Good parenting

The other night I had a drink with a friend of mine who had just had lunch with her parents. She took a sip of her wine and sighed. “For everything they’ve ever taught me, I may as well be an orphan,” she said.

My friend had what I would describe as a pretty traditional upbringing; two siblings, no divorce, living in more or less the same house throughout her childhood. The complete opposite of mine I suppose.

But her comment really got me thinking about what does make good parenting?

523931_466908883349736_884495519_nWhen my father was on his deathbed, barely aware of his surroundings, I told him he’d been a great father. He practically sat up in shock, sending the tubes flying. It made me laugh at the time. I wish we could have laughed about it together and talked, but he could no longer really speak.

Of course when I said he’s been a great father I didn’t mean he’d changed my nappies, driven me to and from school, cooked me beans on toast for tea and so on. What I meant was that without him I would have been, as my husband puts it, “an infinitely less interesting person”.

While he may not have taught me anything about the practical things in life, such as the importance of saving money on the rare occasions you have it, he taught me so many other things such as the importance of words (he used to read dictionaries like novels), humour (he would never lose his sense of humour, apart from when I was unable to recite Dante) and learning. When I finally stopped being a drop-out and decided to go to university I was in a quandary about what to study. “The important thing is not what you study,” he told me. “The important thing is that you study.”

He said so much that I will never forget. One of the best pieces of advice he gave was to “chiedi Bach” that is “ask Bach” if you have a problem. The idea is that you listen to Bach and the answer will come to you. It is not fool-proof, but a lot of the time it works.

IMG_2051I guess my point is that the fact that he said things I will never forget means they were significant. And surely one of the points of being a good parent is to be just that? And to teach your children to live well, and not be an idiot. Of course my father was an idiot in lots of ways, as we all are, but he got away with it, because he taught me so much that made me become less of one.

If we can make our children less idiotic we have done a good job. And if we can do that without being mundane or boring so much the better. I really don’t want to be remembered solely as the kind of parent who came up with tips on how to clean an oven, or which building society account to opt for. And if that makes me a bad parent then so be it.

Two takes on Matisse

When we were in London last time Rupert, Leo and I went to see the Matisse at the Tate Modern. It was fabulous, if a tad crowded. One upside to living in Abu Dhabi is that wherever you go, you are practically alone. Leo and I wandered through listening to the “instructions” as he called them and I am now a convert to those things. They really do bring an exhibition to life.
This morning I received two takes on the Matisse; one rather improbably from Top Shop, in its email newsletter. The other from my good friend Simon Fletcher, an established artist in his own right. Top Shop focuses on the colours and vibrancy of the exhibition, it’s nicely put together and even links his cut-outs to crop-tops in case its readers are waning. Below are Simon’s thoughts:

Matisse papiers decoupé at the Tate modern, London until 7th September 2014

“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue”
H. Matisse

images-1

I didn’t know why it was called ‘l’Escargot’ when I first saw it as a boy but I loved the colours and dynamic; I envied ‘La Danse’ and marvelled at the simplicity of the idea of three arches with figures moving through them.

Henri Matisse 1869 – 1954 has always been an inspiration for me since my teenage years. He defies categorisation and enjoys a unique position in 20th century art somewhere between abstraction and figuration.

Seeing his colour develop from his first Fauve period, the portrait of his wife (portrait with green stripe 1905) and the early landscapes, the Moroccan paintings and interiors of his middle years to the last paintings before his illness in 1941, the pink nudes, the great still lifes, is to map a joyful journey. There are no political statements in his art, no social significance, just exciting, stimulating use of colour and forms.imgres

Illness marked at least two important milestones in his life the first being when, recovering from appendicitis in hospital, he was given a box of colours. The effect of his first attempts to paint inspired him to quit his job as a lawyer’s clerk and enrol at art school where he met and became friends with painters who would eventually form a loose movement which became known as the Fauves. On seeing their work exhibited a critic had written that it was like seeing wild beasts (fauves) together and the name stuck. The second milestone came when he was recovering from surgery for intestinal cancer and, unable to stand for long he turned to coloured papers and scissors to create his famous late works, the papiers decoupé.images

Illness turns us inward, the forced inactivity allowing lengthy reflection about our past and possible future and there is no question when looking at the work of this last period of his life that Matisse had come to it at the perfect time to complete his oeuvre.

