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  • My daughters childminder is, as many are, a saint. I don't know what I would do without her, she is always cheerful, generous and accomodating to 'her' parents and kind and loving to 'her' children. When I say I don't know when I'll need her because I haven't any work and don't know when I next will, she doesn't ask me for a retainer - although I am sure that she must be told she should when she attends those endless childcare courses that our London borough insist upon. Instead she says she'll pray for me that I find work. And when it miraculously appears she jumps to fetch my child from school at a moments notice. She has never said 'no' to me but I can rely on her to say 'no' to my child, when appropriate.

    Janet is Nigerian. She grew up in an orphanage, in Nigeria, that her parents ran for deprived children and orphans. She now provides a similar service for the children of working parents in London. Her flat rings with the sound of laughter all day and evening. I think that sometimes she laughs at the way the British treat their children.

    Over Easter Janet flew to Nigeria for a three day celebration. It was her father-in-law's funeral. In Nigeria, she tells me, the death of those who live a long life is celebrated. There were parties and services and she came back with her hair braided into long glossy ropes, in an even more exotic style than usual. She had photos of many women, all smiling, decked out in colourful long dresses and impressively engineered headgear, tied from just one piece of intricately twisted batik cloth.

    Back in London Janet gave all the parents of 'her' children a gift: a bright plastic sieve with the details of Pa James Idowu's funeral commemorated on the side. In Nigeria it is apparently a tradition for the children of an elderly parent to give gifts to celebrate their parents life. I think this is far better than the emphasis on wills and inheritance, which is prevalent in my culture.

    Janet said there were also pens and other small gifts given away, but we were very pleased to be given the sieve. My daughter and her five year old 'boyfriend' (Janet has persuaded them they will get married and they already think they are as they went to a wedding together ) ran around wearing them and pretending to be robots. And I thought the sieve was a great gift as I am learning to make Janet's jellof rice because it is my daughter's favourite food - it is to her what my mother's shepherd's pie and Worcester sauce was to me when I was little - the number one comfort food.

    It also occurs to me, now that I have brought it home, that a sieve will be quite good as a momento mori, hanging in my kitchen as a bright reminder of the way life drains away very fast.
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