08 October, 2006

Avery's dream come true

Oh, the divine Ellen Whitaker! You may remember her name from my post about our travels to the British Open Show Jumping Championships in Sheffield last spring (or your eyes and mind may have completely glazed over in a ponied-out stupor, as mine threaten to do at times). In any case, Ellen is the only girl in the "Whitaker Dynasty" (be sure to pronounce this "di-nasty, not "die-nasty" of course) of show jumping, and one has to be impressed by the array of family members competing at the Horse of the Year Show in Birmingham this weekend. The great patriarch, John Whitaker, his son Robert, and somehow also related are Michael and Steven, who is Ellen's father. Ellen was the only woman, well really a girl, who qualified for the 138 centimeter (whch is a technical term for really JOLLY HIGH jumps) jumping competition at the show this weekend, and she ended up in the final three jump-off. So Avery and I tracked her down at the pathway leading out of the arena to the stables, and got her autograph! She was most gracious, literally the Golden Girl of the pony world, I think 21 years old, with shining blond hair springing gracefully out of a ponytail (naturally). "Oh, thank you!" Avery breathed. "Thank YOU," Ellen said. So Avery's been clutching her grubby little piece of paper ever since, also graced with Ben Maher's signature. These kids are just unbelievable athletes, and you know what? Nobody got hurt. It was a long drive each way but because we had Emmy, we did not mind. Except for poor Avery in the back on the way there, completely frozen solid in the harsh wind that leapt nimbly over John's and my heads and blasted her with artic strength! I finally reached back and felt her little hand and it was simply... frozen! Emmy will not let us put her top up or down whilst moving, so we pulled over and got the top up and then all was cozy. Since then, at the Purdeys stall in the shopping arena of the horse show, we acquired a gorgeous tartan fringey rug that will live in the back seat for just such occasions.

Let's see, what else has been going on? We've had an extraordinary number of parcels not get delivered, or get delivered to New York and then not get forwarded, or get canceled, so I seem to spend most of my day playing with tracking numbers and annoying automated message systems that thank me for choosing "D Haitch L" which makes me crazy. Avery's outgrown school shoes, printer ink, cat litter and food. Please tell me I did not accidentally ask for the delivery of 30 kilos of cat litter to Reuters America, Times Square, New York. If I did, it's good news that it hasn't arrived. Sigh. This was all punctuated yesterday by a totally captivating trip to the National Portrait Gallery with Avery's school class! When the permission slip for the coach ride appeared in Avery's backpack, I signed it with a little added note saying I would be available to chaperone if they needed it, and sure enough, I was allowed. So I turned up at school yesterday in time to meet the new librarian, Mrs Palmer, who will let me help with the Book Fair in November, and then meet up with all the frantic girls with sticky hands who were at a fever pitch of excitement at the thought of their coach journey through Central London. I was Coco's partner by simple dint of the fact that she grabbed my hand and didn't let go. Miss Leslie and Mrs Laforet were on either side of me and we discussed the film Avery and I saw over the weekend, "The Queen." I found it to be really impressive: a behind-the-scenes look at how the royal family dealt with the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Helen Mirren played the Queen, and then there was the perennial game of "where have I seen him before?" that occurs with all British actors. There seem to be only about 30 of them, and you know you've seen them on "Bleak House," or "Spooks" or "Agatha Christie: Marple." Whatever criticisms anyone has for that new series of Marple, starring Geraldine McEwan (and believe me there are some vitriolic Brits who do not appreciate anyone trying to replace Joan Hickson!), the casting is always superb. So the Queen's secretary is played by the man who was Home Secretary in last week's "Spooks," and the equerry was the doctor in Marple, but hey! Here's a surprise. Prince Philip is played by the chap who was the farmer in "Babe"! How weird is that. This time around he spent most of the movie in either a dressing gown or a kilt. There is something about a man in a kilt climbing out of a Land Rover Defender 110 that just made everyone in the audience titter slightly. Surprisingly, Avery loved the film. We had a very intriguing discussion on the way home (through the POSHEST of Mayfair neighborhoods, along Curzon and South Audley Streets, pierced sadly by the American Embassy) about the way the characters develop through the movie, and the queen's metaphorical relationship to the hunted stag that appears throughout. There's a nice dose of grandfatherly support after the tragic loss of your mother: go bag you a stag with a huge set of antlers! Perfect therapy.

So anyway, we were headed to the NPG in order to see the two rooms of Tudor portraits on hand, since Form V are studying the Tudors. Avery has an encyclopedic knowledge of the succession of Tudor kings and queens, most especially the six wives of Henry VIII. I remember my mother during my childhood saying, "Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived." Why did she say that, what an odd thing to remember? Oh, I know, it was during the airing on PBS of the series documenting his wives. Anyway, we all sat down on the floor of the cozy paneled rooms and had a docent point out the salient details of Elizabeth I's gown, her jewels, her crown. Coco hissed to me, "My mother said especially to notice the jewels and to give her any ideas, if I had any, for her next collection." Coco's mother is as you will have gathered a jewelry designer. Although given the wealth of the King's College parent base, it's perfectly possible that any given mother might be interested in acquiring a necklace that belonged to Elizabeth I at the next Christie's auction. Nonetheless. Avery waved her hand a gratifying number of times to give answers to questions, and then they made a lovely drawing of their favorite portrait and we were off again. Coco and I spent the return journey trying to come up with a suitable plot for the piece of fiction I am supposed to produce on October 21 for my writing class. "You could have it with a house that's filled with precious objects, and a butler who when you shake his hand, you get transported back in time to a place where you're just the servant..." she offered, "or like in Agatha Christie, you could have someone murdered and there are lots of false clues and it's up to you to figure out that it's actually the person who looked like the obvious suspect, and the false clues were to distract you!" Why isn't Coco taking this class?

Because it's a sad fact that I am stymied. I'm doing better with the one-page outline of a screenplay for next Thursday's class. But there seems to be an unbridgeable gap between my enthusiasm for writing this blog, and my ability to come up with even the slightest glimmer of a fictional world. Why is that? It's not as if my real life were so bleeping interesting that fictional ideas were unnecessary! I live a very dull life! So you'd think I'd be chomping at the bit (ooh, don't mention horses, please) to come up with an alternative existence to describe and live vicariously through. But no. Everything I think of seems either too boring, too improbable, or has no ending. I do think I'm going to take in my screenplay outline with no ending, and see if the class can help me. The real scary thing is the reading-alooud of the 2500 words of fiction, in front of all those experienced writers who are not loathe to express their disdain for one's efforts. I have found that there's nothing like a Brit to express disdain. It seems to be in the water.

A mystery of some kind seems like the solution. At least there, in that genre, there's no doubt about what's meant to HAPPEN. You got your characters, you got your setup, then somebody gets killed, or something gets stolen, and voila. You have to get your characters into the action, and then out of it. As opposed to the sort of self-exploratory, Life of the Inner Mind fiction where lord knows how you end it. It's not that things don't happen in real life, but as far as I can tell, there's no plot! Or I've "lost the plot," one of my favorite English expressions. Avery and I emerged from Daunt Books, her mecca, last evening, with a bag full of books for her. "You know, Mummy, you didn't buy anything for yourself. I think that you can't expect to write a novel, if you don't read novels. You read the same sorts of things, over and over. Look at the variety of genres here in my bag. I've got a fake diary from somebody in World War II, a non-fiction book about the Roman Empire, and the sequel to my favorite fairy story. You've got to expand your mind."

There's nothing like a well-meant putdown from your child who has yet to attain two numbers in her age. But you know what: she's right. I'd better go read something.

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