Monthly Archives: April 2013

Goodbye, Olivia

OliviaDear Olivia,

I was never ready for you. You came as a surprise. Before you, there was Oliver, the black-and-white Persian that my roommate’s parents didn’t approve of. Then it was Zooey, another cat who came along almost spontaneously.

I’m still unclear whose idea it was to get Zooey – a skittish little thing with a permanently startled expression – when we could barely look after ourselves. You were our family before we were ready for the real thing.

We were just a trio of giddy girls, making our way through our college years.

I’m afraid we weren’t always the best parents. I think I may have tried to give Oliver vodka once. I’m rather ashamed of this now, but I was barely 20 and slightly irresponsible. Needless to say, Oliver lived through the harrowing experience. For your sake, it was a good thing too.

We joked that our cats, Zooey and Oliver, weren’t attracted to each other. How wrong we were. Zooey ended up pregnant. Oliver, looking a tad smug with his haughty Persian face, was the father.

And then you came, part of a small litter of brothers and sisters. We divvied up the kittens between friends. I got you.

I was busy at the time, travelling here and there. I went to Europe and abandoned you to my own parents. I think there might have been a traumatic trip from Los Angeles to San Diego in the car. Apparently, this changed your personality for the worse.

You reminded me a bit of your mother. You didn’t enjoy company that much, preferring to haunt the rooms upstairs while the mess of life took place below you.

But you were striking – you inherited your father’s long fur and your mother’s beautiful stripes. You looked regal, sleek and elegant.

I saw you during trips home, which got further and further apart. You most often sulked under my parents’ bed. Occasionally you would come out from hiding and seek me out. Sometimes you might even let me stroke your fur. There were nights when you would meow loudly from upstairs, telling us that it was time to go to bed.

We lost you this week to the great leveller, death. It’s another connection with my days at university gone. You’re nothing but a memory now, along with the other hazy memories of those days.

I remember photographs mostly, snapshots of us looking incredibly young. Time has blurred most everything else. I’m left with an impression of time accumulated and life lived.

Another chapter closed. I feel like with your death I’ve lost part of my youth.

Goodbye, Olivia.


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The Disney philosopher

Princess Raging Bull

My little princess in all her beauty

The Raging Bull, now nearly four, is becoming an amusing little child – and one who doesn’t stop talking.

Most of her comments on the world are tinged with a degree of aggression. She doesn’t just speak, she literally yells at you. Hence, she will say, ‘I have a bright idea’ quite loudly. If you’re in the middle of a sentence, she will just shout you down until you listen. Her bright ideas usually include television.

Ah, television. Not very long ago I blogged about new research suggesting it’s not all that bad and not necessarily linked to behavioral problems.

But these wise researchers have not met the Raging Bull, who seems to have picked up her philosophy on life from Disney princess movies.

The other day, while I’m standing in the bathroom, she says to me very seriously that she isn’t friends with a certain boy in her preschool class because ‘he isn’t pretty’.

This is the same reason she’s not friends with Daddy, as it turns out.

So I said to her: ‘But you don’t make friends with someone just because of how they look. If someone wasn’t pretty, but they were nice, you would be friends with them, right?’ I uttered this last sentence with hope in my heart.

Her answer was emphatic: ‘Uh, uh,’ she exclaimed, shaking her head dramatically.

So there it is, her dim view of friendship. I knew trying to change her mind was totally hopeless. I’d have better luck trying to convince Donald Trump that Obama isn’t bad for the United States.

In the days that follow my three-year-old’s statement, I wonder how much of this thinking she has picked up from her obsession with Disney movies.

While part of me swears that Disney princess movies are harmless fun, another part of me is thinking that my child is going to see everything through the prism of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

The message seems to be: Don’t worry about getting a job or learning to be independent, because a Prince will come along and rescue you when you most need it. It helps if you can sing or have small feet.

There’s also the worrying pattern in the films that everyone who’s ‘good’ is pretty, while all the evil characters are either deformed or ugly for one reason or another. No wonder she thinks people who don’t live up to some mythical standard of beauty are suspect.

But I’m not really prepared to take a forceful stand on the matter. I know she likes these films and looking ‘pretty’ –  in other words, she wants to dress up as a fairy or a princess to look beautiful. I was exactly the same way at her age, and I think I turned out all right. I believe in women’s rights; I believe women can achieve anything. I certainly believe they don’t have to rely on men.

