Roaming emotions

This morning on the treadmill at the gym I suddenly found myself in tears watching a concert on Arte of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet.

It has been a morning like most others, everyone is fine, and this afternoon we have a press trip to Atlantis to look forward to with the children, followed by free dinner. Which would normally make me extremely happy. So what was it? A sudden, terrible longing for culture? Deep-rooted memories linked to that particular ballet, which I can’t remember? Or maybe the fact that I had another 20 minutes to go on the treadmill….?

Whatever it was, the music was astoundingly beautiful, if you have time, listen to it today. But keep your tissues handy.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Two of my favourite things…

So my Zeldafication begins in earnest on Tuesday when I go to an advanced adult ballet class with our lovely new lodger Una, who was at ballet school until she was 14. Yes I know that I am not advanced, but did that ever stop Zelda? So wish me luck.

Meanwhile if you have a moment please sign this petition to save a library in Montpellier. I had this email from a friend yesterday and said I would do all I can to help: ‘The Anglophone Library (formerly called American Library) here was abruptly closed by the university Paul Valery in January. A group of us are trying to save the books( 30,000) as the university was planning on putting them in boxes and storing them. We are hoping that a new venue will be found for them and have a lot of backing, including that of George Frèche, but we’ve been advised to build as big a support base as possible. One of the things we’ve done is to put a petition online and if we get signatures of stars that gives us even more credibility. Now I know there was at least one of your books in the library, because I read it, so your name would be very significant. If you feel the cause is good, here’s the link :’

Dancing and reading are the two things we Zeldas most appreciate…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

New Year, new name….

One of the results of making friends with my aunt again is that I am back in the will. I hasten to add that I am only back in the will because she tried to leave her money to my children, bypassing me, but was told they would have to pay inheritance tax. Now my aunt may hate me, but she hates the tax man even more. So back in the will I am.

On one condition; that I add the name Benedetti to mine.

I have always rather liked the name Benedetti and so have no objections to doing this. In fact I have for many years felt not only cheated of my birthright (inheritance from my grandfather which my father blew), but also my roots and Italian family. So it was in cheery spirits that I sat down in front of my laptop to rectify the mishaps of my parents on the deedpoll website.

It suddenly occurred to me as I sat there filling in my new name that I have also always felt rather cheated when it came to my christian name. I only have one. Everyone else I know has at least two, if not three. Some spoilt brats even have four. But I have only ever had Helena. How mean was that?

Never one to let a bargain go I thought ‘why not add another Christian name while I’m here?’ I mean it still costs the same and I may never have the chance again.

Now all that was left to decide was the name. I did not ponder for long. Emily briefly crossed my mind, after my heroine Emily Bronte. Alice is another favourite. But the name that hit me, stronger than any, was that of my favourite (ageing) ballet dancer come literary wife come writer come party girl: the audacious and glorious Zelda Fitzgerald.

So I am now Helena Zelda Benedetti Frith Powell. And not at all eccentric. Now where did I put my pointe shoes….?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Everything you always wanted to know about the environment…..

….but were afraid to ask is in this excellent film: Watch it, it is compelling and very scary. Added to which the filming is stunning.

I am in Paris which has to be the most lovely city on earth. I came over the interview the designer Agnes b. She is lovely; warm, friendly and fun. She has five children and 14 grandchildren, as well as hundreds of clothes shops across the globe, art galleries, a boat that does environmental research and several restaurants. And she’s going to direct a film (which she wrote) next year. Talk about multi-tasking.

Tomorrow we head back to London and then home to Abu Dhabi on Sunday. I leave you with a less depressing image than the above film. Leonardo the King making his world cyber ballet debut. Have a lovely weekend.


How much ballet can you see in one day?

The answer is a lot. Yesterday I took the day off work, collected the children from school at midday and went off to see the Bolshoi rehearse Giselle at the Emirates Palace Hotel. It was wonderful. The director was shouting instructions in Russian and all the dancers were wearing their cool training kit. The quality of dancing was astounding. Olivia and Leo loved it, sadly Bea declared that ballet is her “worst thing” and it was “the worst day of her life”.

