No Mother is Perfect

This week, a friend of mine happened across a book while tidying her daughter’s bedroom.

“Did your mother write this, by any chance?” she asked me.

 

Now Le Crazy Cat Saloon, with a cast of cats and a sprinkling of French words, may be amusing, but it’s hardly literature.

Nor is it politically correct. For one thing, it features a cat who’s a stripper. As my sons pointed out, stories about strippers aren’t exactly suitable for readers of all ages, no matter what the cover blurb says.

All the same, whenever people talk about my mother’s many books, or her cat paintings, Le Crazy Cat Saloon always features in the conversation.

On Mother’s Day, I have a vested interest in thinking that mothers should be remembered in the best possible light.

If I were to choose one book to remember my mother, it would be Cocktails and Camels. Although she wrote it just after Suez, and her divorce, it’s upbeat and funny.  Here’s how it starts.

I used to live in Alexandria—Egypt, that is, and not, as some Americans think, the one in Virginia. I liked Alexandria. There was no place like it on Earth, I used to think, and now, on looking back, I am quite sure there wasn’t. It was a nice, friendly little town basking in the sunshine and cool Mediterranean breeze, and in summer its streets smelled of jasmine which little Arab boys sold threaded into necklaces. Alexandria had plenty of character—characters, rather—Italian, French, Maltese, Turkish, even White Russians, to say nothing of Copts, Pashas, Effendis, and bird-brained but devoted Sudanese servants. The grocers were Greek, the jewellers were Jews, the shoemakers were Armenians, and the Lebanese were everywhere. The British Army used to play polo and complain about the heat. How they came to be there at all when they had a most roomy Empire in which to exercise is a long, sad story. For the British, though they like to look like good-natured and paternal fools, are, as every Arab knows to his sorrow, very cunning indeed, especially when it comes to taking advantage of trusting Arabs.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Note: Mother’s Day may be on the second Sunday in May in most of the world, but in the UK ‘Mothering Sunday’ aka Mother’s Day is today.

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You may also like to read an earlier post: Dating, 1940s Style.

Seven Reasons Why August Sucks

While the name ‘August’ comes from the Latin for dignity or grandeur, the reality is somewhat different.  Yes, it’s still high summer, but when you compare it to its neighbours June and July, I don’t think the month of August makes the grade. Here’s why:

1 The days are already noticeably shorter. As if that’s not bad enough, the weather thinks it’s October.

Rain by Valentina Degiorgis

2 You can’t move for tourists in London. Have you been to Marble Arch lately? It’s heaving. Luckily I know just enough Arabic to move dawdling visitors out of the way.

And in Cambridge, there are even bigger queues to get into the colleges. As here.

Clare College gardens

And here. 

queue at Kings College Chapel

Even more competitive than it is for prospective students, it seems.

Clare College gardens

3 It’s the silly season for news. That’s why the papers carry stories about donkeys rescued from seven-feet deep storm drains.

rescued donkey

And stories about Morris dancers having a punch-up with blind footballers. If you’re wondering, that one’s a spoof.

The biggest silly story of all? Must be the Labour party’s leadership contest. 

4 Kids in Scotland are already back at school. They’ve given up pretending it’s still the holidays.

5 When the August bank holiday weekend is over, that’s it. There are no more official holidays until Christmas. And any minute now, Christmas merchandise will hit the shops.

by Raquel Santos

6 It’s high season for kittens. In north-west London, the Mayhew Animal Home’s kitten cabins are overrun with furry bundles that need forever homes. Can you help? 

posed by model. photo by Roger Heykoop

7 Everyone is away (except for tourists). If you’re an adult, your inbox is full of automated away messages. If you’re a child, there’s nobody around to come to your birthday. I should know. Mine’s tomorrow. Are you going to be there? Thought not.

Roll on September.

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Easy tweet: 7 Reasons Why August Sucks http://wp.me/p3uiuG-13z according to @DrCarolCooper

How to Be a Party Animal

Christmas parties come in many shapes and sizes. This one had four legs. The Mayhew Home’s Tinsel & Tails extravaganza at St Paul’s Church, London W6 was a red carpet affair with candle-light, chilled fizz and celebs galore.  We had a fabulous time. I also gleaned valuable tips on being the ultimate Christmas party animal.

