Friday, 26 July 2013

Big baby

"You must understand, that for a daughter to protect her father's image is natural; Freud built a whole career around it."
(Amon Goldfinger)
(All photos: Gigi album) 

My mother had difficulty conceiving her first-born, my sister, and was then told she probably wouldn't have any other children. There's a little over eight years between me and my sister; by the time I came along, Mum and Dad were seen as older parents. I wasn't "tried for", nor planned for; I wasn't even expected.
Initially, I was diagnosed as gastric enteritis. When Mum's symptoms persisted and she returned to her GP, he confirmed that she was actually about three months into another pregnancy. When Mum told Dad, he had to have a sit down for a while. He apparently told Mum she'd have another girl and said "This one's certainly taken her time."
In fact, I was born two weeks before my due date; probably the first and last time I've ever been that early for anything. In contrast, my sister had been two weeks late, emerging after a day and a half of labour. I arrived in just two hours. My eagerness hadn't compromised my size: the nurses told Mum I was one of the biggest babies ever delivered on their maternity ward. I'm sure she was thrilled. The hospital in south-west London has since closed down, but I'm pretty sure there's no connection.
After Mum died, I sorted through the rest of Dad's personal bits and pieces that she'd kept for years. I have his pocket diary from the year I was born; his entry for the day I arrived reads: "9.15 am, BIG baby girl! Nine pounds fifteen ounces!" I don't know whether it was because his plump, gurgling white-haired baby resembled the vegetable, but my Dad immediately wanted to call me "Chou Chou"; French for "Little Cabbage". Fortunately, my mother wouldn't entertain the idea. She suggested "Barbara" after her closest sister and their own lovely mum, who Dad was devoted to. Dad suggested "Babette", then "Gisele".
I love my name: I thank my Dad eternally for it. I grew up loving the ballet I was named after, as well as the musical of Colette's book "Gigi", the diminutive pet form of Gisele or Giselle. I bristle a bit when people tend to call me "Gee Gee", with a hard rather than soft "g"; but it's a tiny irritation after nearly becoming Chou Chou. "Cabbageonsea" sounds particularly unsavoury.
When I was fifteen, I stomped off to rally against a local fascist group. They insisted on parading their neo-Nazism through the friendly, multi-cultural area I had grown up in and my Dad's sense of justice and idealism bubbled in my veins. Swept along with older, more seasoned protesters, I joined some lying down in the main road, so that the fascist group and the mounted police protecting their right to march would either come to a standstill or trample over us. Clearly, I hadn't really thought this through.
Hauled up by my collar by a weary riot officer, I garbled something about a "******* Police State", much to my great shame now. I was told to behave or I would be taken to the nearest police station to cool down. Obviously I didn't behave enough; two hours later, I was in a holding cell in south London with a handful of others. Now terrified, I announced I wanted a solicitor. Then I did what any self-respecting freedom fighter would do. I asked for my mother and burst into tears.
Mum was so ashamed that her youngest was in the local nick that she wouldn't come with Dad to claim me. He looked both worried and relieved to see me; now I realise he was also quite bemused. The sergeant told him I needed a "good talking to". My Dad nodded, signed for me and said absolutely nothing while we got in the car and drove home.
I was used to Mum's Irish, ginger temper. My Dad hardly ever lost his temper with me so when he did, I knew it was Bad. About five minutes from our house he stopped the car near the local shops. I started to cry again. He gave me a proper handkerchief. Finally, in his most Poirot accent, he said: "What did you think you were doing? What have you got to say?"
"Well, the thing is -"
"Shut up. Your mother thinks you should see a child psychologist. Luckily I can't afford one. Your mother thinks you're going to kill her by giving her a heart attack. Do you want to kill your mother?"
"No Dad."
"Why suddenly the politics? Why aren't you like other girls?"
"Mum says I get this from you?"
"Shut up. And do you think you'll be doing this again?"
"Well, there's a rally up in London in a couple of months and I thought..."
At this point, I realised I might be pushing my luck.
"OK, this is what's going to happen. I will collect you from the rally in London and bring you home. You will never insult a policeman again, unless he's a bad policeman. When we get home, I will shout and swear at you and clip you over the head. Then I'll send you upstairs without any telly or any food. Your mother will be satisfied and I can get on with my work. Are you hungry; do you want some chips before we get home?"

And that's how it went when we got back. Apart from one thing: Dad never did get to collect from the rally in town. A couple of months later, just as I straggled past my sixteenth birthday, my Dad died. He hadn't quite made it to fifty nine.
This Sunday is my father's birthday; I write the same thing in my own pocket diary now each year, marking the age he would be now. It makes me more aware of my own I suppose, yet even at this age I'm aware that I'm still very much that big baby. I still want to be like my Dad when I finally grow up. I'm fairly hopeful he would like this blog.
I recently heard one of Dad's (and Mum's) favourite tunes set to the hymn "Vaster Far Than Any Ocean". I was aware that the melody "The Carnival Is Over" is traditionally used as a hymn in the Netherlands, but I'd never heard it in church here before. It was like a warm. reassuring hand at my back. The piano version included here is achingly lovely. The tune made so popular by The Seekers was originally adapted by Tom Springfield from an old folk song about Stenka Razin, a notorious rebel leader in 17th century Tsarist Russia. Folklore tells that Stenka came to a particularly sticky end. I doubt that his Dad ever went down to collect him from the fray to buy him chips.

"Like the little girl who's not very cute - her teeth are funny, and her hair doesn't grow right, and she's got on thick glasses - but her father holds her hand and walks with her like she's a tiny angel that no one can touch. He gives her the best gift a woman can get in this world: protection. And the little girl learns to trust the man in her life. And all the things that the world expects from women - to be beautiful, to soothe the troubled spirit, heal the sick, care for the dying, send the greeting card, bake the cake - all of those things become the way we pay the father back for protecting us..."
( Adriana Trigiani)

"Another baby you say? A big baby? How big??"

The Little Cabbage.

 "The Carnival Is Over"  (Piano solo version - pianist, sadly, uncredited)

"I'd like you to be a teacher, if you want to be a teacher. It's been a good life for me. But more than I would like you to teach, I want you to learn something about this world."
(Tony  Liegeois - Dad)


  1. Your Dad sounds like a good man, what a great piece Gigi, much love Becky xxx

    1. Hello Becky! Lovely to see you on here!
      My Dad would have loved you and your laugh! xx

  2. Gisele, I love you my dear friend and remember when your Dad passed on. Your tribute to him is lovely and I bet he is so proud of you and looking down on you. I am really glad you wrote this because, as you know, what's happening with my Dad right now, I find your blog really comforting. As always take care xxx Christine

    1. Ah, I love you too Chrissie. And I've been thinking of your Dad and praying for him, and for you and Mary and the whole clan. Stay strong; let me know what's happening please. Love , Gigi xxx

  3. This is just lovely, Gigi.

    I was about 5 when The Carnival is Over was doing the rounds, or at least it still was when I started school. I have a bitter-sweet relationship with it. It used to make me very sad.


    1. Hi Brigid - lovely to see you on here again!
      I think the melody is essentially bitter-sweet, as true love is I suppose.
      The tune means many things to many people: it's played here sometimes when the Bank Holiday funfairs are being packed away and that seems perfectly fitting too. And of course the funfair always returns... Hugs and blessings to you, Gigi xx