In these works we can see a consummate artist at work using all the various and complex skills acquired over many years of creativity: knowledge of the human form, of plants and animals and of course that last and most difficult thing, a mastery of colour. Few painters I think have had such an ability to create harmonious compositions using a powerful palette of rich colours. The success of these works and their enormous popularity is largely due I believe to the careful placing of evocative shapes which suggest plants, animals, flowers, figures etc. but which never impinge to the extent that our imagination is trapped by them – he leaves us free to make associations in our own way from the sublime choice of colours from deep magenta, through ultramarine to gold ochre and black.

Simon Fletcher 2014
www.simonfletcher.org

Rugby versus football, a game of two halves

At the end of a very stressful and long football season, I think I have stumbled upon a universal truth.

Everything that is wrong with football could be corrected by adopting the ethics, morality and general good-bloke-ish-ness of rugby. (Cue picture of Jonny Wilkinson). images

This is never more obvious than when you channel hop between the Six Nations and the Premier League. I was actually astounded by the contrast. Think about what REALLY annoys you when you’re watching football. First and foremost, stupid refs getting things wrong. How does rugby deal with this? If there is a potentially dodgy decision on the rugby field there is an instant replay and the ref makes a decision based on that replay. He doesn’t make a decision based on what the home crowd wants, or what his myopic Liverpool fan of a linesman has seen, or thinks he has seen. The fact that football rules say you can go BACK and look at the replay once the match is over is just ridiculous. Either you have video evidence or you don’t.

Second really annoying thing about football: the diving and writhing around in agony if a player is so much as looked at. What happens on the rugby pitch? They are ignored, and left to deal with it. The game is not stopped unless it is a serious injury. And actually in rugby it probably would be a serious injury because rugby does not attract the namby pamby theatrical types football seems to favour.
Third really annoying thing about football? Time added on. or so-called “Fergie time” as it used to be known. Ridiculous. If play is stopped just do what they do on the rugby pitch and stop the clock. Having added time is open to such a lot of abuse. Again football gives the ref the power to dictate the game. And how many refs do you really trust?

Fourth really infuriating thing? Much as we sometimes loathe them, arguing with the ref is JUST NOT RIGHT. Shut up, accept the decision and play on. You never see a rugby player harassing the ref. So undignified.

If we had more rugby-style morality and rules in football, the players might be more popular and the game have a little more credibility. As things stand most people when asked about Premier League players say they are spoilt, overpaid and generally not very nice (apart from Frank Lampard that is, cue picture of Super Frank).images-1
Rant over. Enjoy the end of the football season. And next year, watch a bit more rugby.

As my father-in-law always says: “Rugby is a game for yobs played by gentlemen, football is a game for gentlemen played by yobs.”

The 50 year old teenagers

Never mind 40 being the new 30, it seems 50 is the new 15.
A few nights ago I went out with some friends. They bought along a couple I had never met. They were my age (in fact possibly even older) but spent the entire evening kissing, touching and feeding each other bits of raw fish. It will come as no surprise to you that they were not married. In fact they have only known each other a few months and were clearly at that early romantic stage I have a dim and distant memory of.
Another friend has recently decided that rather than stay at home with her husband, she wants to go out partying, drinking and dancing. If the evening ends with a snog from a relative stranger so much the better. And another friend who is almost fifty has just married a 20 year old.imgres-1
The one thing all these people have in common is that they have no children, well apart from the man who just married one.
I have often wondered what the effect of not having children is and I guess one is a certain reluctance to grow up. I am not being critical, not growing up sounds like much more fun than being responsible and dull, but I wonder how long it can go on for? Do you suddenly look in the mirror and realise that dancing to house music when you’re 60 just looks insane?
My husband was telling me about a friend of his the other day who is single and has never had any children. His main aim in life seems to be to get tables in London restaurants where there is a huge waiting list. “I guess that’s the difference,” said my husband. “I’ve got a perfectly good table at home.”
Maybe if you don’t have children your priorities are totally different. Things like restaurants and parties and luxury holidays all become very exciting (and obtainable). As well as giving you more financial freedom, I think in some ways not having children gives you the freedom to be whatever age you want to be. I have a childless relation who is able to get away with dressing and looking like a woman in her mid-fifties, whereas her real age is 30 years older. If I try to dress like Olivia and Bea when I am 85 I will just look like a nutter, and they will be the first to tell me so.
Which brings me to my final point, having children is a great leveller. There is no one in the world who will bring you back down to earth quite so quickly if you even try to act like a teenager. Because that’s their job, not yours.

