I have read almost all of Nina Stibbe’s books. This one is non-fiction, like her first, Love, Nina, about moving to London to be a nanny for the two sons of Mary-Kay Wilmers, founder and former editor of The London Review of Books, and Stephen Frears, filmmaker (My Beautiful Laundrette and Philomena). That book is a compilation of her letters to her sister Vic; this one is in the form of a diary that she kept during her year-long sabbatical in London.
She had left London 20 years earlier when she and Mark Nunney moved to raise their two children in Cornwall. Many of her diary entries mention Alf or Eva, who were in college in London during her sabbatical . She was able to afford this time in London when an old friend who had been lodging with the writer Deborah Moggach moved, and she took his place. She mentions visits with Mary-Kay Wilmers and the cafe owned by Sam, son of Mary-Kay. Many entries refer to health issues relating to age (she is now 60) and to what she and friends do to cope with the problem of “weeing herself,” as she puts it.
During a spa day with her author friend Cathy, Nina reported that a friend of Cathy appeared and told them that her 11 year-old granddaughter had written a short book which she wants to get published. ‘”She’s written it and illustrated it all by herself,” said the amazed grandmother, as if she’d never met an eleven year old before or been one. I mean, what are eleven year olds doing if not writing and illustrating short books?'”
In another story about her friend Cathy Rentzenbrink, Cathy mentions on her 50th birthday that “she is grateful and honored that Hilary Mantel continues to visit her in dreams. She sits and smiles in a corner of the room and looks as if she’s about to say something monumental but never quite does. Cathy is hoping for editorial advice or that Hilary wants to entrust her with a mission.”
She recounts a conversation with landlady Debby, whose granddaughter tried to teach her how to play chess, but failed. ‘”I just can’t grasp it,” said Debby. “Me neither,” I said, and recalled the time on the train with young Eva and Alf trying to teach me on our travel games compendium. I couldn’t believe the complexity and exclusivity of certain players maneuvers and I said, “Are you sure this piece can only go sideways? etc” until a fellow passenger intervened to defend them. “Chess isn’t for brains like ours,” said Debby.
I do love her take on the world and enjoyed hearing her random thoughts.
Nina Stibbe, Went to London, Took the Dog, Picador, 2023 (I listened to the audiobook). Not available in the public library.