We are on holiday. I don’t know why we don’t spend more time on holiday, it is quite wonderful.

As soon as we got to our friends Norrie and Mary’s the children did what they long to do in Abu Dhabi bu can’t, ran through a lush green field. It was one of the happiest sights I have seen. I called the photo ‘Heaven’ but I sent it to my mother who came back with ‘Freedom’ which I think is better.

We had all talked about the first thing we were going to do when we got there was. Apart from running in the field, the children were going to see the rabbits. I was going to lie on the lawn, something I didn’t achieve until the end of the second day. It’s amazing how little you can get done on holiday, I have been trying to post a letter since I got here (sorry Jacques). But I have managed to swim (naked) in two rivers, play some good tennis, drink too much wine, watch Wimbledon and have a dreamy dinner in a candle-lit cave with old friends.

We are in the Languedoc where we are having a series of “one-nigh-stands” staying with my in-laws and friends. The children are also spending a night with Chantal and Gilbert. Chantal was our childminder right from when we first moved here in 2000 to the day we left in 2008. Apart from immediate family and close friends I can’t think of anyone who loves them more. It will be interesting to see how they communicate though as the children have resolutely refused to keep up their French and Chantal speaks not a word of English. I figure it will be a kind of language and love immersion and they will be fine. All that French must be there somewhere?

It is so nice to be back, and the good thing about only staying one night with people is they don’t get fed up with you. And traveling with three children there is always that danger. Although I would love to have had more time. It has been so nice watching the little ones recognise things, chatting to their grandparents (Leo and my father-in-law Peter had a lot of cricket talk to catch up on) and feeling so at home. It made me realise how important it is that we come back every year.

Next we head off to Italy to see my mother. It will be great to get there but I am not looking forward to the drive and the six million ‘are we there yets’ along the way.

But at least there will be green fields to run through when we eventually get there.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

A moving experience

Last time we moved, and I mean really moved, as opposed to leaving Sainte Cecile with a car full of belongings, I was eight months’ pregnant. Rupert had already gone on ahead to France to “prepare” the new house and I was left with Olivia to pack up our entire home.
Olivia, as you might imagine, was not much use. Aged just over one, her overriding interest was in getting in and out of the boxes I was trying to fill. It is a time of my life I prefer to forget, along with my night in Stoke Newington jail and being pick-pocketed at Victoria coach station (unrelated but unpleasant events).
Two weeks ago we moved house here in Abu Dhabi. At 9am on Friday morning (the day of the move) a team of seven men showed up to pack all our belongings. By 10pm on Saturday most of them were unpacked and in more or less the right place. I spent most of the time telling the removal men where to put things and meeting the neighbours.
Of course it was not totally stress-free; I lost my hairbrush, for example. Quelle horreur. But I didn’t unpack a single kitchen appliance, or even a glass wrapped in newspaper, which has to be a good thing.

The new house is lovely, a proper family villa, with a rent that, though astronomical, is low enough that we can live without lodgers. The house is in a small compound of ten villas, with a cobbled road up the middle, where the kids play endlessly. The other families have children too, some of whom mine have met before, so it has all worked out perfectly. Well, apart from one incident where Leo cycled straight out of the compound onto the main road without looking and could have been crushed by oncoming traffic. Thankfully he wasn’t, and there really isn’t much oncoming traffic, but he has been banned from the bike for a week.
I am not saying I want to move on a regular basis, but I am happy we did and that I have discovered that, when done properly, moving doesn’t have to be, as the saying goes, one of the three most stressful things in life, along with death and divorce.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Update on the girls

Much has happened. The girls went off to Italy to stay with my mother. Then they went to Croatia with my aunt. What happened between then and their week-early return yesterday is a little hazy. But according to my aunt they refused to speak to anyone and spoke only in Swedish to each other, thus ensuring no one else had the first clue of what was going on. They tell me my aunt was rude about “our family”, even questioning my ability to cook Spaghetti Carbonara. Imagine that….