A cure for cancer? Get on with it please…

Last night I dreamt that Petr Cech had cancer. Most you won’t know who he is, and there’s no reason why you should unless you’re a football fan. He is Chelsea’s brilliant goalkeeper, has been since 2004.For some reason I was with him when he discovered he was ill, and we were busy discussing what he should be cremated in. We opted for his green goalkeeping strip (with underwear, as opposed to my father below). I wept hysterically throughout the whole dream, I just couldn’t imagine life (or Chelsea) without him. imgres
On waking I realised that there are probably three main reasons I had this nightmare.
First, my father has just died, so death and cremation are at the forefront of my mind. Second, I watched another Chelsea hero, Juan Mata, playing in a red Manchester United shirt for the first time last night. It was a little bit like watching an old boyfriend you are still in love with kissing another girl. So there’s the losing a key player link. Third, my girls told me the tragic news yesterday of a first former at their school who has lung cancer. She starts chemo today and is 11 years old.
This is just about the saddest thing I have ever heard. One day you’re a little girl roaming around the glorious grounds of your school wondering who you’re playing in Wednesday’s Lacrosse match and the next you’re in hospital, terrified, in grave pain and danger. I just can’t imagine what she and her parents must be going through today and will go through for the next few months. It really is one of those things that puts everything else in perspective. Apparently cancer in children is particularly violent. How bloody cruel is that? What a hideous, nasty twist.
I have read encouraging things about finding a cure for cancer and of course some people are cured. I can’t understand why there isn’t a tax levied on all businesses for example to raise more money for research. Where the hell does all that VAT go for example? Would we resent paying it if we knew it was going to help children with terminal illnesses?
If you’re moved by this little girl’s plight, please click on this link and donate http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/support-us/donate.

Just remember it could be you sitting in a hospital next to your child today and not as you are at your desk reading this.

Ciao bello….

I was slightly surprised that my aunt was up so early. It was half past eight and normally she doesn’t surface until around ten. I had been up since seven watching the Chelsea game from the night before, which I missed as I was in the hospital with my father.
I had stayed for several hours, talking to him about everything from Bach to my children and football. He was, as my aunt had warned me, “closer to death than to life”. There were flashes of him, but mostly he just lay there, breathing heavily, eyes closed, moaning and now and again yelling “Ostia!” 523931_466908883349736_884495519_n

So I chatted on. I told him at one stage that he’d been a wonderful father, and he opened his eyes almost in shock. I suppose the fact that I didn’t see him between the ages of two and 12 might preclude him from the category of ‘really good dad’. Also his method of fathering would not meet with universal approval. To him the most important thing was that I could speak five languages and quote Dante, he didn’t really care if I ate my greens or had casual sex.
Next door to my father in another bed was a man my aunt called “il mostro“. It is true he was not attractive. He didn’t say much, but now and again shouted out “mamma” to which his ever-present and ever-patient wife would respond: “No I’m not your mother, I’m your wife.” She repeated this sentence with the same regularity that she repeated one other. “Let’s hope Napoli won.” I felt terribly sorry for my father. Not only was he bed-ridden and in pain, but he had a couple of Naples fans next door, one uglier than the other. I could just imagine the abuse they would have received if he had been able to speak.
“This isn’t real,” I told him. “You’re not here. You’re at La Scala, we’re about to see Don Giovanni and at the moment you’re reciting Dante to some beautiful unsuspecting woman. ‘Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice nella miseria….’” There I had to stop, because even though he has recited this canto to me thousands of times, I couldn’t remember any more. I felt I had let him down. “You’ll have to finish it,” I told him. He looked at me and clutched my hand. “Let’s hope Napoli won,” said the monster’s wife.
When my aunt knocked on my door yesterday morning I was still in my underwear. I had got distracted after the football by the Australian Open. She was fully dressed. I was about to ask her a question I had been thinking about all morning. Could we take some nail scissors and cut my father’s eyebrows? They were really unwieldy. And as I know he likes to shave them off and send them to his enemies I figured we could pop them straight into an envelope and put them under il mostro‘s pillow. I didn’t mention the eyebrow stuff, partly because this is a joke he shares with my children and she would not have understood, but mainly because I didn’t have the chance to open my mouth before she hugged me and said “He’s dead. He waited to see you and then he died. If you want to know what love means, it is that.”24598_101777316529563_3127801_n
To be honest I still don’t really know how his death will affect me, because even though I have met countless people who keep telling me they’re sorry, and I’ve been to the funeral parlour and I’ve met the doctor who treated him and I’ve even seen his body, it just doesn’t seem real that he’s gone. Forever. That’s it. Finito Benito as my father would say. To me he just doesn’t seem to be gone if that makes sense.
He is now lying in state like Stalin (whom he once played in a film). Unlike the other dead there who all have pictures of themselves aged about 80, my father has adopted the columnist’s trick of using a picture from about 50 years ago. So instead of looking like some old codger, he looks like a cross between a young Richard Burton and a less gay Burt Lancaster.24238_108594169181211_1327112_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends and relations are invited to come and pay their respects until tomorrow when he is driven to the crematorium in Ravenna. When the funeral director told my aunt that was where it was she told him that Benedetto would be so pleased, because it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 to 476. The funeral director nodded and looked sympathetic.
“Take a card,” he said, I suspect in an effort to change the subject.
“I’d prefer not to,” said my aunt.
I am on my way to England where I have the difficult task of breaking the news to the children. The girls especially were really close to him, they loved his zany ways and crazy imagination. No one could make them laugh like he could. I’m just so happy they all saw him as I want to remember him, sitting on a rock in a beautiful garden close to Rome reciting Dante.
In life as in death my father did as he wanted. I believe he decided when to die, and I guess that makes it easier to bear.
He has one last act of rebellion too. We forgot to bring his underwear. So although he is dressed in his Sunday best, he’ll be heading to the crematorium commando.
He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