All that changed for Bea when we got to the Cultural Foundation for a production of Angelina Ballerina by the English National Ballet. The dancers were dressed as mice, which must make dancing very tricky, and it was very sweet if you are keen on dancing mice. I was pleased to hear Olivia say to a friend that it wasn’t a patch on Giselle, and not surprised when Bea declared the ballet dancers “better than the Bolshoi”. They will be pleased.


Fast forward to the evening and Olivia and I are all dressed up, waiting for the actual performance of Giselle to begin. she was the most charming date; kept telling me how happy she was and how beautiful I am. We were both entranced by the first act but sadly by the second she had started to flag. She saw the glorious entrance of the corps de ballet and then crashed out. I followed soon after. It was brilliant and I loved it but I just could not stay awake. I am wondering if I can sneak in this evening just to see the second act.
I guess even for the most ardent balletomane there is only so much you can take in during one day….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Tomorrow, tomorrow….

When I was little I wanted to be an actress. “You don’t want to do that,” my mother said. “It’s just a lot of waiting around.” Yesterday I saw just how much waiting around is involved.

I took the girls to audition for the musical Annie in Dubai. We got there at 10am sharp as we’d been told to do and joined a queue. Two hours later we were still in said queue. Then we were finally allocated numbers and told we had another two hours to wait. Maybe that’s why the most famous song in the show is called ‘Tomorrow’.


“We quit,” said the girls, ripping off their sticky numbers. I am normally quite a determined type, but four hours of waiting to be told they haven’t got the lead part seemed a little excessive, even for an ambitious mother like me.
So we headed to a party on the beach. Much more fun. We danced and ate and drank and ran up and down the beach carrying pink balloons. The girls looked lovely in their Monsoon sale kit. One advantage of the credit crunch is that 70 per cent off is the new black.

As I gazed at the moon while listening to 80s pop music and sipping champagne, I reflected that Noel Coward was right. “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington,” he said. Sound advice. Which my mother followed and I am beginning to see the wisdom of.

Of course this does not apply to ballet. On Wednesday the girls will be performing their “Arabic dance” at a theatre in Abu Dhabi. I am hoping the only queuing will be from the eager public…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Expat Children Syndrome

One of the things I noticed about coming back to Abu Dhabi was how much more settled (and nicer) the children are being. It seems to me that going home to Sainte Cecile and realising it is all still there and not about to go away has made them more settled.

It is hardly surprising they were fraught by the time we got here. We had left home in June, travelled around Europe and then landed in August in the hottest place in the world which was totally unfamiliar to them (apart from the odd oasis like M&S).

Apparently there is a phrase for this unsettled (and unsettling) behaviour. It is called ‘Expat Children’s Syndrome’ and it is the subject of my next article. So any views you have or experiences of children behaving badly which you think could be the result of moving abroad, please let me know.


Meanwhile I am delighted to report that the girls have joined a new ballet class (with the most stunning Russian ballerina teacher) and are going twice a week. They will start piano twice a week soon too. Leo has football three times a week and is mad about it. Rather like his father telling me about his rounds of golf he insists on talking me through every match, very sweet.

So not much time for them to suffer from Expat Children’s Syndrome.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Sunday is the new Monday

""Proof, if it was needed, that my neural pathways are well and truly blocked comes from the fact that I am finding it impossible to get my head around Sunday being Monday. Today (Monday), for example, feels like Tuesday and I woke up thinking about all the things I am doing Tuesday. Because yesterday (Sunday) I was in the office.

When I first realised my week was about to start a day earlier I just thought ‘oh that’s fine, it’s a day earlier, I’ll easily cope with that’. But no. I am like a senile old person constantly having to ask people what day it is and wondering if tomorrow will be a work day or the weekend.

That’s the other complicating factor. Friday is the new Sunday. And Saturday is like, well, Saturday at home.

Good news from Leo. He declared his day at school yesterday “much more better” but still misses his teacher from home and of course Louis or Los as he writes his name. But he does have a friend, a Canadian boy called Oscar who also showed up in tears yesterday so they bonded, especially after they were told they have “the right” to speak English together by Leo’s teacher. His ballet class went very well, he showed me the moves last night and I think he’s a shoe-in for the Royal Ballet School.

