Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Birthday to The Individualist

from Jacqueline

I am not really the world’s worst timekeeper, I am simply on a book tour that has now been in progress for over two months - and being a travel warrior tends to mess with my sense of which day of the week it is. It’s Friday evening and I’m late because I was en-route to Austin and ... so it goes on.

I’m here for the Texas Book Festival where tomorrow the amazing Kate Atkinson and I will be the panelists for a session entitled: Solving The Case of the British Mystery. Seeing as neither of us write what could be called a “typical” British mystery, I think the cat might end up among the pigeons. And at the time of writing, I am already more than a little intimidated at the thought of sharing the stage with Kate (Memo to self: Observe and learn, observe and learn).

I’ll also be racing to the House Chamber at the Capitol building tomorrow morning, to listen to Barack Obama, who is will be making the opening address and also talking about his new book, The Audacity of Hope. I have a coveted red wristband to get me into his session.

Of course, while at the festival I will be shackled with guilt. On Saturday, October 28th, my Dad (the man who still takes my Mum dancing three or four nights a week) will celebrate his 80th birthday. Actually, he is celebrating it this evening – a big party with all their dancing pals, followed by celebrations throughout the weekend. For the actual birthday tomorrow, I have arranged for my parents to have dinner in the Pullman carriage of a local restored steam train service (you can read more about that on my website:, and tomorrow’s “theme” is the Sherlock Holmes mystery, complete with a murder on board and a sleuth on the case. This will be my mother’s excuse to tell everyone else that her daughter is a mystery writer – Patty, my mother is just like yours!

You may ask why I am not there – ah, well, what can I say? My presence here at the festival was a signed, sealed, done deal before I realized what had happened, and when I broke the news to my Dad he simply said, “Not to worry, Love – all this birthday lark is just for the card companies to make money anyway.” But next Sunday, as soon as my last event for the tour is over, I am flying to the UK to make them celebrate all over again – and I can’t wait.

My dad’s attitude to individuality has been one of his greatest gifts to my brother and I. He was saying “Think Different” long before Apple. In fact, when I was a child I found his army demobilization papers, and in a final report his commanding officer wrote about my father’s achievements, but couldn’t help commenting upon his tendency to do things in a rather individual manner. The fact was that my Dad hated the army, because he couldn’t stand being in any institution where everyone had to dress in the same clothes.

I remember when I was about twelve years old, I was enthralled by the up-to-the-minute clothes worn by my very hip cousin, Celia, who was fifteen at the time. She wore dresses by Mary Quant, she had the “Twiggy dress,” which was an A-line shift with a sort of empire line and three bows at the front. She had a lovely little suit from Clobber by Jeff Banks, and of course, she had clothes by Biba – oh, does anyone else remember Biba? These were all big British names in the 60’s. For a short time it became the “in thing” to wear a t-shirt with your initial taped on the front – and the key was to do the initialization yourself. You bought a plain white t-shirt, some colored tape and then you either sewed or (if you bought the more expensive self-adhesive tape) ironed it into place. Well as soon as I saw Celia, the Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, sporting her bright white t-shirt with the big “C” on the front, I was bound and determined to have one with a great big “J” on the front. And this was something I could afford! So, I took my earnings from babysitting and bought the required white t-shirt, and then purchased a yard and a half of red tape. My father walked into the house after work as I was wrangling the tape into a J while brandishing a hot iron at the same time – I’d decided to go all the way and pay extra not to have to sew.

“What’re you doing, Jack?”
“Um, trying to get this tape to stick.” I probably mumbled. At twelve girls start to mumble when their parents speak to them, even though they can talk for ages to their friends.
“What’s the design?”
“The what?” J looks up, waving hot iron.
“Design. Pattern. Have you designed a pattern?”
(This is the bit where I probably rolled my eyes thinking I hadn’t been seen)
“No, I’m doing my initial. J.”
“Because EVERYONE’s doing it.”

(Now, just to let you know, the words “EVERYONE’S DOING IT” were like a red rag to a bull for my Dad.)

“Why on earth do you want to do something that everyone else is doing?”

No answer from suddenly speechless twelve-year-old crosspatch.

“Come on, let’s go and buy some more tape, then we’ll get some paper and you can design something different, something with your initial, but not like everyone else. Make it a bit individual, a bit interesting. You don’t want to be just like everyone else, do you, love?”

