An exclusive event

There are two exclusive events going on today. One is George Clooney’s wedding in Venice. The other is Natasha Gravatt’s 18th birthday party in Chelsea. Of the two events this is the more exclusive. There are no hangers-on here, no paparazzi, no exclusive deals with Hello magazine, in fact we have imposed a complete media blackout. The whole world knows about George Clooney’s wedding, only a very select few know about this party.

They say that a baby resembles their father so that the father knows that it is his. There was no mistaking Natasha as mine because she had no hair for the first two years of her life.

Perhaps it was hair envy that led to her first brush with authority. Not long into her school career she returned from kindergarden with an incident report. An incident report is the kindergarten equivalent of a police record. Natasha’s incident report records how she had cut the hair of one of her fellow kindergarden pupils. It was far from obvious then that Natasha would subsequently rise to the giddy heights of a Queens Gate prefect.

In fact for some time it was touch and go whether Natasha would even go to Queens Gate at all. It was all to do with Chinchillas. It was also, and this may come as a surprise to some of you, because Natasha can be a little stubborn at times. The same stubbornness that caused a 7 year old Natasha to refuse to participate in the daily pledge of allegiance in her American school because she said would be lying, nearly resulted in her not going to Queens Gate and never knowing any of you.

When choosing a school, we made the mistake of telling Natasha it was her decision. We did add ‘within reason’, but Natasha took that to mean ‘any reason’ rather than ‘reasonable’. Ros and I strongly believed that Queens Gate would be the right school for Natasha. Needless to say Natasha had a different point of view. She wanted to go to Frances Holland. We had many good arguments for Queens Gate – arty, good on history, multi-cultural, nice girls (although to be fair, we hadn’t at that point met you lot!), great location, good academic record, historic building etc etc. Natasha, on the other hand, had a just one reason for wanting to go to Frances Holland. They had Chinchillas. She would not budge. She quoted us by saying it was her ‘decision, within reason’ and the reason was that they had Chinchillas. We tried to argue that this was a decision that could have long-term implications for her future success and happiness, but she wasn’t having any if it. Frances Holland had Chinchillas and Queens Gate didn’t. You might, by the way think we were conducting this negotiation with a two year old, not the twelve year old that Natasha was then. Finally in desperation I said to Ros ‘let’s take the fucking Chinchilla out of the equation and resort to bribery.’ Natasha accepted our compromise offer of a Chinchilla if she went to Queens Gate.

She went to the pet shop to buy a Chinchilla and inexplicably returned with three Degus. A Degu is a pumped up, hyper-active South American desert rat on speed. Less than twenty-four hours of three Degus in the house and I was wishing we had let Natasha go to Frances Holland. Before the end of their first day with us they had shredded everything in their cage. And I mean everything. It looked like Hiroshima. They had run the exercise wheel into the ground, going so fast that it had completely fallen apart. Our dog having initially been interested in the new arrivals flatly refused to go into the same room. It was impossible to hear the TV, with what sounded like the end of the world going on in the corner. There’s so much talk these days about harnessing wind power or hydro-electric power. Forget that, the scientists should be concentrating their efforts on Degu power. It would solve the world’s energy problems overnight. Supercharged they might be, cuddly they were not. It soon became apparent when they tried to attack anyone that went near them, that they were not cut out to be pets. They had to go. But they served their purpose, as by then we had accepted a place at Queens Gate.

I’m supposed to say nice things about my daughter and instead I am rabbiting on about South American desert rats.

Natasha is somewhat conflicted about today. She wanted the party and the presents, but not the number. Like Oscar in the book Tin Drum, Natasha wants to remain a child forever and not grow up. Oscar though is a metaphor for Nazi Germany and the morale of that story is that stunted development is not a great idea. I think Natasha makes a great adult. Under the tutelage of her brother Jay she has certainly been exposed to adulthood from a young age.  She watched ‘in Bruges’ with Jay many years ago and the two of them frequently talked about it as one of their favourite films. Their mother, who was not familiar with the film, assumed it must be a light family-friendly comedy. Recently Ros had the opportunity to see the film and was horrified to discover it was a very dark and very adult drama about a psychotic hitman, involving graphic violence and scenes of a sexual nature. A twelve year old Natasha had taken it in her stride.

Natasha is soft on the outside, but tough on the inside (although she doesn’t necessarily realise this). I’m frequently impressed by her resilience and resolve. She is also hugely capable. I like to think I can write a bit, but I’m nowhere near as talented a writer as she is.  Her suggestions on my blog always improve it. She is also an enormously compassionate and generous person. Her first thought will always be for the other person’s well-being before her own. The only exception being when football on TV clashes with Dr Who, then she prioritises her needs over the needs if her dear deprived father. Although she is very caring, Natasha is no push-over. She knows her own mind. When little for example, she refused to put the stickers in the right place in sticker books, much preferring to put them where she wanted.

Natasha, I’m very proud of you. And I have to say that I enjoy your company more and more each day. So even though you did your best to look like me as a bald baby, I prefer you even more as my independent-minded adult daughter.

So let’s raise our glasses to Natasha.

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