The (original) Wolf of Wall Street

Last night we went to see The Wolf of Wall Street. I had a conference call at 10pm our time so was trying to work out what time the film would end. In the rest of the world it is three hours long. Here it is two hours and twenty minutes.
“Why such a difference?” I asked Rupert as we pulled into the car park. images
Yep, you guessed it. Censors. Sadly we realised too late.
And while the length was good for my business commitment, it was not good for the film. It was a mess. Several scenes made no sense. Several sentences were mangled as the censors tried to block out every single f*** (547 of them apparently). We felt robbed. And I knew there was more to it than what we had just seen. Partly because I’ve seen the trailer, but also because I know one of the Wall Street types the film portrays.
Brad, as I will call him, was at Durham University with me. He is American and immediately acquired a certain reputation as “loud”. Loud is an understatement. This boy could (and often did) wake up the entire city of Durham, roaming the streets in the early hours singing (and I use that term loosely) ‘you’ve got to FIGHT for your RIGHT to PAAARRRTTYYYYY’. He was my best boyfriend. And I mean boy friend. We share a birthday and, back then, we both had an overwhelming desire to party. Hard to believe I know, but I was wild in those days. Although not as wild as Brad. One of his most famous party tricks was to put his BMW on cruise control, tell me to steer, open the sunroof, climb out and then climb back in again through the window. All on the motorway, going at 90 miles an hour, in the freezing North-Eastern winter. He was also the only student I ever met who thought nothing of showing up at a party with a crate of champagne. My kind of guy. Where did he get the money to buy champagne? He convinced his parents back in the US that Thresher’s was the student book shop.
Sadly after just one fun-filled year he was thrown out of university. I missed him terribly, as did Thresher’s. He went to Wall Street and became even wilder. I remember visiting him, well actually I don’t remember that much of the visit, but there were stretch limos involved and I did feel like I was in a film. On another visit I was rather surprised to stumble over his pet alligator on the landing.
Brad never stopped fighting for his right to party. He also made a lot of money. But once Jordan Belfort gave the FBI and the SEC access to his little black book, the party was over.
Brad is fine, after a few rather harrowing years fighting for his right to stay out of jail. But one thing is certain, even now his life has a lot more spice than the version of the film I saw last night. I just hope he gets his passport back one day so his goddaughter Bea can finally meet him. Although she might quite like a trip to the US…

