Last month, in Vlissingen in the Netherlands, DTW came across a pram museum. They’ve got wheels, so we’ll write about them.
When I was a student designer, there was a clear difference between the straight from A level bunch, like me, and the ‘mature students’, some of whom were maybe just 3 or 4 years older than me, but who had seen a bit of life. That ‘bit of life’ might have been bumming around the world, or it might have been all that grown-up stuff like parenting, and those people could interest themselves in a project like designing a pram or a baby buggy in a way that I never could. By that, I don’t mean that my ambitions were only to draw ludicrously impractical sports cars – I was quite interested in doing something a bit more worthwhile, especially since, with the Arab Israeli Conflict, the activities of the Baader-Meinhof Group and, as the final nail, Showaddawaddy being near the top of the charts, it was clear that society as we knew it was coming to an end. No, my problem was that I could never really appreciate the difficulty in piloting a clumsy wheeled device with a screaming passenger through a crowded supermarket, since, although I’d read both On The Road and Nausea, I lacked any actual experience of the real problems of life.
I don’t know if my parents ever pushed me in a full blown, old fashioned pram, but I do remember having a short-term affection for my old pushchair when I was, maybe, 4 or 5. It was a pretty crude device of hinged pressed metal, but it had wheels like a car so I pushed it around making Brrmmm noises. But, in the end, the differences were too great and it was soon discarded as being no fun. It’s not always fun for a lot of parents too. I saw someone the other day, looking at his twin pushchair and obviously wondering how he was going to manage it, and a trolley, around a large supermarket. Still, his problems would have been far greater 50 years ago – though I suspect that, back then, his mid 20th Century counterpart might have skived off both shopping and pram duty with the excuse that his masculinity might be compromised.
I have a fair amount of experience pushing industrial trolleys, pallet lifters and the like around. Doing it deftly requires a fair amount of skill. Even supermarket trolleys offer a challenge and, if there’s a gap in the aisles, I’ll still usually take the opportunity to polish my J-turn. Recently I have had some experience of adult wheelchairs, both manual and electric. Fortunately, I don’t need one yet, but the transition to pushing a living cargo has been salutary – pitching my Mum forward recently after hitting a bump on a brick path was not pleasant for me, let alone her.
The old fashioned pram, formally and rather pretentiously known as a Baby Carriage, was an unwieldy device. Its primary purpose was to be a moving fortress, protecting Baby from the threats of the surrounding World. Its secondary purpose was often to show the World how well you’d done for yourself or, maybe, how much you valued Baby. In a low third place was the need to get it round corners or over steps. Women (for the main part) put up with this for decades whilst men (for the main part) just tweaked the shapes of the handles, and fiddled with the spokes.
The first successful lightweight buggy was the Maclaren, designed in 1965 by an aeronautical engineer. This was inspired by seeing the unwieldy chair being used by his daughter for her child. It’s another example of first-hand experience producing the best ideas. They weren’t cheap, especially for something that might only be used for 2 years, and more affordable alternatives appeared. Indeed I remember young parents on my course discussing the Maclaren, and at least one coming up with an impressive design
Others followed, with even Land Rover cashing in at one time by giving their name for Pegasus to use on a version of one of their ‘all terrain’ buggies. Silver Cross, the long-established manufacturer of baby carriages, has diversified into the modern world, yet still offers retro carriages for those nostalgic for a time they never knew. Maclaren are still around, sticking like many others to their 8 wheel (4 sets of twins) concept, though some prefer the more compact and sporting tricycle configuration and there’s no doubt that the business of hauling children around these days is far less labour intensive than that demonstrated by many of the cumbersome if endearing devices on show in the Vlissingen museum.
But from my overview of what is now available, if I were a parent today, I’d find myself in the same situation that I experience when buying any consumer item, except a car. Since I don’t subscribe monthly to What Pram?, Pushchair & Pushchair Conversions or Buggy World, I would come to the market ignorant, to be confronted with a plethora of solutions, some probably excellent, some not so. In addition, wanting the very best for Baby and not wanting them to grow up feeling deprived, I’d need to ensure that the pushchair came with a respectable badge. Fortunately, and predictably, arch brand tarts Ferrari and Aston Martin can provide on that front.