They are now back with my mother (mormor) and jolly happy they are too, as you will see from baby Bea’s latest email:

Hej hej, mormor is very happy and she says she enjoys much more having us here then us beeing at piera’s and yesturday mormor said we could look at her postcards and in the middle of them i saw a pretty little book written Menu on and i said hey mormor look at this and then she said we could write the menu on some other paper and put it in the book because the paper in the book was hand made so that’s why today we are having a whole day of restaurant. Oh that must of been fun did everybody eat it ?
We also went to go and eat Pizza yesturday olivia got pizza with ham i don’t know what mormor got and i got the pizza with nothing inside and with rosmary i think it is on top. then we went to see the film we played in the park and we left mormor alone but if we wanted water we went and said can we please have water after when it was nearly finishe the film the man was talking so i ran to the park and i tripped on a rock and went flying then i hit my leg on something like the side thing on the sidewalk and then i got blud and a broose it really hurts when we got home mormor put cream on it and the cream was really cold but it was my fault because i shouldn’t of been running to the park that was silly. And mama on the boat it was going really fast and it was bumping around and water came on the windows the lights were moving it was so scary and while i was on it my legs would shake every second i wouldn’t stop and plus it was very cold and very hard to fall asleep im gonna stop writting now because my message is gonna blow
Lots of love bea

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

Back in the family fold

We are in Rome, which I have decided is my favourite city. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Rupert told the children as we landed. “It took two days.”

“That long?” said Leo. He’s obviously got too used to Abu Dhabi.

The day before yesterday the unimaginable happened. My aunt, who has not spoken to me since Ciao Bella came out, asked to meet us at Piazza di Spagna at midday. When I spoke to her it was like nothing had happened. Like she had never been upset by the memoir and we had been in constant touch over the past four years and not totally silent with any necessary messages passing through my long-suffering mother.

I slept badly the night before we met. I was nervous. I planned all our outfits (well maybe not Rupert’s). The morning of the meeting we spent in Trastevere discovering some hidden museums with real gems like frescoes by Raphael. Then we went to the botanical gardens. As we were leaving Leo spotted a fountain. “Take a picture of me,” he demanded. I did as he asked and watched in horror as he fell in.

So now we had half an hour to get him a new outfit (including new shoes) and get to Piazza di Spanga for the important reunion.
We raced to find a taxi and asked to be dropped off on Via del Corso where there is a Zara. Fifty euros later we were rushing towards the piazza when I suddenly remembered I was wearing trainers.

My aunt would probably not speak to me for another four years if she saw me wearing trainers away from a tennis court. Happily Rome is stuffed full of shoe shops. It took me about three minutes from spotting a fetching pair of suede boots in a window to running onwards to our meeting wearing them.

I got to Piazza di Spagna at 12.10, 10 minutes late. You can always rely on my aunt to be even later, so thankfully she was none the wiser.

I am happy to report that it all went even better than I expected. Maybe there is a lecture she is storing up for me but so far all I have had is praise for the wonderful children and affection. My uncle Bertrand is as lovely as he always was and the children are mad about them both. We had the most glorious time going to an exhibition of Roman paintings and today she took the children to the Roman Forum.

It is lovely to be back and I think I finally know where we will move to once our Arabian adventure is over. But I will keep Leo away from the fountains.

Leo and Bea today on the Spanish Steps waiting for Piera

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

It’s been a long day….

Some things children say you never forget for some reason. Like when Hugo my stepson was about three and in a very solemn tone of voice declared that he was tired because “it’s been a long day”. Or Julia my stepdaughter would wake us up and say “it’s mornin’ time” or ask where the “titten” was instead of the kitten or when Olivia first went back to England after living in France for a couple of years and said “it’s mouille” as we walked down the steps from the plane, meaning it’s damp.

Leo has had a long day. His girlfriend was meant to come and play after school but didn’t make it. He is very serious about her, he even knows her name, unlike the last one.

Then he dropped his quiche on the floor (upside down on the carpet) which sent me into a fury. And to top it all after spending most of the afternoon cleaning the bathroom (I don’t know why he did, he just wanted to) the “gals” as he calls them have messed it up.

He has just collapsed into bed, almost weeping.

“I’m so tired,” he told me as I kissed him goodnight. “Tireder than a turtle walking.”


