You get grunge and then you get grunge. And then you get Camden grunge. I am the mom of a totally adorable (if I may say so myself) 9-month-old baby girl. Everyone loves her… including the hobos, the dustbin-diggers, the unbathed, the toothless, the druggies, the drunkards and the mentally challenged – all of whom inhabit the wonderful town of Camden, where I live. Before I proceed, I need to say that: I love North London, I love Camden and I am of the firm belief that babies are for sharing (not in a gross paedophile way but in an ‘aah sweet, look at the lovely baby’ kind of way). The privilege of being a parent does not form everyone’s lot in life and I am well aware that motherhood is, indeed, a privilege. The aforementioned life-philosophies that share space in my brain with the ‘I will never live in South London’ philosophy, have placed me in a predicament. Babies bring delight to so many and what kind of person denies the odd head-stroke or hand-touch? Except when the Camden grunge are concerned. Camden grunge has nothing to do with torn stockings, Dr Martins and over-sized dresses, but rather, old food, dirt and oil. Let me explain.
One day I was sitting happily on the bus, my daughter Amelia was sitting on my lap casually surveying the 134 commuters going about their daily… commuting. A very tall, old man, who was struggling to walk, climbed onto the bus and sat down opposite me and Amelia. Amelia batted her gorgeous big blue eyes and Mr Old Man was besotted. As Amelia proceeded to gnaw on her finger, a favourite past time, Mr Oldy proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms that Amelia was teething and that as Chamomile is known for its ability to soothe, I should rub some on her gums. I stored this reasonable piece of advice in my memory bank for further investigation. As I was contemplating the drool that had escaped Amelia’s mouth and was making its way down towards my arm, I saw Mr Oldy’s hand reaching out… what was I to do? Some random old guy touching my baby is just not cool, and even as that protective mommy instinct kicked in I second guessed myself: Mr Oldy is just a sweet old man reliving his youth by squeezing the hand of an infant, perhaps hoping for some supernatural beam of light to whisk him back to his childhood. My uncertainty (and imagination) won and Mr Oldy goochie-gooed as he clasped my baby’s hand. My well-mannered upbringing told me to resist the urge to haul out a wipe and rub the germs well off. The moment passed, I exited the bus, wiped Amelia’s drool/germ infested hand hoping that she has not put it in her mouth although I am sure that I am too late, and headed on my way. As the days passed, the incident took a back seat in my mind until… until one day, whilst making my way down the high street, I saw Mr Oldy with his hand in a dustbin. Perhaps he was just making extra sure that his rubbish made it into the bin? But no. Oldy is a digger. A dustbin digger. Oldy the Dustbin Digger touched my daughter’s hand, she put her hand in her mouth. I am gagging just about now. The guilt set in. Should I have asked Oldy not to touch my child? Would the request be disrespectful if I was polite? Then again, who cares about respect when Amelia’s well-being is at stake. Who knows what was on Oldy’s hand. Right about now, I make my way to Pleasantville, where dustbin-digging old men don’t touch babies’ hands.
I would like to say that my experience of Camden grunge ends there but it does not. There was the lady with the nails; yellow, chipped, broken and harbouring last night’s dinner, who reached out to touch Amelia but I think even Amelia was unsure of Mrs Nails and she quickly whipped her chubby little fingers out of reach. There was Mrs Crazy who, at the decibel range of a large aircraft, called me an unfit mother and bellowed profanities at me for half a mile as I walked slowly… and then speedily away from her. Madame Oil, had in all likelihood, not washed her hair in a decade and I thank heaven above that all she did was send a few syllables Amelia’s way. There was no touching. There was also Plaster Lady. Plaster Lady is named after the giant piece of gauze taped to her head – that should have been a clue. She was overwhelmingly, enthusiastically, exuberantly (plus the rest of the applicable adjectives in the dictionary) excited about Amelia. It all went down in the lift at Tufnell Park tube station. Amelia just had to go and bat her baby blues and Plaster Lady squealed (literally) with delight and proceeded to have a conversation with my baby in a high-pitched tone that would surely have broken any glass had we not been in a lift. I noticed the people around us shift uncomfortably… and then I saw it; a hand, reaching out. Not again! Seriously. What should I do? As with Oldy, that protective mom instinct kicked in. But poor Plaster Lady. Surely a little hand squeeze is harmless. Amelia brings me so much joy, surely I should allow her to deliver the same happiness to others. Maybe plaster Lady is not able to have children of her own. Yet again, uncertainty won. I have yet to see Plaster Lady digging in any bins.
I have a responsibility, as a mom, to protect my child – as far as possible. But I am also polite and do not want to hurt the feelings of others unnecessarily. My daughter is no worse for wear after being handled by some of Camden’s grunge. And maybe calling an old homeless man grunge is not politically correct but sometimes, as a parent, we can’t afford to be politically correct. I am going to have to teach my child ‘stranger danger’ at some point yet at the same time I do not want her to go through life void of trust. Not all people are out to get her. London is a city that commands its citizens to be street-wise. And while the beautiful people of Camden Town will teach my daughter acceptance and tolerance, I need to instil in her a sense of compassion touched with a pinch (maybe a handful) of savvy. I’ll keep you updated.