It doesn’t escape my notice, however, that this conversation with my child takes place in the bathroom while I am putting on make-up to make myself, for all intents and purposes, prettier and more presentable. Does it matter that I’m only doing this for myself and not for my Prince Charming?

And so I ask the Raging Bull, in a moment of weak-willed vanity: ‘Do you think Mommy is pretty?’

She flashes me her angelic smile and says yes.

This gives me a rush of joy. Like mother, like daughter.

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A seaside holiday in Cornwall with kids

Kids in Fowey

The kids in Fowey, home to Daphne du Maurier

Prior to having children, a holiday would entail a weekend break somewhere exotic. We’d eat, drink and sightsee. There’d be downtime, moments when all we’d do is sit at a café and watch the world go by. Perhaps we’d even drink wine at lunchtime. What rebels we were.

A holiday today means not having to cook meals for anyone.

So we just came back from a week in freezing Cornwall – and I didn’t make any food or have to shop for it. This made me reasonably happy. The sun was out most days, although there wasn’t much standing around on beaches. Even contemplating such a thing would be pure folly or the undertaking of someone masochistic.

Cornwall is beautiful – ports, quaint villages, whitewashed cottages and plenty of locally caught fish.

The beaches are stunning, although not all are sandy. There are craggy cliffs that skirt the sea and dramatically fall away into the azure water. You could be at the end of the earth. It does feel desolate in parts, surrounded by rolling English fields and plenty of sheep.

We had a beautiful ocean view from our room. I could even pretend it was warm, so long as I didn’t open any doors or windows.

Shell gas pumps

Even the gas pumps in St Mawes were quaint

There was quite a lot of looking at the beach from windows, so it was a typical English holiday in spring. The kids, however, seemed to take hypothermia in its stride and dealt with it better than I did.

We stayed near Newquay, a down-at-heel city with plenty of bars but not that much charm. I think it might have once been good for a night out, but it’s all a bit tatty nowadays. Many English seaside towns have this feeling of faded glory.

Ordinary people on a budget used to have no choice but to holiday in England. But budget airlines have made it possible for people to travel abroad. Not surprisingly, many Brits choose to go to Spain, where they know they are guaranteed a bit of warm sun at this time of the year. It affects the tourist economy, which many of these places rely on to make money. Sadly, the lack of money does show – but some places have escaped from it.

The highlight of the trip was Fowey, a beautiful village that sits perched at the mouth of the sea. This picture-perfect place is the former home of Daphne du Maurier, who is famed for writing Rebecca. She also wrote several books – Fisherman’s Creek and Jamaica’s Inn – that are set in her home of Cornwall. She was apparently very fond of the place and one can see why.

We got very lucky that day with the weather and did actually enjoy a little wander around the upscale shops of Fowey.

sunset in Newquay

A rare sight in London – a spectacular sunset

Another highlight was visiting St Mawes, another hilly village on the other side of the coast from Newquay. It’s smaller than Fowey, but you will find a hotel, one pub, a general store and two very old Shell gas pumps that resemble something from the Art Deco period. There is also one very nice gallery, where you will find artwork by local artists – and there are plenty of them in Cornwall. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them were ex-Londoners keen to escape the polluted city.


I’m not sure when motherhood turned me into a hardened drinker, but the holiday wasn’t a vacation from booze. Every night, at the hotel bar, I’d be having a pre-dinner drink, two dinner drinks and then another after-dinner drink. I’m trying to wean myself off this habit, but I usually hit some kind of wall by 6pm, about the time the children start to give me high blood pressure.

I read an article on the holiday, ironically, which said that drinking wine daily will do incredible damage to your face by the time you hit your 40s. Among the things listed were a saggy chin, grey complexion, bags under the eyes, uneven skin tone and broken blood vessels. What this journalist failed to realize is that motherhood appears to do the same thing – so perhaps I’m now aging at double the pace.

Bob, a Tawny owl

Bob: not quite as amusing as fecal matter

To be fair to the children, they were fairly well behaved. They dealt with the car journey – an excruciating six hours – incredibly well. They were most amused by owls at a sanctuary. We saw them fly and they told us about their diets (little fluffy baby chicks, which they were fed as snacks). I was worried they would try to land on the hood of my parka, which is trimmed with fur – but it was far too cold to take the jacket off.

Bob was the star of the show – he was apparently looking for a bit of love so didn’t perform very well for the crowd.

Bob took second place in the amusement category to a bit of human baby poo, which closed the indoor hotel pool one afternoon. This seemed to give the children no end of fascination. Nothing like a bit of floating fecal matter to give the kids something to talk about.

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