Thursday 27 September 2007


My daughter has an imaginary sister called Charlotte. She comes and goes, but she is always there. Much like a real sister I suppose. She generally arrives when other people are talking about their own siblings. Along with another hairline crack in my heart.

This is what it is like to fail your child. To feel you have failed them, anyway. The sense parents have when their child falls downstairs behind a turned back, or is bullied by faceless tormentors at school. It is a melancholic stab, a powerless ache accompanied by the throb of guilt. To begin with I tried not to mention Charlotte, for fear of encouraging the fantasy. But recently, since she (both of them) are a bit older and wiser, I decided to ask for a bit of information about her. She lives with her mummy and daddy - she has different parents - a little way away and is older than my daughter. She helps out when my daughter is feeling lonely or out-siblinged, which really amounts to the same thing.

I think I suggested that she wasn’t a real sister at some point. “No, I know she’s not real” my daughter replied and cuddled closer on the sofa.

When it is time for bed, I ask her to take her clothes off herself and then put on her pyjamas. “Hmmph. I can’t do everything daddy”, she says.

That’s true. Sometimes you need a little help from someone nearby, and sometimes, perhaps, you need a little bit more than that.

“Will you do some computering daddy, before you go downstairs?”, she says, when it’s time to go to sleep. “I want you to look after me.”

I kiss her cheek and she whirls around onto her side, flinging an arm casually around my neck.

I go next door, amused that the mouse-clicking made by writing about her, is a comfort to her. One day when she is too old for mouse-clicking, the words might be a comfort to her too, I hope.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

The Princess and the Palace

One sunny afternoon after nursery I take my daughter to Kensington Palace. We drive past it every day in the car and I have seen the bouquets through the trees. A decade ago I went to have a look at the reef of flowers circling the palace and took a swim in the sadness. Before marriage, before children. I could have stayed forever surrounded by such melancholy.

I had asked my daughter if she wanted to see the Princess’s Palace. She shot back her “yes” so fast that it made me smile. What could interest her more than a trip to a princess’s palace? “Which princess?” she asked. “The princess who died ten years ago. I replied. “What happened?” “She died in a car crash.” I said. “I think it’s right to tell the truth about these things. You can’t go wrong telling the truth. It’s when you don’t that the trouble starts. I have no problem telling my daughter about death. There’s only one I couldn't tell her about. And that’s probably just because I can’t yet face the chronology of life myself.

The sun bears down on us as we park near to the park gate and walk in. It is a little like approaching a palace. All paths lead there. It looms as you walk among the trees. We stand looking at the pictures and the flowers for a while and are then drawn through the open gates.

“So the princess died and everyone put flowers on the railings so they could get happy again?” my daughter asks. “Yes” I say. I find she often puts things better than I can.

I cheat, taking her to the shop rather than paying the money to go on the tour. She is fascinated by the jewellery on offer, the pictures of the princess in her tiaras. We argue when I won’t buy her a princess doll. It’s a rule I have not to buy something at every place we go to.

I think she is a bit disappointed overall; expected something more. Certainly a toy. Once she has got over her sulk she asks “Did the princess have a fairy godmother?”

“I don’t think so” I say, “Not a fairy one anyway”.

She looks dispirited for a moment and then brightens and runs off into the shade of the trees.