Now that’s what I call a long day……

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

A sobering revelation

I have given up drinking. Not in the way I normally give up, for a few hours every New Year, but this will be my ninth alcohol-free evening. It all started when Rupert was told by a personal trainer that he had to stop for a couple of weeks.
“I’ll do it too,” I said, ever the supportive wife.
Nine days later I am, well, hooked. I feel great. I am sleeping better, have lost a kilo and my skin is clearer (less red-faced some might say). It has been a total revelation. I can’t believe I have spent so many years thinking I can’t manage without a drink. Because I can actually manage better.
Having said that I am looking forward to a glass of wine once I get to France. There is a time and a place for everything and the time and the place for a glass of wine is at the hotel by the lake I have been dreaming about for weeks.


Feral update – last night they went to see Madame Butterfly. Olivia loved it, especially the love scene during which she stood up to get a better look. Bea sat through the first act and slept through the rest. They had a great time in Venice and are now in Rimini with estranged aunt and uncle in my grandmother’s old house. I love the idea of them there looking at the view I used to look at when I was just a few years older than them. I am longing to hear what they think of the Italian family.
On Sunday they go to my mother’s so I will get the verdict then but so far the combination of opera and shopping is keeping them occupied. When they’re not asleep that is.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Travels with my in-laws

My in-laws arrived for a week’s visit yesterday. Yesterday I spent the evening with my father-in-law trying to get his hearing aid fixed. He is an example of how to go through life; happy and charming. We went to the Oxford Medical Centre first.

“Do you think I get a discount having been at Oxford?” he asked me. I said it was worth a try. Then we went into the building and explained the problem to the receptionist.

“I can see how lovely you are,” said my father-in-law. “But I can’t hear you.”

Sadly they couldn’t help but they gave us the name of somewhere that could. On the way out a group of youths were standing by my car.

“I wish those youths would get away from my car,” I snarled in my typical ‘expecting the worst’ fashion. My father-in-law walked towards them without a moment’s doubt. They moved aside and opened the door for him.

“It’s nice to see the young still have some manners,” he said to them before turning to me. “And I include you in that.”

Told you he was charming.

As I write he is on the golf course, aged 84, probably beating Rupert and our friend James (who is even younger than moi). That’s how to age gracefully.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Grandparents reunited

""My father came for Christmas. He is 84 and wrote a novel last year which won a major literary prize in Italy in September. He is an incredible character. Despite the fact that we have never lived together (my parents split up when I was two) he has an uncanny ability to work out whatever happens to be worrying me and giving me good advice.

This Christmas his travelling companion was my mother. It was lovely to see them together; amusing and rather unusual. They act a little like an old married couple. One morning my mother noticed his flies were undone.

“Your flies are undone,” she said.

“Of course they are,” he replied. “I left them undone for you to tell me to do them up. Otherwise what use are you?”

Rupert asked my father if he thought I am more like him or my mother.

“I ignore anything that is not like me in Helena,” he said. “I have the impression that I made her all myself.”

My mother, who has a generous nature and plenty of humour, lets this kind of comment slide.

But it is an odd thing, that when I look into his eyes, I have the impression that I am looking into my own.

They have gone now. My father is on to his next novel and wants to take my mother with him to Poland where he needs to go to do some research. I’m not sure she’s tempted by the idea of Poland with a literary genius who forgets to do his flies up, but you never know. And they were such fun to be with, I might go along myself.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

I wish you a Merry Christmas

For me this Christmas really began with Leo and his ballet performance at Abu Dhabi Mall to the tune of ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’. Now we are almost there. It is Christmas Eve and I am sitting by a roaring fire with our Credit Crunch Christmas Tree (donated by a friend from his garden but slightly skinny and collapsing under the weight of the decorations, my mother asked if it was upside down) planning the big day.

""Sadly only Leo still believes in Father Christmas. Olivia sussed him out a few weeks ago and of course where she goes, Bea follows. I have not confirmed that he doesn’t exist.I just can’t bring myself to. I remember the feeling of loss I had when I realised he was not real. So I just say ‘he exists if you believe in him’.

Wolfie my gorgeous dog showed up, covered me in kisses, ate three meals and then….left again. Typical male. But it was so nice to see him. I am torn between wanting him to come back and dreading it because saying goodbye again will be too awful.

Being home is still heavenly. I can’t think of a nicer place to spend Christmas Day. We have ordered a turkey, planned the bread sauce and all I need now is some time to wrap the stocking fillers.

Not for the first time in my life I am wishing Father Christmas really did exist….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008