To board or not to board…?

People (mainly other mothers) are always asking me how I feel about the fact that we sent the children away to school. They have now been at boarding school for a year and a half and I’m still not really sure what I think of it all. Having never been to boarding school, it was not one of those things I was adamant I wanted to do, although I could see the benefits and was jealous of my friends who went.

It all started with a bike ride. Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, returned from a bicycle ride with the realisation that he no longer loved his wife and told her that they must separate. My husband returned from cycling in the Languedoc hills two summers ago with a similar epiphany, although his concerned the children, not me. “We must send the children to boarding school,” he said, before going upstairs for a shower.

When a man comes back from a bike ride with something to say, one is forced to listen and, sometimes, even to act. In fact, our children’s education had been worrying me too.

We had been based in Abu Dhabi for six years by then and I felt there was something missing from their lives. One of our friends from France summed it up when he came to stay by saying that Olivia was “running on empty”. There just wasn’t enough to stimulate them in Abu Dhabi, at least not in terms of education. I still don’t believe that a school that finishes at 2.30 pm can possibly be teaching them enough. Added to which, it was expensive. And as we were spending our own money we decided we would rather spend it on something more worthwhile.IMG_1590

As I said they have now been boarding for a year and a half. There is no doubting the benefits. All of them have flourished. Leo has developed into a gorgeous little gentleman and already knows more than I do about just about everything. He has captained his school football and cricket teams. Bea has turned out to be a school superstar, with great grades and masses of extra-curricular activities such as the school play, musical theatre and netball to mention a few. Olivia has become a lovely, confident and capable young lady, who is on track to do really well in her GCSEs this year and has made friends I think she will know forever.

There are so many upsides; the education (obviously), the people they meet, the things they do (Leo’s school just raised money for Afghanistan by reading poetry for 24 hours in a tree-house, nuts I know, but what a lovely romantic idea), the sport they play, the values they learn, the bonds they make. But what are the downsides?IMG_1962

I suppose the biggest one is that I miss them. OK I won’t pretend to miss the everyday drudgery of the school run, the homework, and the endless bickering. But I do miss not seeing them every day and not kissing them goodnight. The girls are much better at keeping in touch with me than Leo, so we skype or talk every day and I love hearing their news, but sometimes I won’t hear from him for ten days, which is tough. I rely on texts from another mother to know how he got on in his football matches. And of course I wake up in the middle of the night wondering how he is.

The truth is of course, he’s fine. He’s more than fine. If he weren’t fine I would hear about it. We have had some bouts of homesickness from all three and I can confirm the saying about boarding school that ‘you’re only as happy as your most miserable child’. A year and a half in though they are all pretty settled and I think would be horrified at the thought of going back to school in Abu Dhabi.

I suppose the reason I say I’m not sure what I think about it is that although I know it’s the best thing for them, it may not be the best thing for me. And I still can’t help wondering if we are all missing out on family life. Having said that I worked out the other day that they have five months at home so we do have plenty of time together as well.

I don’t think there always is a right or a wrong when it comes to children. Maybe there is just a middle ground that works and for the moment this is it.

In search of a satchel

Any mother (no, not fathers in my personal experience) of children going off to boarding school will know that after the stress of saying goodbye to the little loves, the next most stressful thing is the dreaded LIST of belongings they can take. This includes everything from a (named) lice comb to underwear (in Leo’s case, only white allowed) to duvet covers, wellington boots and that’s before you’ve even started on the uniform.
On Leo’s list this year was a satchel. It had to be black, and it had to be a satchel, not a backpack, or a briefcase. I can’t tell you how hard it is to find a good old-fashioned black satchel. At least for less than 200 quid. Finally I stumbled across a website called George Isaac Satchels. There it was, the PERFECT satchel. Available in every colour, even pink! I was suddenly transported back to an era of Enid Blyton and bad pub food. Ideal. So I ordered the satchel in what I thought was enough time, ten days before the start of term.10584034_430689887069509_6160658568260076944_n
Term began and there was no sign of the satchel. I called the company, got an answer machine. I emailed, no reply. Happily Leo was so involved in the beginning of the football season he didn’t really mind.
Another week passed. Still no news. I emailed again. It’s on its way I was told. They are handmade in London so can take up to 20 days. Should be there this week. The week came and went, still no sign of the satchel.
“It’s an internet scam,” thundered my husband. “You fool.”
“I do really need my satchel,” said Leo when I saw him at his first football match.
I wrote again. A reply came back from Joanna saying she would check the tracking order as soon as she was back from hospital.
I asked her if she was all right. “Yes fine, just having my chemo.”
So, as it turns out George Isaac Satchels is far from an internet scam. Joanna set up the business to raise money for the Wessex Cancer Trust. So if any of you need a satchel, or even a handbag (see pic) then I can highly recommend them.10650014_453198214818676_5739416338499512332_n
Just be sure to order in plenty of time…

The end of topless sur la plage?