Wish List for 2014

Now that New Year is finally over, it’s time to look forward to the rest of 2014. Bea, for example, has compiled a ‘Wish List’ with the item on it and a little box to tick when it has been fulfilled. For those of you wishing to do the same I have scanned it. Scan
As you will see, she already has two of the five items on it. Not bad considering it’s only January 10th.
On my wish list I might have a few more than five items. Obviously the bubble wrap calendar would be number one, but after that I might wish that women in Saudi Arabia would be granted the right to drive, or that girls in India could live their lives without fear of gang rape and murder. In fact why limit that to India? I would also wish that some miraculous peace reigned in Syria and all those languishing in jail there (especially the children) would be freed. Although it is hard to imagine what kind of homes they have left to go to.
Once my world problems wish list had been completed I could move on to more personal matters, such as losing three kilos, and writing a best-selling book. High on that list would be that the children are happy at school. I know that top of Leo’s wish list (even before world peace and human rights for all) would be me living in Surrey two minutes from Woodcote so he could be a day boy, and sometimes that figures on my wish list too. But we spoke to him last night and he was very happy. Unbeaten at pool and six goals in the hockey match.
I hope whatever you wish for in 2014 comes true. My advice is to start small, with a list like Bea’s, most of which can be obtained online. Happy New Year!

New Year? Bah! Humbug!

As my final day of drinking alcohol, eating chocolate and refusing to exercise begins, I have been reflecting on how dull New Year’s Eve really is. Not only because you only have a few hours to do a lot of things you like doing such as sipping champagne and eating Bendick’s Bittermints, but the actual ritual of it is just SO tedious.
When I was a teenager I often spent Christmas and New year in Rimini with my father and grandmother. Mainly as she was very old and every year, for about 15 years, we thought it might be her last Christmas.
One New Year’s Eve, as I hotfooted it off to the local nightclub (an amazing place called Il Paradiso, I think it’s still there), my father was getting ready for bed.
“Are you mad?” I asked him. “It’s 9 o’clock. It’s New Year’s Eve! You can’t go to bed!”
He looked at me in my pink satin hot-pants and glittery T-shirt. “You’re the one who’s mad. Nothing is quite such a waste of time as partying.”imgres
Last night I had a similar conversation with my teenage daughter, who is also utterly astounded that I plan to spend this evening at home. She asked me what time she has to be back. I suggested around 1am, which I thought was incredibly generous.
“What?? That only gives me an hour to party after midnight?” she screeched. “The party finishes at 3am.”
I have spent far too many New Year’s Eves looking longingly at the clock on the wall, feeling like I’m in a double maths lesson as the hands inch agonisingly slowly towards midnight. And then once midnight has happened you can’t just get up and leave, that would be rude. No, you have to stay around and chat about the coming year, but without a drink because obviously your resolutions have just kicked in.
Yesterday I spoke to a friend who is also planning to go get an early night tonight. “I mean I can see the point if there’s someone you’re trying to snog at midnight, but otherwise why stay up?” she said.
I agree. So at least three people will be in bed before the clock strikes midnight tonight; my friend Jemma, my father and me.
Whatever you chose to do, have a lovely evening. And don’t feel guilty for saying no to copious New Year’s Eve celebrations. You will be in good company.

Happy Birthday to me…

Tomorrow is my birthday. The older I get, the less obvious birthdays become. When you’re a child they’e something you yearn for and look forward to and you just know the whole day will be special and involve everyone around you doing exactly what you want them to do. Or at least what they think you want them to do. For me it used to be lucnh at a Little Chef with a Knickerbocker Glory for pudding . I was an extremely sophisticated child. Whatever else, it’s slightly beyond your control. imgres
As you get older, the whole thing gets more complicated. First of all getting older when you’re in your forties is not something one greets with the same unadulturated joy as one did aged eight. And then there’s the awful dilemma of what to do to make the day in any way memorable, especially if, as in my case this year, it falls on a Monday. Not exactly the sexiest day of the week, or the most convenient for a party.
I also have the added pressure of the children saying they will spend the day with me, which is lovely of them but makes me feel I somehow have to make sure they have a good time or they will refuse ever to come again.
My husband keeps asking me what I want to do for my birthday and I keep trying to REALLY visualise what my ideal day would be, but it’s impossible. OK so a long, boozy lunch on the beach might be nice, but then I’ll just feel like crap all afternoon. Or maybe a massage but then I have three children waiting around for me to finish. I suppose I could start the day watching the Ashes and hope for an Australian collapse as a present?
Happily this is not a ‘milestone’ birthday because I can’t even begin to contemplate the sort of life-changing day I would need to arrange for that. My father’s attitude to birthdays is much like his attitude to New Year’s Eve; ignore it and get an early night.
I won’t do that, well I might get an early night, but I won’t be ignoring it. Whatever else I do I can at least use the ‘it’s my birthday’ line to get the children to stop fighting, maybe play some tennis and carry me home after lunch.