Category Archives: Little Elf

Ofra Haza, Yemenite Songs and Little Elf

Little Elf has a thing for an Ofra Haza album I found in a British Heart Foundation shop. Partly it’s the music, which she loves to dance to (I say ‘dance’ but I seem to do most of the work), and partly it’s the album cover which is understandably fascinating for any Disney Princess obsessed six year old.

Yesterday evening, everyone was back late from Cubs and Woodcraft Folk and I agreed she could sit up and listen to one song (“Oh, alright. Two.”) before going to bed.

Yemenite Songs is a curious beast. Ofra Haza was a Yemenite Jew and the album was promoted as a return to her roots. But the production is a sometimes harsh mix of early nineties digital beats and metallic clatter cut through with traditional string instruments and PCM synths. But Haza’s astonishing voice is at the centre of it, soaring, shimmering, weaving and winding…It’s a gorgeous, passionate set of performances, full of energy, tragedy and hope. I’m not surprised little elf picks it down from the record shelves so often.

This evening, she started asking some of her favourite questions.

“What country is she from?”

“Israel. She’s a Yemenite Jew.”

“Is she still alive?”

“No. She died quite young. It was very tragic.”

“How old was she when she died?”

“Forty two.”

Little elf contemplates this for a moment and snuggles a bit closer to me.

“So she was younger than you?”

“Yes.”

“What did she die of?”

Ah. Complicated and yet not complicated at all. She died of complications brought on by her being infected with HIV*. How to explain AIDS to a six year old? Carefully?

“She was in hospital after a miscarriage…”

“What’s a miscarriage?”

“Well…Sometimes a mother loses her baby at a very early stage…I’m not really explaining this very well…”

Thankfully, little elf changes tack.

“Can I see pictures of her?”

So we get out my iPhone and look at pictures of wonderful, lovely, inspiring Ofra Haza then watch some film on YouTube of her performing at the Montreaux festival in 1990.

“She’s very beautiful,” little elf says.

“Yes,” I say. “She was.”

*There’s a good piece by Peter Paphides about this.

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Southport Seafront, clichéd decay, weird paddle boats

The fact is, Southport isn’t anywhere near as bad as I remembered. Every toilet in every chain restaurant seems papered over in posters warning about meow-meow and suggesting one ‘asks Frank’ but the expected gangs of feral tweens wandering the seaside wastelands seem to keep themselves voluntarily confined to a large skatepark. Tottenham and Hackney could learn a thing or two there.

We’ve been here for three days, visiting my elderly relatives and taking a ride round ‘my old haunts’, as a obscure track by The Dream Syndicate might put it. There’s a decaying Victorian park sandwiched between an immense Travel Lodge and an even larger Best Western that offers a pleasantly melancholy tour of Southport’s former grandeur.

I had my iPhone so I took a picture of a decaying and pleasantly melancholy park gazebo (or meow-meow house).
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In the distance, there’s the deserted coils of the giant rollercoaster in Pleasureland. I’ve no idea if it opens in winter. Probably not. It looks like the council decided to put a lot of money into it at some point and sort of…stopped. But not before they built a heritage centre. I walked around it (it was closed) and couldn’t really work out what it was for. It was surrounded by truncated lampost pillars, like a Greek ruin.

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There’s a circular chamber at the back. Perhaps its the airconditioning for a vast underground system of tunnels and bombshelters. Perhaps not.

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Dudelet and I took a walk while we waited for the arcades to open. There are rituals associated with seaside towns which must be observed at all costs and the exchange of money for noise, coloured lights and unreliable hits of serotonin is one of them. Dudelet, though he didn’t know it at the time, was about to win a jackpot amount of tickets* and acquire a memory which will remain with him for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, we passed a building with a sign proclaiming it to be the Smallest Pub In Britain.

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Next to the Smallest Pub In Britain was an equally small sternwheel paddle steamer. I have no idea how they acquired it.

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Back in the park, we found a deserted miniature railway station. It was a forlorn sight.

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Elsewhere, the Most Gothic Hotel In Southport stood waiting R-PAT’s wedding party.

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Then I discovered Hipstamatic and turned everything into the 1960s.

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And here’s a picture of my family. They’re the cold looking little group trudging wearily towards Fun.

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Later this week, I’ll do the happy post about the joyous, uplifting things. But today is all about the cliché and the decay. I suppose I’m listening to too many Cure reissues.

*If you don’t already know, it’s far too complicated to explain.


“I don’t want you to turn into pelicans!”

Supermum was reading Quentin Blake’s Zagazoo to Little Elf.

*Spoiler alert!*

It’s a picture book about a couple who fall in love, get married and one day a stork delivers a Zagazoo. In brief, the Zagazoo goes through all manner of strange changes relating to growing up until finally, having miraculously turned into a handsome, well-mannered, caring young man, he brings home a girlfriend to introduce to his parents.