Dress up for the occasion. Ditch the much-loved blanket and get into some glad rags, like Rufus and Bobby.   

photo by Bonnie Baker

photo of Bobby and Rufus by Bonnie Baker

Here’s Evie in a red frock, a classic choice for Christmas.  

DSC03480

2 Get some humans to volunteer for something eg giving readings and drawing raffles

At this year’s Tinsel & Tails, Sylvia Syms and Beatie Edney did a mother-and-daughter routine, assisted by their Mayhew dogs Bunny and Billie. Peter Egan, fresh from guesting on Downton Abbey, read poetry while his pooches provided vocal encouragement.

3 Have a bit of a sing-song.  Georgian choir Maspindzeli sang a few numbers, while The Great British Bark-Off competed at the back of the church.

4 Don’t invite cats. They always climb the tree and raid the buffet.

5  Make sure there’s plenty to drink. You don’t want to run out of the good stuff halfway through.

DSC03527

6 Watch out for gate-crashers. Big stars like Bill Bailey get their own bodyguard.  

security

7 Have fun, but remember the true meaning of Christmas.  When CEO Caroline Yates outlined the Mayhew’s work at home and abroad in countries such as Russia and Afghanistan, there was scarcely a dry eye in the house.  

Some less fortunate souls didn’t get to go the ball.

Amaruq (photo from The Mayhew)

You can find out more about 17-month old Siberian Husky Amaruq by clicking here.

Alfie Moon (photo from The Mayhew)

Alfie Moon had to live rough for years. But he’s a gentle boy who likes the quiet life. Find out more here.

Rambo

Rambo (photo from The Mayhew)

Despite his name, Rambo is a sweet 4-year old cat who likes having his cheeks rubbed. Find out more here.

Honey (photo from The Mayhew)

Honey is a 9-month old female Staffy crossbreed who arrived at The Mayhew because her owner was no longer able to look after her. She’s active, with a sensitive side. Find out more here.

Merry Christmas, one and all, and here’s hoping all these dogs and cats find forever homes in 2015.

dog-tired

As you can see, Evie is now partied out, but you’re invited to continue the Christmas Party Blog Hop with my fine blogger friends. Big thanks to Helen Hollick whose brainchild it is.  Now follow on below for more fun. Look carefully. There’s even some party swag in there. 

2014-ChristmasPartyBlogHop

  1. Helen Hollick: You are Cordially Invited to a Ball (plus a giveaway prize)
  2. Alison Morton: Saturnalia surprise – a winter party tale (plus a giveaway prize)
  3. Andrea Zuvich: No Christmas For You! The Holiday Under Cromwell
  4. Ann Swinfen: Christmas 1586 – Burbage’s Company of Players Celebrates
  5. Anna Belfrage: All I want for Christmas (plus a giveaway)
  6. Clare Flynn:  A German American Christmas
  7. Debbie Young:  Good Christmas Housekeeping (plus a giveaway prize)
  8. Derek Birks:  The Lord of Misrule – A Medieval Christmas Recipe for Trouble
  9. Edward James: An Accidental Virgin and An Uninvited Guest 
  10. Fenella J. Miller: Christmas on the Home front (plus a giveaway prize)
  11. J. L. Oakley:  Christmas Time in the Mountains 1907 (plus a giveaway prize)
  12. Jude Knight: Christmas at Avery Hall in the Year of Our Lord 1804
  13. Julian Stockwin: Join the Party
  14. Juliet Greenwood: Christmas 1914 on the Home Front (plus a giveaway)
  15. Lauren Johnson:  Farewell Advent, Christmas is come – Early Tudor Festive Feasts
  16. Lucienne Boyce: A Victory Celebration
  17. Nancy Bilyeau:  Christmas After the Priory (plus a giveaway prize)
  18. Nicola Moxey: The Feast of the Epiphany, 1182
  19. Peter St John:  Dummy’s Birthday
  20. Regina Jeffers: Celebrating a Regency Christmas (plus a giveaway prize)
  21. Richard Abbott: The Hunt – Feasting at Ugarit
  22. Saralee Etter: Christmas Pudding – Part of the Christmas Feast
  23. Stephen Oram: Living in your dystopia: you need a festival of enhancement…(plus a giveaway prize)
  24. Suzanne Adair: The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 (plus a giveaaway prize)
  25. Lindsay Downs: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree 

Thank you for joining in, and see you in the New Year.

