child’s first word or step in advance of a parent; they know what guilt and envy can do to even the most reasonable of parents.

Yet spare a thought for the celebrities whose children these nannies take on. Being an actor requires the consumption of a fair share of humble pie. Philip McGinley, lately of Game of Thrones, was happy to admit on Breaking Bard (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) that, in his time, he had played to smaller audiences than were in the cast of his latest production. Then again, his latest production is the York Mystery Plays; and perhaps some of the humility of his character is rubbing off on him. He is playing Christ.

Breaking Bard offered us a backstage view of the rehearsal process, featuring actors, the director, and the writer; and I wondered why more programmes of this sort are not available.

Certainly with contributors as articulate and engaging as the director Phillip Breen and the writer Mike Poulton, we got some sense of the breadth of vision that is required to realise a theatrical history of the cosmos. On the one hand, there is the technical challenge of getting three grown men on to crosses; and, on the other, there is the rhetorical challenge of articulating the beats in a line.

Theatre rehearsal has always seemed to me to be, in terms of time-management, the most extravagantly wasteful form of artistic production; but, in this instance, at least one got a sense of where all that time was being expended.

A brief mention of infinity, as investigated in David Baddiel Tries to Understand (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week). In 15 minutes he does Pi, actual and potential infinities, and the “almost never” conundrum; and still has change left over for a chinwag with his precociously intelligent daughter. It might be knowledge the Twitter way, but it’s impressive, none the less.

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