Helen Martin: Throwing toys out the prams

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THIS may come as a shock to today’s young mums, but there was a time when most women with small babies walked everywhere.

They weren’t expected to take babies on public transport because children spent the first year of their lives in ruddy great prams . . . huge things on massive wheels with enormous mud-guards and big, coiled springs to keep baby cushioned from bumps. The bigger and shinier the more upmarket; but it was meant for walking and showing off or strolling round a local park – not actually getting much further than the end of your own street.

Taking babies on buses was something that happened much later, when pram manufacturers cleverly came up with the collapsible buggy, which, with a one-handed flick here and a twiddle of a foot pedal, would fold down into something that would almost fit in an umbrella stand.

Suddenly it was “Cry freedom!” for mums who could now take babies everywhere. The little buggies would fold away in cupboards, cloakrooms, luggage racks and even slot in neatly beside a table in a restaurant.

And that, of course, is how it should be. Babies and mums, or dads, should be accepted, encouraged and welcomed. Increasingly businesses depend on their custom and patronage, not least those businesses that have grown up around the ever- increasing amounts parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles are willing to spend on the little darlings and the plethora of baby equipment available.

But there we come to the nub of the problem that has soured relationships between Edinburgh mums and Lothian Buses with their “pram ban”.

A little fold-away canvas buggy isn’t good enough for 21st-century weans. And the cost of them isn’t nearly enough for the manufacturers when they know they can get much more for the huge, sturdy, padded, non-collapsible, fur-lined babe-mobiles that have now become fashionable.

Oh yes, we are back to “the bigger the better and more upmarket” again. And that’s the hitch. It’s not that Lothian Buses has suddenly become anti-buggy; rather it is that buggies have grown out of all reasonable proportion to the point where they are almost as big as the old-fashioned, highly sprung baby carriages. Buses can take two max – and that’s without any wheelchairs.

Now sisters, I’m sorry, but surely the onus is on manufacturers and mums to design and buy buggies that are smaller, lighter and easy for one woman with a baby in one arm and a handbag over the other to collapse, carry and set up again so that she and her child are capable of travelling on a bus without intruding on wheelchair space that – let’s face it – was never intended for prams.

In fact, to be brutally honest, very few of the day-to-day facilities of this world were intended for today’s gigantic three or four-wheeled baby transportation systems. Planes, shops, restaurants, supermarkets, hairdressers . . . all places that want to serve the mum and the baby – but not necessarily the enormous vehicle that now comes as part of the package. Other customers have to stand to one side; the super-buggy is too big to pass between rails of clothes in shops or tightly packed tables in restaurants; my personal bete noire in the supermarket is the mum pushing the mega-buggy while her own mother or mother-in-law walks alongside pushing the trolley. I suspect this is because their gigantic transporter is too expensive to leave parked at the entrance so they decide to double up and completely block the aisle.

I can understand that, considering what they paid for it, and I can understand that they want the best for their baby. I blame the manufacturers for preying on that emotion and developing and selling entirely unsuitably sized buggies, which are impractical and cause an unnecessary nuisance to others.

I merely point out there’s no justification for blaming Lothian Buses.

The great divide

A WEEK’S holiday in Lanzarote taught me several things about how different nationalities within Europe cope in these difficult times. I know the Spanish economy makes ours look quite healthy but at least their response is to drop prices and increase custom – unlike ours, which seems to work on the basis of prices going up.

We stayed in a hotel where most other guests were on the all-inclusive package. The Spanish and French were dignified, dressed stylishly and ate and drank “normally”.

The British and Germans seemed hell-bent on consuming and swigging back their own body-weight at every opportunity.

The British were easy to spot . . . shaven heads, tattoos and tracksuits. The Germans were better dressed and classier, but less well-mannered, frequently elbowing everyone else out of the way.

It made me wonder how the European Union has lasted this long if it is so difficult for a bunch of holidaymakers to find common ground sun-bathing by the pool sipping a San Miguel.

Or, as one German told us chillingly after watching Cameron’s treaty rejection on TV – and without a hint of humour: “This will mean war.” I trust and hope he was speaking financially.