A few days ago we went on a family picnic to a lake close to our home in the south of France. After a rather pleasant lunch of saucisson, baguette and brie washed down with rosé wine, my husband and I left the children to play while we took a stroll around the lake. At one point we came across a woman lying flat on her back wearing nothing but black bikini bottoms and a pink towel covering her head. Even without seeing her face you could tell she was of a certain age. We immediately stopped chatting and tiptoed past her. In part, we didn’t want to wake her up, but there was also the feeling that we were intruding on something private, almost something we shouldn’t be seeing. It struck me then how rare it is to see a pair of boobs on display in France, at least from a woman below the age of 50.
The magazine French Elle, know as ‘the bible’ here, ran an article last month heralding La Fin Du Topless Sur La Plage? – Is this the end of topless bathing on the beach? The magazine concluded that yes it is, and that only two per cent of women under the age of 35 now sunbathe topless.images
When we first moved to the south of France in 2000 there was still quite a lot of topless sunbathing on the beaches but nowadays, letting it all hang out is no longer de rigueur. Why is this?
In the sixties, Brigitte Bardot led the way in St Tropez. It was the sexual revolution and French women’s breasts were at the forefront. Bardot topless on the beach was synonymous with equality. Wearing a monokini was a sign of liberation, freedom of choice and youth. Now it has become the opposite.
“For a French woman today, not showing her breasts is a sign of liberation,” says Chantal, a 28-year old accountant I meet on the beach at Espiguette Plage, close to Montpellier in the South of France. “The fact that we can cover up, that we don’t need to display everything shows we are in charge of our own bodies, that we decide who sees what, and when they see it.”
This sentiment is echoed by her friend Justine, a 30-year old bank clerk, who adds that the shift in attitude has in part been brought about by the proliferation of porn on the Internet. Breasts on the beach are no longer the innocent manifestation of a social and sexual revolution; they have been somehow tarnished by the porn industry. If you expose your breasts, you are cheap. Or rather nudity has become cheap, at least in public.
“It is women who are forced to work in this disgusting industry who have to show their breasts. Educated career women do not,” she says. “The female body has been stolen by the porn industry, which uses it as it pleases. By covering up we are saying that we will not be part of this debasing of women. We are making a stand.”
Needless to say both Chantal and Justine are wearing bikini bottoms and tops. I ask them where they bought them from. Monoprix says Chantal, Eres says Justine. As with a lot of things in France, fashion plays a big part. Eres is an exclusive French swimwear and lingerie house that claims its products are “body architecture”. And it’s tough to have much influence on a body with just a pair of skimpy bikini bottoms. I am sure there is an element of fashion behind French women’s reluctance to get display their boobs. As Julie, a 32-year old French friend of mine who lives in Montpellier says: “Going topless would seem very 1970s, rather like having hairy armpits and wearing flares.”
The trend to cover up seems to have affected more than just the nation’s beaches. Ségolène Royal, former presidential candidate and now Minister for Ecology, recently tried to force women to cover up in her government ministry by declaring a ban on the famous French décolleté, or low neckline. Her argument was that they were to work not to show off their assets. She didn’t succeed, because even if a French woman doesn’t want to show her boobs, no one has the right to take away her liberty to do so. Royal was forced to make a public retraction on twitter.
How much the covering up on the beach is influenced by the fashion houses wanting to sell two bits of material for vast amounts of dosh as opposed to one is hard to say, but the union-style mentality is still extremely obvious in France. When Bardot got her boobs out in the Sixties a whole nation of women followed. Now a whole nation of women have put their boobs back in. During my day on the beach, the only French women I saw sunbathing topless looked like they’d been there during the sexual revolution. The others were German and heavily tattooed. And there is nothing seductive about them at all.
“Sunbathing topless makes you look old and unfashionable,” says Manon, a 34-year old graphic designer from Montpellier. “It’s the sort of thing my mother did. I never have. It makes you look old and at the same time it’s very ageing. The skin on your breasts is very delicate and sun exposure is not good for it.”
Health is one of the biggest factors driving French women to cover up. For a nation of Gauloise-smoking, coffee drinking rebels this too is a new trend. “It has become very retro to sunbathe, topless or not,” says Claire, a 38-year-old French friend of mine who lives in the Aquitaine region of France. “Everyone now knows the damage the sun does to your skin. I wear sun screen every day, even in the winter, and most of my friends do too. There is nothing more ageing than all that crinkly skin on your décolleté.”
Despite their reputation for smoking and drinking coffee, you only have to walk into a French pharmacy to see how seriously French women take their health and the effect it has on their looks. Almost three-quarters of the shelves are stocked with lotions and potions for slimmer legs, firmer buttocks and clear skin, magical cures that may or may not work but certainly sell well. If there is one thing they know about, it’s how to make the best of themselves; and it seems they have come to the conclusion that being almost naked in public is not a good look. As Claire says: “It is quite rare to see any under forties here sunbathing topless unless they are German, Dutch or ‘daring’ British. Elegant French women tend to be quite understated fashion-wise and we think pretty and strategically-placed fabric is far more alluring than flabby flesh. I have never sunbathe topless in public mainly for this reason, but also because of the damage the sun does.”
French women are programmed to seduce, and French women find undressing for a lover (or being undressed) much more seductive than showing up naked. Why take away all the mystery and allure? In this instance less is not more. It’s all about the joy of slowly opening the package, peeling back the layers to discover the prize within. “No man will be bothered to seduce you if you give him everything on a plate, they want to have the fun of the game, even if they know you’re a sure thing,” says Julie. “My husband still enjoys removing my underwear, even after ten years of marriage and two children. And I love playing the game with him, it keeps our marriage alive. ”
Clothes are there to make men think about removing them, to make them imagine what lies beneath and the promise of untold pleasures and beauty if they could just get there. As the author of the French classic book Bonjour Tristesse Françoise Sagan said: “A dress makes no sense unless it inspires a man to take it off you.”
As I leave Espiguette Plage I spot an attractive blonde woman sunbathing topless. I see she is reading a book in French. Have I found the only remaining French topless sunbather under 50? No, she tells me, she’s Swiss.

