Now, earlier on, those cousins of hers, they had sent me a traditional costume from one of the Polish provinces (see pic). I was about eight or nine at the time and I blame it (and my mother) for my dislike of fancy-dress anything, because, for the next several years, I was paraded in the streets of Paris, wearing that costume, on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, pronounced “mahrdee-GRAH”, in French; btw, “coup de grâce” is pronounced “coo-duh-GRASS” not “coo-duh-grah” – drives me nuts). I was a very very shy little girl and there I was, saddled with a mother whose middle name was “gregarious”. She embarrassed me all the time and never more so than the day she pushed me on to the stage of the Alhambra theatre and forced me to join a whole lot of poor little red-faced kids, all wearing fancy dress, just before a live programme presented by a guy called Jean Nohain, who looooooved little children. No, no, I’m sure he was all right, but he was so unctuous that, even then, when I used to watch his programmes, I felt like throwing up, so you can imagine how I felt on that stage. When the show started, we all filed in front of him and said our names into the microphone and what costumes we were wearing. I was a big hit, although what the viewers thought of it in black and white I have no idea. Within a minute I found myself in the wings on the other side of the stage and vowed to never ever put on that costume again – or any other costume, for that matter.
That’s why I will not take part in any Halloween celebration (I wouldn’t anyway: Halloween’s nothing to do with me) and I absolutely hate dressing up.
Today is the 9th anniversary of my mother’s death; I shouldn’t really slap her, but she won’t mind: we had that kind of relationship. No, no, I don’t mean we hit each other all over the place, but it was, shall we say, “robust”. (You can start rowing again, Mum!)
The dead are always looking down on us, they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity
They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a warm afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,
which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.