Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mog and the Baby
by Judith Kerr

This is a story of woeful neglect and misplaced trust. It is a warning to new parents: be careful – be very careful – when choosing a babysitter. Because like the unfortunate Mrs Clutterbuck, you might come home to find your baby wandering on the road, in the path of oncoming traffic, without an adult in sight. Tonight’s bedtime story is Mog and the Baby, but a more apt title would be Mrs Clutterbuck and the Clusterfuck.

First, some background. This is the third book in the Mog series by Judith Kerr. When I was little I had Mog’s Christmas, and it was a favourite during the holiday season. Mog was depicted as quite the typical cat: grumpy, self-centred and always causing trouble. But the pictures were cute, and the story fun, and I loved Mog’s Christmas.

In Mog and the Baby, a young mother struggling to juggle the care of a baby and the running of a household wants a couple of hours to do some shopping. Is that so much to ask? So she leaves her baby with Mrs Thomas, presumably a neighbour, who owns a cat named Mog. Mrs Thomas has two kids, Debbie and Nicky, who have survived enough years to give Mrs Clutterbuck confidence in Mrs Thomas as a carer. But perhaps that was more luck than good management.

Truth be told, the warning signs are there when Mrs Clutterbuck drops the baby off. “We’re going to look after it while she goes shopping,” Mrs Thomas tells her son Nicky, who is skipping school with a cold. “It’s trying to say puss,” she says when the baby makes a noise towards Mog. Notice anything wrong with Mrs Thomas’ words?

She calls the baby “it”. Twice. In front of Mrs Clutterbuck. She doesn’t call it by name, doesn’t even say “he” or “she”. No, just “it”. Poor Mrs Clutterbuck, she does seem uncertain, taking her time to put on her coat and leave. “Will my baby be all right with your cat?” she asks. What she is really wondering is: “Will my baby be all right with you?”

And that would be a valid question. Let me run you through the events that follow. While Mrs Thomas and Nicky are doing the lunch dishes the baby, completely unsupervised, overturns Mog’s food bowl and starts eating the cat food. “Look what it’s done,” Nicky says when he realises. (It, again).

So then Mrs Thomas decides the easiest option is to lift the top off the pram, sit it on the floor and stick the baby in there, hoping it might sleep. Then she runs off to get Mog and puts the cat in its basket right next to the baby, like some sort of supervisor. Seriously lady, Mog is a cat. You’re the only human adult in this house. Take some responsibility.

But instead, she goes off to do other things (read a magazine? sink a glass or two of wine?) and the baby climbs out and pulls Mog’s tail. Mog cracks the shits and pushes open a window to escape, the baby follows, Mog runs across the road and the baby follows again. Still no sign of Mrs Thomas.

The baby finds itself in the path of an oncoming car being driven by Mr Thomas, with Mrs Clutterbuck as a passenger. Has she really just been shopping? Is there more to this than meets the eye? Is it possible Mrs Thomas was neglecting the baby out of jealousy? Anyway, whatever the case, Mog accidentally knocks the baby out of harm’s way and is the hero.

And then the crowning insult. While Mrs Clutterbuck clutches her baby in relief, young Nicky says: “It’s a silly baby. It shouldn’t have run into the road”. A classic case of victim-blaming.

“Mog saved it,” says Debbie. (It, again).

“She is a very brave cat,” says Nicky. (The cat gets called “she” but the baby is “it”. You can see where this family’s priorities lie).

The upshot is that Mog gets a reward, nobody questions what the hell Mrs Thomas was doing that she let a baby run out of her house and onto the road, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Except for Mrs Clutterbuck, who presumably goes home to have a nervous breakdown.

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