In the winter months there is a cold rain-bearing wind that blows hard from the north at night, tearing through the mountains and shaking the trees in the village. It keeps me awake and the howling of the wind is a mournful sound on nights when I feel restless and sad. I get up and read blogs and book reviews while sipping from a large mug of warm milk and grated nutmeg. Last night I sat up from 2am until 5am and then went back to bed feeling over-informed about many things and woefully sleep-deprived.
Had brunch with my friend Artemis and her ravishingly beautiful 13-year-old daughter. Never again.
We met in the walled garden of a chic boutique hotel (don’t ask, I don’t know what the word ’boutique’ means in that context either, except that the owners would probably sell the bedcovers or cafe tables and chairs to you if you were willing to pay a small fortune for them) and sat out in the mild sunny shelter of walls smothered with reddening ivy, old roses flaking cream petals onto the gravel. Breakfast was a scant mouthful of brioche with grilled and caramelized fruit, freshly ground but lukewarm Ethiopian coffee in a tall gilt-enhanced Limoges coffee pot. Inattentive wait-persons and tourists flinging American dollars to the wind. My friend Artemis looking frazzled and muttering about needing to diet.
Her daughter, whom I shall call Zandra, was wearing a backless scrap of gold tissue floating on her perfect breasts, clubby stiletto boots in green sharkskin and a kind of acid violet frou-frou skirt. Zandra has mastered the Versace catwalk strut, which is a va-va-vroom swishy little pelvic saunter I dimly recalling doing myself as a mean-eyed teenager. Everyone in the courtyard just sat and watched her walk in.
Zandra sat down and tucked away those impossibly long legs, pouted at me and annnounced that she needs breast augmentation surgery if she is to be able to summon up the strength to go on living. Her mother groaned and shook her head. Beautiful daughter ordered smoked salmon and an omelette with pancetta and Gruyere, as well as a large bowl of Bircher muesli, then left the food untouched. Her mother, who was also a beauty in another less fraught life, began to argue with her while Zandra yawned and ignored Artemis. When Zandra went off to layer on some more creamy scarlet lipstick, Artemis told me that last week she caught her daughter flirting with a local tennis coach aged 29, a divorced man with no propects and no brains. Zandra told the flattered coach that she was 19 years old and asked him to tie a sneaker lace for her, like an unsubtle Lolita toying with her prey .
‘Pervert! Rapist! Child-murderer!‘ hissed Artemis.
I tried to point out that Zandra looks at least 25, sophisticated, world-weary and bored to tears. All of 13 going on jaded 45. Artemis had been thinking of sending her to a strict convent in the Austrian Alps where she would be locked away from men and made to take cold baths until she turned 18, but Zandra is deeply, torridly in love with her best friend Marguerite and wants to explore her bisexual options. Her mother is torn between interfering with her daughter’s psycho-sexual development and the maternal desire to have her locked up out of harm’s way. Zandra thinks her mother is a pathetic klutzy wrinkled hypocrite who exists only to spoil her fun, ruin her life, treat her cruelly etc. They are evenly matched and one another’s favourite enemy in the same intense way they were once best friends.
Puberty is hormonal madness. Sometimes I wonder if Artemis remembers that she ran off with a guitar player from Marrakech with she was 15 and was retrieved by her enraged mother and sent to boarding school herself. But I just offered sympathy and drank some cold coffee from the Limoges. Zandra came back all lipsticked up and trailing strong cigarillo smoke: I noticed that she has a couple of frisky blue bats tattooed on her slim inner thigh. Mother and daughter carried on screaming sotto voce at one another while I drank my coffee and tactfully looked the other way. A gawky waiter with a cultivated wisp of moustache hovered around Zandra hopefully, ignoring my pleas for a hot refill of coffee.
‘At least, she doesn’t smoke,’ whispered Artemis to me. ‘I made her promise on her grandmother’s family Bible that she would never touch nicotine. And we agreed there would be NO piercings or tattoos or damage done to that lovely skin. She inherited my delicate complexion.’
‘Really?’ I said, startled at the blindness of mother-love. The girl smokes like a chimney. Those blue bats didn’t look inked on to me.
When Zandra went off for another smoke break, Artemis sighed deeply and said that her daughter was driving her to drink. She meant it metaphorically.
‘Nonsense,’ I replied. ‘You haven’t been drunk since your 30th birthday. I suspect that just one day of trying to chaperone your lovely Zandra would send me in search of a case of gin.’
Artemis doesn’t drink and is unlikely to ever become a Friend of Bill’s. She began laughing. ’You have no idea how my daughter would react if I got drunk and embarrassed her. Everything has to be about her. You know, I have such compassion for my own poor mother these days. She went completely grey by the time I was 16, just aged a decade or more overnight from lying awake trying to save me from myself.’
‘Don’t look now,’ I said, ‘but your daughter seems to have picked up a used-car salesman from Ohio with a drinker’s red nose. That large man with the toupee. She seems to be a magnet for unsuitable men.’
‘If he touches her, I’ll kill him with my bare hands,’ said Artemis coolly. The tiger-hearted mother with her wicked cub.
In perhaps twelve years time they will be friends again, mother and daughter united in adulthood. But the truces are a long way off. I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire sober, intelligent, helpless mothers in the 21st century.