Mary Poppins reached into her carpet-bag.

Mary Poppins

She took out a box of tea-bags, a sugar-bowl, a pint of milk, a packet of McVities Digestive Biscuits and a mug that said “Old Nannies Never Die, Their Knitting Just Unravels”. She made herself a cup of tea, then reached back into the bag, pulled out a rocking-chair, and sat into it.

Her mobile rang. She looked at the number, smiled to herself, then rejected it.

They wanted her to go back into the field again.

For years she had been the star employee of the Miss Chivers Till-The Wind-Changes Nanny Agency. Rescuing the Banks family from themselves had been only one of her achievements. It was she who had invented the naughty step, the restorative lollipop as a cure for grazed knees and the imaginary friend for shy children.

She had invented “quiet time”, a boon for parents all over the world.

But the world had changed, gradually, and younger nannies had come to work for the agency. They had laughed at her, at her hat, at her apron, and at her flying umbrella, which they referred to as “Virgin Airways”.

Which had been not just cruel, thought Mary, but totally inaccurate. Bert had been her lover for many years now. He was always cheerful, utterly devoted to her, and had an astonishingly long brush, which was useful for hard-to-get-at cobwebs.

He did still sound as if he was trying to chew toffee in Australian, but you can’t have everything.

Such as job security, for instance. Over time more and more of the work that came in had been allocated to the younger women, and one day Miss Chivers had called Mary into her office and had broken the news to her.

No-one wanted a nanny anymore. They wanted an au-pair.

The new star employee was Maria Poppinska, a blonde Eastern European with long legs and a longer list of things that were bad for children. Top of this list was the spoonful of sugar, which caused dental cavities and hyperactivity. She was a great believer in muesli, carrot smoothies and a vegetable she called broccoli, which Mary was sure she had invented herself.

Whilst Mary had believed in children being allowed to laugh themselves to ceiling-level, Maria believed in them being grounded, especially if they had done something wrong.

And she laughed scornfully at the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, on the basis that her own middle name was longer than it.

But now her job was vacant.

Mary had been, in her own words, kind but very firm. Maria, on the other hand, was a strict disciplinarian. It turned out, though, that this was only with the man of the house, and it had been the discovery of that by the woman of the house that had got her fired.

Now Mary sat in her rocking-chair on the balcony of her Cote D’Azur home, looking out at the sea.

She and Bert had lived here for many years. Having been made so suddenly redundant after spending her life grind, grind, grinding at that grindstone, and therefore facing an old-age of poverty, Mary had decided to take action. One night Bert had reverse-torpedoed himself down a chimney into the Dawes Tomes Mousely Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank and had opened the door from the inside. With the Little Old Bird Woman keeping watch from the steps of St Paul’s across the road, Mary had stepped in and had emptied the entire contents of the safe into her cavernous carpet-bag.

They had escaped to France in a fishing boat belonging to a man with one leg named Smith (he had lost his other leg to a shark, so its name was irrelevant), and had made their way here.

Mary’s phone rang again, and again she rejected the call.

They wanted her to go out into the field again.

They could go fly a kite.

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