This is my personal blog and so if only one person reads this article (that being Olivia) I care little. But my daughter is 11 today, I am miles and miles away and I am terribly proud of her. She was a “miracle baby” in that she survived at all and although divorce has limited my contact with her there is not a day that goes by when I do not think of her, revel in her achievements and look forward to the next gripping instalment of her life.
Olaf was born a year into the life of t1ps.com. Her mother (big nose) and I had already lost one child at 26 weeks as a result of the same complications that caused little Olivia to be delivered early at UCL eleven years ago today. She weighed just 1 llb 4 oz and it was a couple of months before the doctors talked of when she went home rather than if. Her first three months were spent at UCH in various fish tank devices wired up to all sorts of complex instruments. Every day her mother and I would, either alone or together, spend hours with her, after a while being able to allow her tiny hand to grasp a finger and after a couple of months to hold and feed her. Her tiny clothes were taken from toys – I gave her an Ireland jumper I had stolen from a small teddy bear which she wore for many weeks. I sang to her and talked to her but despite my singing she pulled through – what a battler she was. And still is.
The doctors warned us that there was a high chance of complications, notably of her having cerebral palsy. But, to date, there has been nothing too serious. Whether that was the prayers of my father’s church, the care of the team at UCH or good luck I care not. Olaf is okay. But she might not have been and to this day I have done what I could for Woodlarks, a charity – - see my other interests at the top of this blog – for those less fortunate than my daughter. To have been thrown together by Olivia’s birth with the amazing people at Woodlarks, has been a secondary blessing and privilege for me.
And now she is eleven. In September she leaves the Village School in Hampstead which has done her proud ( a big thank you to Mrs Prior and Miss Gay, the successive head teachers) and heads off to South Hampstead. Olaf had a choice of good schools to go to but the headmistress at SH told her that she could have time off to train to swim the English channel and so could do no wrong. My daughter is now a faster swimmer than both myself and, more impressively, Big Nose who is a bit of a health freak. Despite being short, as she always will be, she throws herself enthusiastically into netball, hockey, and touch rugby, whatever. Rugby is her one weakness, she has chosen to support Wales (Big Nose being Welsh) rather than Ireland but even this gives me some joy. A) It is not England. And b) when Ireland loses to Wales my father and I now have the consolation of saying to each other “at least Olivia will be happy.”
I shall miss Olivia’s next stage performance. Drama has been a passion of hers for as long as I can remember. Her first role ( a strawberry in the Hungry Caterpillar aged 2) was a triumph. Her last role was as Malvolio in 12th Night. Before that she was a terrifying Queen of Hearst in Alice in Wonderland. In a couple of weeks she will be the Countess in the Sound of Music – the biggest role in the play not to involve singing. When we met up on Tuesday for a chocolate pizza (sorry Big Nose, when I said we had salad I was lying, but it was all my idea) I was told that Count von Trapp was in trouble for not learning all her lines. “Have you learned your lines?” “Of course I have Daddy”. I bet she learned them weeks ago and she will be word perfect. The DVD will be out by late July and I cannot wait.
Academically Olivia has always excelled and is already winning prizes for her poetry and short stories – she was a published author at 10, something even her grandfather (my father) could not match. She is very bookish and on her 6th birthday asked to be given “books of a factual nature.” And that has always been the way since. And so I know that today she will start reading a present from my father (David Starkey on Elizabeth 1st) and I know that my presents ( four history books) will be devoured. But it is not the fact that she is very clever, sporty or dramatically talented which shines out. Nor her funny little phrases (Daddy is that woman employed as part of a policy of multi-cultural diversity? That was at 6) that make me so proud. It is just her inherent good nature. Olivia is always polite, thoughtful, helpful, considerate and empathetic. Heaven knows where she gets it from – it must have skipped a generation with myself and Big Nose and be some sort of throwback.
Of course this may all change. The teenage years lie ahead. She tells me that she will not be interested in boys for at least two years. Well that suits me fine. For at least two years. She takes a dim view of smoking, excessive drinking and gluttony. Again that is all fine although it gets me the odd dark look. We now find ourselves having adult conversations be it her doubts about the best treatment for acne ( Toothpaste – a hint from Elle Macpherson which I swear by); same sex marriages ( we are both relaxed on the issue); a two state solution in Israel ( I fear her mind was poisoned along the way by an Arabist but I hope I have put her straight), Austrian economics, global warming ( again, her mind had been poisoned but I think some balance has now been provided) or the latest novel she is reading. It will be an adult book, her Harry Potter phase ended at least three years ago. It seems an eon ago that we used to read Fix It Duck together after the two of us had enjoyed a supper of pasta Bolognese. I suppose it must have been nine years ago. I have no idea what Olaf will be like or doing in nine years time but I am sure that it will be amazing.
Happy Birthday Olaf. Do not let Big Nose eat all of the chocolate cake.
If you enjoyed reading this article from Tom Winnifrith, why not help us cover our running costs with a donation?