Easy tweet: “How to Be a Party Animal by with & other bloggers”

 

Turning into Your Parents

We all turn into our parents eventually, it’s said, and we don’t even know it’s happening.  A  friend of mine is barely middle-aged, yet he thinks pop music is too loud and car-washing is a great way to spend Sundays.

Well, that’s never going to be the case with me. Anyway this weekend I have no time to think about such things. I’m having another big session sorting through my late mother’s effects.  cat playing the cello

Memories come rushing back as I look through her watercolours. She was an artist whose signature works were scenes of whimsical cats. Obviously I’m keeping all of those as well as the photo albums, but the rest of her things are frankly dire.

Take for instance the collection of plastic garden chairs. Mum didn’t have a garden. They were her armchairs. At the desk there’s a diner-style chair from the 1950s which was probably usable before rust set in. In the airing cupboard I find a stack of tablecloths and other gorgeous linens, some of it unstained. And the lovely china pieces she talked about turn out to be actually in pieces, held together by Araldite and optimism.

At this point I need to break for a snack. In the kitchen there’s about a year’s supply of porridge oats. Funny I used to hate the stuff. Today it fills the gap perfectly.

It takes me a while to locate the blue and white porcelain plates my Mum always told me were so valuable. I handle the first one with care, as you do when it’s a rare artefact from the Yuan dynasty. My fingers tremble as I trace the intricate design. I turn the plate over. A little golden sticker says ‘Made in Japan’.

I sigh. I need to go to the shops for more bin liners. The weather’s turned chilly, so I pop on an overcoat of Mum’s. Normally I wouldn’t be seen dead in any of her old threads, but this coat is cosy.

When I get back from the shop, I tackle the rest of the clothes. The belts are fit only for the skip, and there are five identical pairs of shoes which I won’t even bother trying. There are however three handbags worth keeping, and a watch that looks better than mine.Tissot watch

I set it to the right time and put it on my wrist. Surprisingly it is just the right size.

In the same box there are earrings with little lions on them. Though they’re not at all my thing, they’re cute and I’m a Leo. Better hang onto them.

The trousers and skirts are another story. My mother was never tall, and then she developed what Roald Dahl called ‘the dreaded shrinks’, known to doctors as advanced osteoporosis. All her trousers had had to be shortened repeatedly. Looking at them now, it’s clear they’d be no use to anyone, unless maybe they’re after Bermuda shorts.

A cardigan catches my eye. It’s not at all bad if you overlook the frayed cuffs and a couple of missing buttons. Hell, I can fix that. The cardi is merino wool and a lovely yellow colour.

I put it on, and get a shock when I look in the mirror.

Next I come across a battered little suitcase. It would be so useful.  Trouble is, the cat likes it too. 

Cat in suitcase

Now the tartan shopping trolley in the corner beckons. Just the thing! Why give myself backache lugging stuff back from the supermarket every week when I could use a little trolley?

Now stop it, I tell myself sternly. I’m not nearly ready for that yet. Give it a while longer.  Say another couple of weeks?

10 Ingredients for a Perfect Funeral

I don’t like funerals.  They mean the loss of family, friends, or patients, none of which I welcome.  But sometimes a send-off works out really well.  Here’s how we did it.

1. Great weather helps.  Rain is all very well for cemeteries in TV thrillers, but in real life you don’t want frizzy hair, steamed-up glasses, or trench foot while standing at the graveside.  Result # 1: the weather turned out to be amazingly sunny for the end of winter.

