Friday, 23 October 2009

Cook - such a brick!

Here’s a quick snap that I took of dear Cook looming over her mixing bowl: such a wholesome-looking person, don’t you think? She has been with us since absolutely forever and is so wonderfully patient with our funny little ways. Let me tell you, we do have some foibles in this house, and Cook is always so accommodating!

Darling Gussy of course is not much of a problem as yet, being fed only Aurora’s actual own milk, but we are all braced for next month when it will be time for his gastronomical adventures to begin; because Aurora has been reading about Child-Led Weaning, and explained to us (this is important and very serious) that speech therapists have discovered we could impair his oral function for ever should we attempt to fed him with a spoon. Aurora has explained to us that the correct procedure is to lay down a large dust sheet at each meal, and serve him his food at his high chair – mashed banana, or yoghourt, or puréed fruit or creamed vegetables or porridge or whatever else is suitable for a baby, and respect Gussy’s ability to feed himself; initially using his hands, moving on to a spoon or knife and fork when he reaches the age of being able to manipulate them.

The text book from which Aurora took this interesting information did explain that in the course of weaning the baby’s high-chair would be materially compromised and possibly written off – turned into a kind of Tate Modern installation layered with the results of infant experimentation as the art of eating slowly establishes.

When I was in my twenties I had a very idealistic friend, an anthroposophist, who was determined to bring her children up to be natural, free, and unsullied by the terrible constraints of ignorant civilization. Henry and I were invited to dinner with this friend and her dear husband and two young children – Cinnamon Leaf aged 5 and Poseidon aged 2 – during the time that they lived in one of those darling little back-to-back houses in the north of England, still with an outdoor privy in those days. While Aphrodite and Derek were preparing our repast, Cinnamon Leaf took us proudly on a tour of their small home: all the usual features of a domestic interior were there to see – unmade beds, chaotic drifts of intermingling clean and dirty laundry, curtains half closed and clinging approximately by the last surviving hooks to their tracks, temple guardians standing watchfully at the head of the stairs, kelims forming mini mountain ranges on the floor, toys scattered randomly: and in the tiny bedroom dominated by the bunk beds festooned with organic wool blankets and occupied at night by Cinnamon Leaf and Poseidon: a rather replete potty. Naturally we made no comment, but Cinnamon Leaf paused to gaze meditatively at the potty and then announced with profound pride, ‘Those are my turds’. And no doubt they were.

Dinner did not go so awfully well. We sat down as a family to eat. In those days I was a passionate vegetarian, and had neglected to mention this to Aphrodite when she invited us. She had roasted a joint of meat. I tried to make light of this, saying the lovely vegetables looked simply splendid and would be just the ticket: but I can still see Aphrodite looking at me with eyes full of sorrow, saying, ‘Not even bio-dynamically grown meat?’ Even these thirty or so years later I feel quite peculiar to look back on the memory, and I shudder to think what proportion of their weekly income that joint must have cost her.

Perhaps little Poseidon sensed a certain tension in the atmosphere, or perhaps he was merely employing his regular table manners, but the meal progressed with difficulty, as he had a large dish of chopped-up spaghetti bolognaise (biodynamically grown beef and tomatoes, home-grown herbs and wholewheat pasta) which he picked up in handfuls, squidged in a sensual kind of way, and then flung at us. His dear mama remonstrated weakly from time to time, but that only caused him to roar – persistently and impressively. We were glad to go home.

When Aurora mentioned child-led weaning, the memory of that night flashed through my mind, and I mentioned the possibility that though Gussy seems to be a gentle and co-operative infant, he might feel the urge to toss his stewed apple around a bit. Aurora became defensive. She is never as icy as my sister, but I know when I have been warned off. She explained to me that she was aware of that, and that the surfaces splattered with baby-food could be wiped down after each meal: this was the price one paid for responding appropriately to infant development.

Later, Mrs Swann had a little word with me (she had been dusting in the hallway at the time and overheard snatches of our conversation, enough to become very alarmed). I could see she was starting to tic. I did what I could to soothe her, and said that Gussy would just have to take all his meals in Cook’s pantry until he has become master of his knife and fork and open to reason. This seemed to reassure Mrs Swann, but I have yet to gather the courage to lay the situation, on us in a month now, before Cook.

My own children were all spoon-fed by their nanny (or at least I assume they were and the nursery always seemed very clean and tidy even directly after tea), and I must say they have grown up to be incomparably articulate, but who knows what they might have been without such impairment to combat? Ventriloquists or News Presenters or something, who can say?

So I am girding up my loins to broach the matter with Cook, and I can see I shall have to be jolly careful to select a highchair designed with aerodynamic lines and absolutely no fabric and not too many twiddly ‘adjust this and that’ projecting knobs and surfaces resistant to absorbing the spectacular stains that organic vegetable juices are capable of inflicting (as I discovered when I dropped a small dollop of creamed carrot on my ivory silk blouse last Wednesday). Perhaps we could have a highchair carved out of one piece of wood, sanded and varnished to a smooth finish, and fitted with vinyl covered cushions. Hmm. I will ask Ellis to do some research on the internet. It should be possible. Sussex is simply heaving with people who do clever things with wood.

Anyway, I am sure Cook will rise to the occasion. She always does if she can. She helped Sybil make those special herby rock-cakes for the chapel tea where we all had such a happy time, and she always lets her come into the pantry to do her sloe gin ready for Christmas – she has known them all since they were born, and I believe they have a special place in her heart.

Aurora herself, who was born during my vegan phase and so ate mainly raw fruit and vegetables and lentil stews, was given much freedom to feed herself at Gussy’s age. She would sit up in her beech-wood highchair with an array of raisins and pieces of apple (later, pieces of cheese too, when we returned to vegetarianism) and torn-up scraps of bread, and put them slowly one after the other into her mouth, until her face bulged with food much like a hamster. ‘Aurora darling, you must chew and swallow!’ Nanny would cry in alarm, and make her spit it all out and start afresh. Nobody ever promised us bringing up children would be easy.

There. I have entered it in my desk diary: discuss Child-Led Weaning with Cook. I expect Mrs Swann will have prepared her for the conversation.


  1. No, no, Mother! Not pureed fruit! He's supposed to eat the same food as we do. As well as being best for his development, the idea is for him to enjoy his food, not to mention making our lives easier in the long run! One of Sybil's cakes should be just the ticket.

  2. Aurora darling! Is that YOU? How charming! Is Buzzfloyd your pseudonym on the Interweb? If it IS you I feel I must advice a little caution at your confidence in Sybil's culinary experimentation. Sybil is the sweetest person alive and Gussy couldn't have a more devoted aunt - but in the most strenuous terms I should advise you to have absolutely nothing to do with any foodstuffs in the preparation of which dear Sybil has had a hand. I fear her preparations may not be suitable for infants whatsoever!
    I am also concerned that you mention darling Gussy may have no use for pureed fruit. Poor Mrs Swann has been squirreling away jars of baby food since your second trimester of pregnancy. Are you telling me he will have no use for them?! For goodness sake support me in concealing this from Mrs Swann, she has suffered enough adversity in life, poor dear - eat them yourself if it comes to it.
    All my love darling - I am hoping you may be dropping in for a cup of tea on your special day tomorrow. xxxxxxx Mama