Regular readers may be starting to feel that I have a Gwyneth Paltrow obsession. Whilst it is true that I have written about her and her website Goop here , I cannot begin to tell you the number of times the Shah has locked me in a bare room and left me scrabbling at the door, whimpering the name of the great one over and over again whilst begging to be allowed out to continue blathering on about her and her charmed life. In other words, dear reader, I have resisted far more than I have indulged.
Today, however, resistance is futile. Gwyneth and her husband Chris Martin are all over the papers because they are apparently looking for a tutor for their son and daughter. Yes, that most middle-class of affectations, the tutor. In my experience, tutors are generally engaged by parents who are either in denial about the academic abilities of Rollo and Camilla or are trying to shift the fruit of their loins from the state education system into the independent sector and fear that they will not be able to compete with Hermione and Jasper who have the benefit of half a dozen years at St Haribo’s Prep under their costly House-colours-available-from-Harrods belts. Now I have no idea where Mr & Mrs Martin have chosen to educate their progeny but I am damn sure that it is not Gasworks Community Infant School. So why the need for a tutor? Do they need a bit of a leg up with Maths? Possibly a little work on their spelling? Nope. The lucky person, sorry, polymath, who will be appointed will require the following attributes:-
Ability to teach Ancient Greek, Latin, French, and Japanese or Mandarin. Able also to coach tennis and sailing, appreciate Art, Drama, Chess and understand (and presumably discuss at infant level) Philosophy. Oh, and I almost missed out the need to be ‘youthful, sporty and easygoing’. Phew. I feel quite exhausted just writing that lot down. True, the rewards will be great:- free accommodation in a West London apartment, use of a car, travel with the family (a real “I’m with the band” moment), 9 weeks holiday and upwards of £60k a year for a few hours work during the week, but up to 7 hours a day at weekends.
This sort of job description raises not just a few memories for me but also a few questions. Let’s deal with the questions first.
- Just where exactly do you think you are going to find someone "youthful" who has had the time to acquire that sort of expertise?
- If your children are already attending Mrs Hothouse's Educational Emporium why do you feel the need to fill up their few remaining hours of freedom with Latin, Japanese etc? 7 hours a day at weekends? When do the poor little buggers get some downtime? When do they get to veg out in front of CBeebies for an hour or two?
- Just generally, WTF?
The memories revolve around my own childhood experiences of having Au Pairs – nothing as grand as a tutor was ever thought necessary for me and my bro. I should explain that, at this point in a somewhat peripatetic childhood, our parents were running a pub in central London. It was on the fringes of Soho and my dad (well ahead of his time) had the gastro-pub idea many years before anyone else. They also encouraged a group of local Beatniks (great word and link included for younger readers...) to hang their artwork on the walls – for sale of course. The living quarters were (from my young memory anyway) huge and covered several floors. There was a gigantic kitchen and many bedrooms all of which were occupied by a frequently-changing group of family, friends and assorted hangers-on. My dad was the eldest of 7 kids and his siblings were always around bringing their friends too. Our maternal grandfather lived with us as did a random Sri Lankan guy called Raniel. Various aunts and uncles came and went so it was no problem adding an Au Pair into the mix.
We had two Au Pairs in quick succession. The first one was called Sheila. I remember her quite well – she had long dark hair which she wore up in a sort of a beehive up-do. She lived in and I desperately wanted to watch her do her hair one morning but she sadly explained that it couldn’t happen because she had to fix her ears on with wire and, if anyone watched, the whole operation would fail and her ears would fall off. I thought she was impossibly glamorous. She thought I was impossible. She tried (and succeeded) to have as little as possible to do with us and didn’t last very long.
The second Au Pair was French Evelyn. She had caramel-coloured hair, an outrageous French accent and pouted a great deal. She used to take me and my brother into the park next door to play in the playground. And she used to leave us there, aged 6 and 2. Quite apart from the wisdom of leaving a 6 year old in charge of a 2 year old whilst you swanned off round Soho, there was also the small question of Health & Safety. Needless to say, this was non-existent. There was a really high slide. In order that you didn’t kill yourself by falling off the top of it, it had a man-made hillock built underneath it. Unfortunately, the hillock was just a pile of earth and stones that had, over many years, set rock hard. I can still see my brother rolling down it and landing with a thump at the bottom. There was also a sandpit – well there was six inches of sand at the bottom of a 3 foot deep pit. Unsurprisingly, my brother (he was a bit accident-prone as a child) managed to fall into this and crack his head open. I had been primed by Evelyn not to let on that we were left alone and I was an obedient child so she got away with it for quite a while. The end came when she was discovered by my (deeply religious) father in bed with a visitor and then it was rideaux for Evelyn. After that, we were occasionally left in the charge of the cleaning lady, whose name escapes me now. She was an elderly Irish lady who seemed to live in a permanent state of high anxiety. We though it was hilarious fun to sneak up on her and screech so that the poor woman jumped out of her skin. The last straw eventually came for her the day my infant brother stuck a fork in her arse. She lifted as much loot as she could fit into the pockets of her apron and fled.
That was the end of a golden era of communal living. My parents decided that they should have a change of lifestyle and pay more attention to their children before they died of neglect. Can’t say the lack of Greek and Japanese did us any harm though.