2. Black is drearily Victorian, and charcoal is frankly a cop-out. When in black, I look so bad I may as well be dead already, so I was only too pleased to comply with my mother’s wishes: wear bright colours.

3. A good turn-out.  Funerals are frankly dismal when it’s just five people rattling around a crematorium.  I’m so pleased I went through her entire address book.

address book

4. The major coup?  Getting a good spot in the cemetery.  Not just near the parking and the tap, but a prime plot right next to Granny’s grave!  I was bursting to share the news with my mother, who was sure to be as excited as me. Unfortunately it was a little late for that.

5. A smidgeon of ceremony.  In this case, two bearded priests with what looked like saucepans on their heads, plus a bit of incense, a lot of chanting, and the sign of the cross made from right to left.  It was all Greek to me. Still, that’s what you get in a Greek Orthodox church.icon

6. An uplifting venue.  Outside, it looked a nuclear bunker.  Inside, the walls were covered in icons.

7. A personal touch, in this case The Grandmother Tree, a moving poem written and recited by one of her grandsons.

8. A hint of altruism.  What’s the point of a mountain of blooms or the word MUM spelled out in white chrysanths?  Whether it’s in a newspaper announcement or an email to friends, it’s getting more common to ask for charitable donations in lieu of flowers.

9. Peace.  Memorable punch-ups sometimes break out at weddings, but funerals should be more decorous.  I’m especially grateful to my husband and ex-husband who hadn’t met until the day itself, and were both charm personified.

10. Light refreshments at home afterwards, surrounded by all the things that illustrated my mother’s life: the books she had written, photos of her grandsons, and above all her exuberant paintings of cats and dogs, hanging in haphazard fashion on the walls of the flat where nothing matched.  She had meant to rehang some paintings and replace others, but no lifetime, however long, is enough to finish everything.

cats-rue-des-chats (1)

Rue des Chats

A funeral shouldn’t be an occasion of pain and regret.   It should reflect the person’s life.  I feel fortunate that my mother’s death came at the end of nearly 90 years lived well, and creatively.  How much harder it is for those who lose someone suddenly, prematurely, or violently.

What’s in a name, by George?

So it’s George Alexander Louis. Altogether more regal than, say, Clive or Keith, though I think it’s a shame William and Kate didn’t choose College. We’ve never had a monarch called King College Cambridge.KCC cropped

Baby Cambridge’s name doesn’t need to be hip and happening because it will set the trend for years to come.  He may grow up liking his first name (as most Georges seem to) or not.  A slew of given names brings the luxury of choice, though this is the first time in about 100 years that a Royal baby has had only three names instead of four.

Parents sometimes goof, as with the handle aired a while back on ITV’s This Morning.  Presenters Phil and Fern couldn’t contain themselves.  Who could, with a Hugh Janus?

When I was considering names for my own sons, I turned to the pages of the Financial Times for inspiration.  Perhaps names like Julian, James, Henry or Anthony would give them a leg-up on the ladder to success (I’ll get back to you).

Parents have to settle on only a handful of names for their own children, while writers get to dream up many more.  It’s fun, and if someone suggests something better, you can change it with just a few keystrokes.

In fiction, names can give away a person’s character.  You just know Dr Legg is going to be an orthopaedic surgeon, and Professor Sir Benjamin Bigpurse is coining it from his private practice.  Cruella De Vil is a prime example of a villain’s name, though Voldemort and Captain Hook are great too.

Reading To The Lighthouse, it’s obvious that Augustus Carmichael is a poet’s moniker and that Lily Briscoe is as complicated as hell, though perhaps the more obvious clue lies in the author’s name. Personally I’m still mystified by Seymour Glass, JD Salinger’s memorable if not wholly transparent choice.

As has been observed, even the naming of cats is a difficult matter. I’ve stuck to fruits for my own cats. Thus we’ve had Bananas, Peaches, and Cherries.

future's orange cropped

The current incumbent is Mishmish, meaning apricot in Arabic and Hebrew.  But did we miss a trick when we overlooked Paw-paws?