The girls start their ballet tomorrow (Tuesday) and not today as I was convinced when I woke up this morning and prepared their kit. I can’t wait. I have also signed up for a class called vertical flex dancing – yes I had to ask what it was as well……Heaven knows what day of the week it is on, but I have until September 30th to work it out.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

How low can you go?

I am hoping I have hit the low point. After yet another night of no sleep, a bean-bag exploding all over Amanda’s flat and no response from my high-powered contact, I was told the ballet class I wanted the girls to go to was full. I did what any normal balletomane would do and burst into tears, then I thought about calling Etihad and arranging flights back to France. But decided against it due to the fact that the ballet class there is probably full as well.

Then a knight in shining armour appeared in my inbox. It’s amazing how emails can change your life. He is involved in property in Abu Dhabi and had read my tale of woe in the Sunday Times. I am not going to say too much about it for fear of jinxing it, but the flat is perfect, the location divine and the rent, although astronomical, totally normal for here.

An hour or so later I had a call. “Madame Helena? This is the Expressions of Dance studio,” said a friendly voice. “Are you still interested in your girls joining the Grade I ballet class. We have two places.”

“Interested?!!!” I leapt so high I hit my head on the roof of the taxi. It turns out one girl had pulled out, the head of the school didn’t want to offer a place to one sister and not the other so asked the ballet teacher if she would, just this once, take eleven girls instead of ten. She agreed. I love her. It seems ridiculous that something like a ballet class can change your whole outlook but it has.

You’ll be pleased to hear that Leo is starting too, on Sunday. His kit has been ordered, white leotard and blue shorts. But he too has hit a low point poor little love. After his first day of school I asked him how it went.

“It’s my worst school ever,” he told me. “I didn’t make any friends and they don’t speak English.”

"" He is sleeping peacefully as I write. When they all wake up we will take them to the Club where there are activities all day(it’s the weekend here) from Nintendo Wii (whatever that is) to cooking to tennis and bouncy castles. This is an amazing place for children and last night as I watched him and the girls play on the beach I thought that things must get better for him as well just as they have for me. Especially once he discovers ballet…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Move over Zelda

MoiWhen Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott) was 27 she took up ballet. Not in any casual way you understand, like someone of a certain age might take up golf, but obsessively. She became totally focused on a career as a ballerina, training for up to eight hours a day.

When I took the girls to ballet on Saturday and went into the little office at the dance school to discuss plans for the new school year when Leonardo will start, the school secretary suggested I should do a class too and then they’d have the whole family.

“Oh it’s too late for me,” I said, the unfortunate Zelda always being at the back of my mind (she died in an asylum).

“You’ve danced before haven’t you?” said Bea’s teacher who also happened to be in the room.

I nodded, unable to tell him that yes, I did once do a few evening classes in Kensal Rise, and have spent many happy hours jumping around pretending to be Margot Fonteyn, but that is about it.

“Well, it will all come back, you’ll see. Come Wednesday mornings when you bring the children.”

The matter was settled. I was unaccountably happy, I felt like I’d been given a huge diamond or been told that pink is indeed the new black, but I was also very nervous. How stupid will I look come September when I can’t even force my feet into fifth position. The image of Miss Piggy dancing with Rudolf Nureyev on the Muppet Show replaced poor Zelda.

Olivia suggested she give me a lesson to prepare me. We happen to have a ballet bar in the house (OK I may not actually have done much ballet but I can still obsess, can’t I?) and we spent an hour and a half prancing around. I thought I did OK. Olivia did not.

“Mummy, are you a robot?” she shouted at me on several occassions. “Mummy, I think you’ll be the worst in the class,” was her conclusion.

So it seems if I am to avoid humiliating myself and my children I will have to adopt a Zelda-style approach to this. Eight hours a day minimum. I’m not quite sure how I will do any work or the ironing or cook any meals. But maybe if I go as mad as Zelda did, I simply won’t care.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008