Warning: much baby in this post. All baby, in fact.
Baby E’s mother calls him “Maharajah” as entirely befits a very important little person. He tries to live up to his title. (Although she also uses other terms of endearment – “Little potato!” is the one that amuses me most.)
When such an eminent being comes to stay for a week, everyone knows his or her place. We become willing slaves. The Maharajah demands attention, adoration, constant amusement, prodigious amounts of carefully-prepared nutritious dishes, interesting toys and books, an array of live animals to gaze upon in wonder and delight, and strong obliging slaves who can lift and carry him wherever he wants to go, as he increases in weight, mobility and confidence in his holiday palace.
He receives all of the above, and more. Baby E has come for a seaside holiday with his mother, who has been promised time to sleep. The house fills suddenly with quilts to sit on, borrowed fireguard and baby gates to contain, and toys, books, and noise-making stuff to play with.
The willing slaves are a given, of course. The older slave, known as Grandma, takes care of the other slaves (Mama, Grandpa) as well as His Highness, and makes sure that the animals – the live entertainment – receive some attention too. Grandpa has to go to work, but he takes the early morning slave duty, sitting quietly with the sleepy Maharajah while they both wake up properly, and then playing – sleepiness switches dramatically to liveliness in a nano-second. A chronically under-slept mother is instructed to stay in bed for a couple more hours; she does not argue.
The dog, always rather scared of children, learns very quickly that babies shed special dog treats very liberally. Soggy lumps of toast, half-chewed rusks (sugar-laden in my day, now organic spinach, kale and apple, all very ….er…. wholesome-sounding), and whatever falls from the high chair in pureed form – spaghetti bolognaise (favourite food ever) – are all welcomed by the new and attentive Guard of the Royal Highchair. She walks carefully beside the buggy, and His Highness helps to hold the lead.
She misguidedly hopes that babies can throw balls into the sea for her. Perhaps one day; for now, the gritty sand is just too fascinating.
All Flossie’s former fear of small children has vanished; she has just added to her pack, and while we remain very cautious about physical contact between Baby E and the animals, she gives him an occasional small lick on his toe, two of the cats come to greet him (fleeing when he shrieks with delight) and we trust that Baby E’s immune system has been strengthened by a week in the company of pets and their hair. The slaves’ duties do not allow enough time for much housework.
Meanwhile, we learn to wake up very early, ready for action. Much of our day involves feeding an enthusiastic eater, but we also go out to amuse ourselves too.
The big wheel is interesting (perhaps less so for Baby E’s mother!)In fact, almost everything is interesting; people, pets, places, food, everything but the car seat. We have the most enormous fun; Baby E learns on the first day to pull himself to stand, spends the week practising (standing up in the bath, the paddling pool, our laps) and by the end of his stay is ready to tackle the step out of the kitchen, which, thankfully, is too high for his chubby legs to manage.
In no time at all, their holiday week is over, and it is time to drive a squalling baby (who hates the dullness of the rear-facing car seat and must also fight very loudly the urge to sleep) and his carsick mother to the railway station some 45 minutes away. We hope to help them both onto the train – they have so much luggage and equipment! Some of it is our fault, the grandparents who send our lovely visitors home laden with gifts….
But things don’t go well. We find that the new policy at the station is to allow only one non-travelling person onto the platform; one grandparent must stay in the ticket office, saying goodbye there, and watching the other grandparent disappear with precious visitors, pram and enormous suitcase, to wait for the train and ensure that all get stowed safely on board.
There is a polite, quiet but determined disagreement about this quite nonsensical rule, which is at odds with the printed notice that states that non-travelling persons may be allowed through the barrier at the discretion of the staff. The staff (in this instance a very young man who looks rather scared) dares not re-interpret the new unwritten policy. No, there is no manager available on a Sunday.
So only The Gardener goes up to the platform with mother and baby, comes down after a few minutes (the train has been delayed) to allow me my turn. But then – so typical of him to tackle a problem head on! – he goes off to speak to the manager, who does indeed exist after all, and suddenly reappears on the very quiet, uncrowded Sunday platform; we are both allowed to help mother, baby and luggage. He is holding the necessary complaint form; the new policy is to be reviewed soon, and our views will be made known. Oh yes.
The train stops for 90 seconds only, but the doors are locked electronically for the last 45 seconds, so we dare not get on, for fear of finding ourselves inadvertently transported to Paddington. It is already very crowded; there is almost no room for anyone’s luggage to be added, and mother and baby must leave it all in the open area to jostle their way through the chaotic coach to find their seat. We wave forlornly, but know that they cannot see us; modern travel may be efficient, but its haste is brutal.
They will be met at Paddington, and as the train terminates there, will be able to disembark in a less rushed and chaotic manner. We drive home and pack up the paraphernalia, the baby gates, toys, books, travel cot and all evidence that our lives had been turned upside down for a glorious week in the company of a little Maharajah.
PS: The day after he gets home, I receive this…..