But the parents have vanished. In their place are two amiable, large, flappy, brown…pelicans!

Little elf listened attentively. As ever, she identified the couple with people she knew.

“That’s me and dudelet!”

But she was utterly confused by the pelicans.

“I don’t want to be a pelican!”

Supermum tried to explain.

“No, it’s okay – you aren’t going to turn into a pelican – that’s really me and daddy and how we’ll get older.”

Little elf spent some time absorbing this. Then her lip trembled.

“But I don’t want you to turn into a pelican?”

Oops!

“No, we won’t really turn into pelicans – it’s about how mummy and daddy will get older…and get white hair…and…get like grandad and grandma…”

(Who are, unfortunately, dead. Oops)

“I don’t WANT you to be like grandad and grandma!”

“But everyone gets older…?”

Big tears. Sobs.

“I DON”T WANT YOU TO GET OLDER!”

By this point. supermum is herself in floods. And starts to go off again when she tells me.

Dudelet also read the book when he was younger. His reaction was a little different.

“That’s YOU, daddy – you’re a big old pelican!”

I suppose they deal with these things in different ways.


School, Little Elf, Change

Always different and always the same.

Four years ago, I had a turn at delivering dudelet to nursery. Supermum had actually taken him to his first day so by the time I walked him to school he’d already been ‘socialised’ into the norms of the nursery experience. Back then, parents could lead their children right into the large, awkwardly-shaped open-plan space with its 19th century hall.  Dudelet held on to my hand and showed me the hamster, the place where he put his bag, the sand tray and the funny-things-hanging-from-the-ceiling until the teacher clapped her hands and he toddled off obediently to sit on the carpet with his nearly-four-year old peers. He still sneaked me a quick “look-at-me” wave, though and a wide-eyed grin, amazed to be sitting there in the midst of a newly independent, mysterious world, at once circumscribed and vast.

I went outside, overwhelmed by the sense of gateways opening and closing and, to be honest, my own memories of more than forty years previously. It wasn’t the scent or taste of a madeline so much as the high angle of the ceiling and the low sticky-back plastic covered tables and…and…

Well, I cried a bit.

Little elf was different. Supermum and I took her together for her first day after we’d persuaded to put some clothes on (she’s very prone to naked protests). First we dropped dudelet off at the ‘big’ playground with the other Year Threes then  headed across the school to the nursery classrooms. Little elf showed me her hook with her name on but (different building, new head teacher, change in policy) I had to stop at the classroom door and watch her scamper off to join the other children on the assembly mat. She was already chatting and didn’t even look at me.

Earlier, she’d shared a few anxieties, mostly about lunch.

“I won’t be able to eat.”

“You’ll be able to choose something you like.”

“But how will they know?”

“You can tell them what you want to eat.”

“But what if I can’t tell them?”

“You can point.”

“BUT I CAN’T POINT!”

This time, I didn’t cry. I don’t know why. Perhaps we suspect there’s something more resilient about our daughter? Or perhaps we’ve just grown thicker skins? There are so many transitions, so may never-to-be-turned-back motions of the clock and we can’t cry about them all. There aren’t enough tears in the world.


Ten minutes on book burning and three year olds

Book burning is a heinous crime in our house. As is book vandalism, book tearing, page ripping, book shredding or book re-cycling. Dog-earing pages, marginalia and sticky notes are acceptable. Creasing spines isn’t something supermum seems to pay attention to but gets filthy looks from me. Which supermum ignores.

The context is little elf who’s developing a bad habit of attacking anything related to a momentary instance of frustration or displeasure. This morning, it was the turn of a Thomas book she wanted to someone to her read now. Now. I didn’t wake up fast enough. A few moments later, I heard the sound of paper tearing from below eye-level at the bottom of our bed. Little elf (who’s three, by the way) was sitting there systematically removing each page with the kind of sullen precision an American Bible-belt schismatic Methodist would have been proud of.

“Naughty! You NEVER hurt books!”

I scooped her up, wailing and suddenly aware she was disapproved of, and dumped her firmly on the Thinking Step. I managed to leave her there for about two minutes before I went back and picked her up feeling like an atrocious bully.

“Are you sorry for hurting the book?”

“Waah!”

Little arms flung around my neck. Disintegration of discipline effort. I don’t know what she took in but hopefully her books will be safe for a little while.

Could I have handled it better? Almost certainly. But I’d react the same way to biting and when you attack a book, you’re attacking a living embodiment (living in the sense of all the constructions and sense-makings we read onto, over and into books) of learning and I want my children to grow up knowing that learning is to be accumulated, interrogated, rejected even, but never destroyed or treated with disrespect. Unless…well, the ‘unless’ and all the other caveats can come when she’s a bit older. Meanwhile don’t hurt books.

I know, it’s a lot for a three year old to take on board, let alone a Thomas the Tank Engine Ladybird book. But there you go.