Bienvenue au Boudoir de Barbie

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Ken! Get your plastic arse in here and call Malibu Security. That hideous old dyke Miss Marple is stalking me again and she's in my BEDROOM.

When Rose was four, she dithered around, like most girls of her era, on the edge of the Barbie-Disney-Princess vortex I felt it was my maternal duty to keep her out of. It was April, I thought a trip to Paris would distract us both, so off we flew, Rose getting all the business travellers to shout 'Weeeeee' as we zoomed down the runway and took off.

Paris, in delicate early spring light, is as close to heaven as you can get. In the company of a curious and independent-minded little daughter, it actually is heaven. I love the insouciant rudeness of Parisians; I find it so much more authentic than a greasy insincere smirk as someone pretends to care where I come from before they rip me off. We had breakfast in the 6th arrondissement; Rose looked crossly at the bowl of cafe au lait and croissant. 'Can't I have apple juice?' I pushed through the chic crowd to the counter, trying to keep an eye on the little figure perched at the tiny table with a bucket of hot coffee. She didn't miss a trick; when I got back, she had ripped up my croissant, filled the coffee with sugar and was dipping in the pastry, scattering soggy crumbs and icy smiles about the place. Just like a native.

We walked for miles and miles. In the Marais, we passed a couture shop selling a dress made of rose petals. She popped in to look closer; I watched through the window as she and the skeletal assistants exchanged solemn words, fingered the dress and bid unsmiling farewells. Not a gusher, my daughter. Unlike me. 'What a gorgeous dress, did you tell them your name was Rose, how funny, it was made of roses.' She looked at me pityingly. 'I'm English. I don't know what they said.'

One night we went for a late and grown-up dinner. The restaurant was hushed and empty apart from some bourgeois matrons in fur and matching lap dogs. Rose had something the chef thought appropriate for a four-year-old. It involved a lot of chicken, lentils and celery and she ate every bite. Then the waiter, unbidden, brought her a shiny, dark-as-sin chocolate ganache. She'd never seen one before, and frankly didn't spend much time looking at it either. The squeaks and sighs of happiness from my usually hard-to-impress daughter were fabulous. The matrons laughed and ordered one to share.

The Northern Socialist had taken us to the Louvre when I was six; he showed us the Venus de Milo and warned that that's what happens if you bite your nails. We never did. I thought it sensible to do the same for my daughter. The queues were awful, so I took her instead to the new wing with all the apartments decorated with amazing furniture liberated from fleeing aristocrats and Napoleon's tents.

I must confess to feeling a tiny bit smug as I watched my daughter stalk through the mahogany campaign tables, past priceless vases and pictures, cast an eye over tapestries, ceramics and furniture. In one room, some bow-tied German academics were standing taking notes on a gorgeous crystal table and mirror from the Louis-Philippe period of the 19th century. Rose marched up to it; they smiled indulgently. 'Look, mummy,' she shouted, delightedly. 'They've got Barbie's dressing table.'

Wiped the smile right off my feminist, never-too-young-to-give-them-culture face, that did.


  1. Barbie? You don't know you're BORN. Bratz dolls don't have dressing tables and luxurious pink beds; they have their slap trowelled on by tattoo artists and then they go and lie in the street.

  2. Ah Paris in the Spring - a delight! You ahve captured the spirit of the city so well.

    Whilst still laughing about Venus de Milo's unfortunate nail-biting habit, may I ask whether the Northern Socialist you refer to was the same one who indoctrinated you in the Geordie culture?

  3. Oh E what a perfectly delightful post. So much like her mum! What wonderful things you are sharing with her. As you told me once, you heart must be full.

  4. WONDERFUL! your daughter has a mind full of curiosity and imagination. what a little gem and what a gem is your blog!

  5. Coffee - you're right. I think we flirted briefly with those. They came with tiny plastic accessories - half-bottles of Co-op vodka, packets of Lambert & Butler and teeny-weeny pregnancy kits. Lovely.

    Trish, yep, that's my dad. Noo, lasses, divvent bite ya nailz, ya'll end oop like wor Venus and ney lad'll eva marry yaz.

    James - merci. I think. Are you saying I'm bossy, cynical and hard to impress?? It was lovely, though. We also bounced on the beds every night and had scarlet nails and lips. Fab.

    JADH - comme vous etes gentille! Adore what you and Trish are doing by the way. Formidable.

  6. A wonderful story! What a lovely trip for the two of you.


  7. Love your story. And will add, as the Barbie-fearing mother of a 22-year old, my own child's comment. "Mom, I just want to PLAY with Barbie. I don't want to BE her."

  8. Very jealous of your lovely trip, which you evoked beautifully, as ever. The last bit reminded me of some tarty boudoir furniture I had for my Sindy Doll, back in the day - all gold scrollwork, you get the picture. Disturbingly, I had an old white teddy who used to 'visit' Sindy in her boudoir. Not sure why I'm sharing this, other than to illustrate that overly fancy dolls' bedroom furniture is NOT A GOOD THING!


Please leave a comment if you can be remotely bothered - anything you have to say is valuable and I absolutely love hearing from you all. Elizabeth