A REAL PRAM HAD A PLACE TO HANG THE SHOP­PING

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

Wheels may have been in­vented in 3,500BC but more than 5,500 years af­ter their emer­gence as a form of trans­port they con­tinue to court con­tro­versy. Top Gear has as many de­trac­tors as it has afi­ciona­dos, and as for white-van driv­ers… don’t get me started. But it is cy­clists who have come in for a lot of flak re­cently. The “Wiggo” and Boris ef­fect has turned our roads into vir­tual velo­dromes where cars must not only ne­go­ti­ate the per­ils of pan­tech­ni­cons and pedes­tri­ans, but also an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple with pedal power. Some­times they ride solo, but in the evenings and at week­ends you will find them out in con­voys, two or three abreast, their heads down, ped­alling away in those hel­mets and gog­gles that make them look like some­thing out of Star Wars. Th­ese fac­tors com­bine to give the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion a sneak­ing dis­like of cy­clists – es­pe­cially when they cut us up or slow us down. But this ir­ri­ta­tion with other folks’ wheels is not con­fined to the road. It is re­flected on pave­ments, where those who travel un­en­cum­bered ex­cept by a car­rier bag show the same in­tol­er­ance to par­ents and grand­par­ents in charge of that mod­ern form of in­fant trans­porta­tion, the baby buggy. Granted, most of th­ese are only one step up from a su­per­mar­ket trol­ley when it comes to ease of steer­age (I can pick out the one trol­ley with the jud­der­ing off­side front wob­bly wheel from a row of 100 per­fectly sound ones with un­canny fre­quency). That said, baby bug­gies can lead to those in charge of them be­ing treated as, at best, a bit of a nui­sance and, at worst, a so­cial pariah. Hav­ing first in­curred the wrath of fel­low pave­ment users some 30 years ago with a con­trap­tion that was lit­tle more than a minia­ture deckchair on wheels, I am now re­minded of the per­ils of be­ing in charge of a baby buggy thanks to the ar­rival of grand­chil­dren. Brim­ming with pride, I push my charges into town in the bright red three-wheel in­fant car­riage of sturdy (if spaceage) con­struc­tion, only to dis­cover that its so­cial sta­tus is strangely on a par with that of its three- wheel car­riage­way equiv­a­lent – a Re­liant Robin. To be hon­est, I’m not much of a fan of th­ese mod­ern bug­gies my­self. I have learnt the hard way (and, mer­ci­fully, out of sight of the grand­child’s par­ents) of the in­ad­e­qua­cies of th­ese new-age per­am­bu­la­tors. For a start, their han­dles are too short, which means that any shop­ping bag you hang on them raps you on the knees with ev­ery for­ward step and ef­fec­tively short­ens your stride so that it is rem­i­nis­cent of the gait of a Ja­panese geisha. Lower it so that it does not, and it gets tan­gled in the wheels. Oh, I know that there is a stor­age con­tainer un­derneath the buggy, but this is full of nap­pies, muslins (how I have come to value th­ese dab­ber­sup of any­thing re­motely un­pleas­ant) and other ap­pur­te­nances of whose value I am un­sure. Add to this cor­nu­copia of in­fant es­sen­tials two small tins of baked beans and it is chock-full. This means that shop­ping has to be put in the bag dan­gling from the han­dles, which then raps you even harder on the knees or gets ir­re­triev­ably tan­gled in the wheels. Buy too much in the way of co­mestibles and you will dis­cover that the mo­ment they out­weigh the in­fant the whole con­trap­tion tips up and is in dan­ger of cat­a­pult­ing the baby into your arms or the stream of pass­ing traf­fic. You see, my mother never had this prob­lem. Not for her the col­lapsi­ble buggy (which does so when you don’t want it to and stead­fastly re­fuses to when you are in a hurry, board­ing a train or a plane – “Which but­tons do I press for God’s sake?” – as the queue be­hind you grows even more frac­tious than the baby). No; my mother had a proper per­am­bu­la­tor – built like a galleon and sus­pended on leather straps at­tached to arch­ing tem­pered springs. Put a howl­ing baby into it and the rock­ing mo­tion would have it in the land of nod within a minute. Put a howl­ing baby in a mod­ern buggy and all you can hope for is that it will even­tu­ally be rat­tled and shaken into a state of mild con­cus­sion. And proper prams – made by the likes of Millson, Os­nath, Sil­ver Cross and Wil­son – were a de­light to push. Their han­dles were at the right height, they had a spa­cious bas­ket un­derneath that could take any amount of shop­ping, they had wetweather gear built in and a fringed sun canopy to avoid daz­zling the babe on bright sum­mer days. What’s more, when you pushed one of them down the street peo­ple smiled and got out of your way, or else ad­mired the baby in­side with coos and aahs – your pro­gres­sion in town would be akin to that of a Rolls-Royce glid­ing smoothly though lesser traf­fic. One day, I prom­ise my­self, this grandpa will in­vest in a proper per­am­bu­la­tor – they still make them, and at a price not too much in ex­cess of the most glamorous bug­gies; the only trou­ble is it won’t fit in the back of the car or go on a plane. Not to worry, the plea­sure of a stroll down town with a real pram to lean on, some­where to put the shop­ping and a few ad­mir­ing glances rather than end­less ir­ri­ta­tion will far out­weigh the in­con­ve­nience. And I’ve had my sum­mer hol­i­day any­way.

The but­ter­flies con­tinue to flit across our wild flower meadow with greater fre­quency than for many a year. This week a hand­ful of clouded yel­lows emerged. Sight­ings of th­ese beau­ties are likely only in the south­ern­most part of the coun­try – es­pe­cially Corn­wall, Devon and Dorset. Th­ese are the first I’ve seen since 2000 when I spot­ted a host of them in the Isle of Wight. Along with the blues, the small tor­toise­shells, the mar­bled whites and the painted ladies, they de­light me ev­ery bit as much as the late sum­mer flow­ers in my Hamp­shire gar­den. For but­ter­flies, 2013 will be a sum­mer to re­mem­ber.

King of the road: When you pushed an old-fash­ioned per­am­bu­la­tor down the street, peo­ple smiled and got out of your way, or else ad­mired the baby in­side

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