And even though I knew that being the same as everyone else was easier (heck, who wants to be different at twelve?) there was something about my father’s challenge that touched my imagination, even though I was scared stiff when I first wore that t-shirt with its multi-colored loopy design with a J at the center.

So, to my dad, the amateur astronomer (I still remember him waking my brother and I – aged 4 and 8 respectively – in the early hours of the morning to watch a comet cross the sky), the wine-maker (his blackberry liqueur is gorgeous, the orange wine is lethal, as is the wheatgerm and raisin), the dancer, the western afficionado, follower of Bonanza, Rawhide and Gunsmoke, and avid reader of National Geographic: Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday.


  1. And many happy returns to Jack's dad, who appears to be very much like mine.

    Tom, T.O.

  2. from Jacqueline

    Thank you, Tom - that's so kind of you!

  3. I know...let's all charter a plane and fly to the UK with you...we'll wear our initialed T-shirts and when your dad walks into the room we'll yell SURPRISE!

    Hope you find some much-needed R&R in the arms of your loving family.

  4. That's a wonderful post, and I hope your dad had a great birthday. But wheat germ wine? I think I will stick to my beer... blackberry liqueur sounds lovely, though.

  5. from Jacqueline

    Here's the thing about the wheatgerm wine - it's like a really, really strong whisky, and the orange wine is like Cointreau. All very potent. But the blackberry is truly gorgeous. And Patty - what a great idea! If only I'd thought of it ... uh-oh, small problem with the several hundred thousand $$$ to charter that jet!

  6. Please send on our birthday greetings to your father, Jackie. He sounds like a fine man.

    As does Barack Obama. I got to meet him this week in Marin County. There may be hope out there for all of us yet.

  7. from Jacqueline

    I am now back in my hotel room psyching myself up for my panel with the terrific Kate Atkinson, and trying not to feel like someone who has sneaked in under false pretences. Barack Obama's speech was just terrific - a man who speaks from the heart, if ever there was one. I think the last time I was moved by a politician speaking with such passion was when I heard Al Gore speak at Book Passage in the summer. I don't know if Obama has the miles on him yet to compete for the Presidency, however, he will have my vote when he runs. And here's the thing - I cannot vote as I have wavered in the decision to become an American citizen, however, listening to Obama made me want to begin the citizenship process, not just to be able to vote for him, but because he inspired me with his words of inclusion for all - he gave me faith that it wasn't an insurmountable peak that we were too frail or full of ourselves to climb.

    And interestingly enough, the woman sitting next to me, a lifelong good friend of GW and Laura Bush, was equally inspired, and told me that since hearing Obama's speech at the Democratic National Congress in 2004, as far as she's concerned, he has her vote. Now how's that for a revelation!

  8. Loks like instead of being at the "crush" events for your Dad, you'll get some more quality time to celebrate his 80th.... and perhaps more time to learn the sorts of dances he likes to do, too?
    That Texas Book Festival seems to be beceoming de rigeur for many authors to attend. My sister, CM Mayo, is doing two panels in the Lit Fiction category.

  9. from Jacqueline

    Well, I've had a message from my Mum that the mystery dinner was a great success, complete with the whole Pullman carriage - diners, actors and staff - singing "Happy Birthday" to my father. How great is that? The champagne went down well too!

    And yes, this festival is a terrific event. My "panel" with Kate Atkinson went well - I was just thrilled to bits to meet her. She's a superb reader of her work and had the audience in the palm of her hand. We had tea afterwards (obviously ...) and talked about books, writing, global warming and how Scandinavia is leading the world in the race towards zero emissions from petroleum-based machines and alternative energies. It's been a great day - but next week it will be even greater, as I will be on my way to the UK on November 5th, for that quality time with my favorite octogenerian! (Better not let him know I called him by the "O" word!)

  10. What a lovely post, I love hearing about parents who encourage individuality. And I have some friends who specialize in huckleberry wine. Yum ;-)

  11. Dear Jackie,
    Enjoy your success and go home and celebrate with your family. Your Dad's probably so proud of you he could burst. So happy 80th to him and his wonderful daughter, wife and family.
    Gad! Can I crawl into a spare suitcase and come with you. I can cook! Sigh.
    We're just home from Chiller Theatre in New Jersey and I'm so tired I could sleep where I drop, so I hope you are taking better care of yourself. :-D
    Your Dad sounds a wonderful man and brilliant inspiration to you and all around him. Wish him cheers from us. Oh, and have a nip of Blackberry wine for me too - pretty please. Ta.
    Enjoy your time away...