A REAL PRAM HAD A PLACE TO HANG THE SHOPPING
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