Monday, 22 September 2008


Prog rock step dad stayed for the weekend. He is so erudite and unwordly, he makes me feel like Kerry Katona. He's like a medieval ascetic, self-sufficient, simple living, free from desire. All he wants is knowledge. Whilst he doesn't literally live in a cave and eat bitter herbs, he comes pretty close. He can live for several months eating nothing but lentils, he cycles everywhere, knows how to darn, bakes his own bread, has taught himself French, German and Russian and knows about everything. Science, economics, birds, mushrooms. My abiding memories of him growing up are:

1. Hunched on the sofa reading a Giant Hard Book. From the library. Sometimes with a dictionary too if the Giant Hard Book is in foreign (it usually is).
2. Disappearing during dinner to go and get find a Giant Hard Book to read us long screeds of it. Until we shouted at him to stop.
3. Reading us five miles of poetry. Until we shouted at him to stop.
4. Cooking elaborate from-scratch meals that would try the patience of a saint, what with one vegetarian, one meat eater who didn't like dairy or, you know, vegetables (or eggs), and one who only liked potato waffles and baked beans.
5. Teaching me thankless, dismal things like parallel parking, micro-economics and chemistry. Without hitting me over the head repeatedly.
6. Wearing false moustaches. And sometimes (temporary) tattoos on his forehead if we were insistent.
6. Generally displaying extraordinary tolerance in a house full of prickly, demanding women needing things fixed, refusing fruit soup, dropping their dirty clothes everywhere and weeping.

I look up from where I am crouching, sweaty palmed, trying to coax the internets out to play, while the children sit slackjawed in front of Extreme Dinosaurs and see him squatting peacefully in a corner of the garden, reading Eugene Onegin. In Russian. From the library, naturally. I made this man bring me Heat and Grazia! And fondant fancies! Hula Hoops! Hot shame attacks my cheeks.

For many years, he has shamed me with his incessant questioning on topics of geopolitics, history, architecture and local culture wherever I have been living.

"So, Em" he asks, innocently in Paris "What do you know about this Léon Cogniet your street is named after?"


"What do you know about the Batignolles area? Is it traditionally working class?"

"What's the political history of south Brussels? How does the linguistic divide sit geographically?"

"Was this Haussman block purpose built for mutiple occupation? What kind of person would have lived here originally?"

"What's that big basilica on the hill called?"

"Is the automotive industry still economically significant in Oxford?"

"STOP IT!" I tell him, squirming. "I don't know! Please don't humiliate me into making something up. You must understand that I am culturally and intellectually barren. Surely? By now? Remember how I like make up and cheap chocolate and buying clothes and popular culture?"

Then he smiles beatifically and goes off and finds all the answers to his questions and tells me them. And then I forget because I have got distracted by shiny shiny shoes.

This weekend, he and the CFO spent a long time discussing the collapse of global capitalism using an extended metaphor involving a cupboard that totally escaped me. The CFO made everything up using extra special shoutiness and self-belief. Prog rock step dad quoted extensively from Le Monde Diplomatique (subscription is one of his small extravagances) and tried to elicit my views on the bankruptcy of the Spanish crown in the 16th century and the role of the Fuggers of Augsburg. I pretended to be asleep and wondered what I was missing in Star Ac.

He's leaving today and I will really really miss him. Actually, I want to keep him. I want to have a corner with a sofa in for him to sit and read big books in all the time and for there to be endless pots of tea and discussions that make me look stupid. In return we can force him to watch In the Night Garden, feed him decadent food without pulses, tease him mercilessly, and allow Lashes to jump on his head. Surely that's an OK deal? No?


Ian said...
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Anonymous said...

He sounds a lot like my father in law - he seems to be able to speak a few words in every language under the sun and manages to charm people everywhere he goes by knowing something in their native tongue. He is also well read and keen on learning well into his 70s and makes me feel inadequate by asking me questions about Russian and seeming surprised that I have forgotten the little I managed to learn for O level over 30 years ago.

Léonie said...

Oh, you are much nicer than Kerry Katona! Although I heard that the economic significance of the automotive industry in Oxford is actually her specialist subject. Next year she is going to star in "I Don't Understand The Park 'n' Ride System, Get Me Out Of Here!" along with Dean Cain (a.k.a Superman in the ninties hit series The New Adventures of Superman).

I think your stepfather sounds delightful. I will get you a leather-bound copy of Grazia if it'll make you feel better.

Waffle said...

Stop making me laugh when my boss is in the room Léonie!

peevish said...

Prog rock step dad sounds pretty frustrating/wonderful, but also like he isn't getting enough alcoholic beverages. and wow, he darns?

I'm so glad to hear you are all on the mend.

Waffle said...

Not only does he darn, Peevish, but he bought me and the Space Cadette "darning mushrooms" for Christmas and promised to teach us. We lost them, obviously.

He does drink, but clearly not enough, you are right..

nappy valley girl said...

I love the idea of him watching In the Night Garden - perhaps he could dissect its symbolism or something? I'm sure there's a Freudian-type thesis just waiting to be written about Upsy Daisy's bed running away from her, Iggle Piggle losing his blanket and Makka Pakka's penchant for face-washing.....

justme said...

He sounds wonderfully restful to have around....

Potty Mummy said...

aah - that extra special shoutiness and self belief. Far far too much of that about in Kensington and Chelsea right now, I can tell you...

katyboo1 said...

My son thinks Makka Pakka is an animated turd if that helps. He also thinks that said animated turd lives under his cot and keeps him awake playing the trumpet. I expect your stepfather could make quite a lot from that.

I always wanted an intellectual stepfather. My father, who remains my only father used to read us Haines Manuals and force us to describe the workings of anti-lock breaks and the frustrations of car insurance policies to the average man in the street. I would have welcomed a bit of Chekhov.

Darning though? That's scary

Mya said...

I saw Eugene Onegin at Covent Garden many years ago. I remember my companion mentioning that more than 'one gin' had clearly been imbibed, judging by the amount of wailing going on.

My tip for Star Ac is Gautier - he's so irritating he's just got to be a winner. And I'm not sure about Armande Altai - she doesn't inspire confidence. Is it only me that suspects she hasn't a clue what is going on around her, and behind that cool, ghostly, just dug-up exterior, is a bewildered old bag?

Mya x

Waffle said...

Alienne - they do sound very similar. And slightly shaming to have around.

Katyboo - Hee! In our house is the opposite. We are all in love with him and his OCD tendencies (voluntary washing being such a rarity in our house). Also, he sleeps with a stone which for some reason everyone finds hilarious. God, I love that small felty creature. I wish he lived under my bed.. Sorry, where was I? I do like the sound of your father. Mine made me have a weekly call with him where he made me dissect The Economist.

VG - he was touchingly entertained by Iggle Piggle falling over...

PM - I don't know how you manage PM, really I don't. Argh.

Justme - he is. Really. And much lower maintenance than a pet. I should rent him out.

Mya - we might have to start a separate Star Ac blog because I too have much to say. God! Armande. I laughed a lot. Raddled old bag lady. Plainly suffering from dementia. Arielle Dombasle sur le retour. Also, where did all the profs go? I had a bit of a thing for the piano man, Mathieu Gonad or whatever. Sorry everyone. Mya and I will go elsewhere to talk at length about this.

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