In Search of Charm

We are staying with some lovely friends in France at the moment where I have come across a brilliant, and indispensable, book. It is called In Search of Charm and was written by a lady called Mary Young in 1962.imgres

We are told in the blurb that Mary is the “Principal of the Mary Young Model School and Agency in London and the organizer and chief instructress of courses on poise, dress and personality”. It goes on to say that in her book, Mary “shows how to set about becoming that charming young woman you would like to be”.

My girls and I looked through it and were horrified to find that we have spent our entire lives walking into a room THE WRONG WAY. I quote: “The secret of a good entrance is to come in without commotion, closing the door behind you with both arms behind you so that you are looking into the room. The picture is even more attractive if you slide yourself into the middle of the door so that you are ‘framed’ as it were.”

We have now spent hours perfecting the entrance, as Olivia demonstrates, Mary would be proud of us. We’re still working on the exit.IMG_1850
Another top tip from Mary is how to walk up stairs. “Young woman, you should go up those stairs like a bird in flight, lightly, daintily, with feet dead straight and treading on the ball of the foot only.” Easy peasy unless you’re carrying armfuls of laundry or firewood.
Mary covers many more topics, such as hands and feet. “Did you know,” she writes, “that neglected hands can undermine your confidence?” And “Do you know that your feet should be scrubbed with soap and water and rinsed in cold water every morning and every night, and in fact as often as is convenient?”

Other subjects include personality, voice and laughter, etiquette, and even how to maintain a perfectly charming figure through her “three-fold attack” which is essential reading. First point is to “use the body in all its normal everyday activities beautifully and correctly. Second is “eat to live” and NOT the other way round. Third is “exercising, but in particular becoming an enthusiastic walker, and breathing deeply and rhythmically”.

Obviously a lot of the advice Mary gives (especially pertaining to the length of gloves we should all be wearing) is outdated. But I thought it was a fascinating insight into just how much you can do yourself to create a good impression. As Coco Chanel said “There are no ugly women, just lazy women.” And although Mary (and Coco) belong to a different era, I don’t think it does young ladies like my girls any harm at all to read about the importance of posture, manners and clean nails. I’m not sure why these things are no longer viewed as important, but they don’t seem to be. And actually they really can make a difference. I thought one of her best lines was the following: “Do you realise that in the sum total of your appearance one wrong or uncared for item can ruin the whole?” Now where did I put my gloves…?

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


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

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

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.