How weird, would you say – at a guess – is your family? Compared to the generality of families, are they:
a) so eccentric you’d never get away with it in fiction;
b) moderately weird;
c) fairly average; or
d) so normal as to be almost suspicious?
Please note: pseudonyms are perfectly acceptable in the comment section for those wishing to protect the privacy of their families (or avoid their families hunting them down, bent on revenge).
I, however, shall fling aside the cloak of concealment and say that my family is probably a solid b: moderately weird, but not legendarily so (though others may wish to dispute this).
As evidence, I submit the following conversation, the result of us going out for a family dinner:
INT. PUB KITCHEN. DINNERTIME.
Waiter: (entering) A troupe of Russian folk singers has just walked in!
Chef: Ah, that’ll be my flatmate’s family.
Not a question one often finds oneself asking. But when it first popped into my mind, I decided there was a case to answer, and promptly borrowed the book from the library to further investigate. The results were not as reassuring as I might have wished.
Cruella wears fur. So do I. [Disclaimer: I don’t buy ‘new’ furs unless they’re from a humanely culled pest species; and I would never knowingly buy or wear the fur of an endangered animal.]
I like ink, too, though I prefer to write with mine, not drink it.
Cruella is married – so am I.
She has no children – neither do I.
Her husband changed his name when they married – so did mine!
Cruella owns a cat. So do I (two, in fact).
Cruella feels the cold. So do I.
In fact, I am feeling distinctly chilly as I look at this list. It’s not looking good!
On the other hand, I didn’t marry a furrier – though back in my high school days a personality test suggested I was suited to being a graphologist or fur designer. (I didn’t know what the former meant, and the latter seemed a bit redundant: they just grow.)
Speaking of school days, while I have been a student at a fair number of schools in my time, I have never once been expelled – as far as I can remember, anyway. Nor do I dominate my husband and force him to eat oddly coloured food smothered in pepper.
I don’t customarily wear slinky satin dresses with ropes of jewels – probably because, unlike Cruella, I am not a fabulously rich society heiress from a notorious family. Well, I’m not a fabulously rich society heiress, anyway (cough). Nor do I own a flashy chauffeured car which “looks like a moving Zebra Crossing” – in fact, I don’t own a car at all; I never have.
My hair isn’t black and white either; it is a very dark brown with occasional silver hairs if I hunt carefully. Nor have I chosen to decorate my home in red and green marble (how revolting). Possibly the marbled interior of her home, when considered in the dim and rainy light of the English climate, goes a long way towards explaining why Cruella feels the cold so much…
Cruella’s cat is Persian, kept only because it’s valuable – she drowns all its kittens. My cats (“the Cat” and “the Kitten”), aren’t worth anything. Unless perhaps they get hit by a car and found by Claire Third (warning, cat lovers may find article/images distressing). Of the four kittens the Cat produced in her youth, three were re-homed and we kept the fourth. Most days the Cat seems to think drowning him would have been preferable, but that’s another story.
And for the record, I don’t want to make a coat out of Dalmatian puppies, not even “for spring wear, over a black suit.” I like puppy skins best when containing puppies.
So what do you think? Am I Cruella de Vil, or amn’t I?
What, I hear you ask, is a mathom? (If I hear you asking what a party is, you need to get out more.)
Tolkien explains in his prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring: “…anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.”
I am not advocating that we refuse to receive gifts – that would be churlish – but using one’s birthday as an opportunity for generosity is a) very hobbity and b) a good way of redressing the balance of items in one’s home.
Besides, gifts, as previously mentioned, are a joy to receive. Particularly if, like me, you have friends and family who support the pruning scheme and therefore give you a) consumables and/or b) things you really want. Of course, you can’t choose your family, particularly your family of origin. I got lucky. (We shall draw the veil of charity over the time they got mistaken for a troupe of Russian folk singers.)
Anyway, back to the hobbits. Having lately had a birthday, I decided to try out the idea of a mathom party. The general reaction was a) what is a mathom? followed by b) what a good idea! Thus encouraged, I proceeded to put aside suitable items from the purge (see what below if interested). I also invited people to bring their own mathoms along if they liked: after all, one hobbit’s mathom is another hobbit’s treasure.
The day before the party, I put ribbons and bows round the items. This serves two purposes: it makes the mathoms seem more gifty, since you can’t wrap them unless you want a lucky-mathom-dip-party; and it draws a convenient distinction between the mathoms and such possessions as you actually want to keep. (Make sure no-one you are attached to is in any way done up with a ribbon.) Have a few extra ribbons on hand if people are bringing their own mathoms.
And of course, you must have food and drink. Nothing hobbity can be done without food and drink, and, preferably, music. Our party was much improved by the concurrent baking of The World’s Best Peanut-Butter and Chocolate Cookies (both gluten-free and dairy-free, if you use suitable chocolate) – recipe in this book, though not under that well-deserved title.
As for what mathoms I pruned (did you think I had forgotten this month’s list?) there were: a duvet cover, a set of steak knives, a casserole dish, a cake-slice, a set of salad-servers, a small assortment of collectable stamps, a CD, a book of famous last words, and a box of games.
At the end of the party, any mathoms unclaimed are then donated to a charity of your choice. It may pay to tell your guests this as it can be peculiarly hard to persuade people that you really do want them to take things off you for your birthday. Promising to cart it all off to charity convinces people that you are not secretly longing to be left with the lot.
Oh, and one more hint for the success of your party: try to avoid being born during (or shortly before) exam week. Exams are very un-hobbity and may affect turnout.