I visited London and read the book “Took the Dog” by Nina Stibbe, which features even more fun adventures in the city.
Nina Stibbe’s first experience living in London was at the age of 20. She had just come from the countryside of Leicestershire and was hired as a nanny in the prestigious literary neighborhood of Primrose Hill. Her employer, Mary-Kay Wilmers, was the deputy editor of the London Review of Books. Stibbe’s neighbors included famous names such as Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, Claire Tomalin, Michael Frayn, and Deborah Moggach, who would often visit for a casual chat. She observed everything with amazement and shared her experiences with her sister through a series of letters, which later became the basis for her popular book, Love, Nina (2013).
Stibbe, now 60 years old, has returned after many years of her family residing in Cornwall. She is currently staying with Moggach, who has relocated to Camden. Along with her, she has brought her cherished cockapoo named Peggy and her own literary acclaim. Following the success of Love, Nina, Stibbe went on to write four popular novels that showcase her unique and humorous perspective on a world that is both puzzling and remarkable.
Stibbe’s own stardom makes this diary of the grown-up gap year she spent in London between 2022 and early 2023 a high-risk enterprise. It was funny in Love, Nina when she thought that Alan Bennett had been in Coronation Street or that Jonathan Miller was an opera singer. But can the studied naivety work when Nick Hornby is in the local pub quiz team and evenings are spent with a landlady who periodically has to dash off to attend to the latest performance of her hit play?
It appears that life at 60 is just as confusing as it was at 20, if not more. It becomes clear that Stibbe is currently living in London while separated from her husband. The specifics of their separation are not revealed, but there is a constant underlying sadness amidst all the fun adventures in London. This feeling is particularly strong when Stibbe travels to Cornwall to celebrate Christmas with her family, which has drastically changed.
The challenges of an aging female body are also present. Stibbe struggles with stress incontinence to the point where she attributes any small leaks of urine to passing dogs (except for Peggy, who is always perfect despite being a bit of a nuisance). There is also the ironic timing of starting hormone replacement therapy just as it becomes difficult to obtain due to a national shortage. In one particularly intense nightmare, Stibbe dreams that thieves break into Moggach’s house and ignore the valuable paintings to steal the lodger’s estrogen patches instead.
Stibbe’s adult children who are in their early twenties live close by in London, giving her the opportunity to reflect on her own youth when she was the same age as them in her book Love, Nina. Her choice of wearing skinny jeans embarrasses them, while she struggles to understand their taste in music, particularly the band “Trash Baby” that they wait in line to see. Her group of female friends also provide comedic relief as they discuss topics such as middle-aged sexting and the moment when Tom Cruise seemed to transform into Sandi Toksvig. It’s worth considering if these friends are comfortable being mentioned alongside their embarrassing flaws – alcoholism, hemorrhoids, and a boyfriend who constantly talks about “vulva” in public. Even Mary-Kay Wilmers is lightly mocked for her excessive use of Clinique Chubby Stick. However, it’s possible that Stibbe is demonstrating that at the age of 60, she has finally learned to not care about others’ opinions of her.
When writing in the diary format for auto-fiction, the main challenge is maintaining a suitable pace and structure. It is important to avoid it becoming a monotonous series of events. Despite the repetitive details, Stibbe cleverly uses the strict time-stamped structure of her sabbatical to add momentum to her story. As the book ends, she quietly slips out of her home at dawn, avoiding goodbyes, and embarks on a journey to Cornwall to discover what the future holds. However, her time spent away has not been wasted. She reflects on her experiences, including completing Ulysses, learning to be comfortable with solitude, noticing the appearance of grey hair, and adopting the habit of reading with one eye closed, a common practice among those in their middle age.