Daddy had a Pet Baboon

‘A two-minute talk on any subject you like’ the letter from school said. Sweet Pea had been set her first big homework task: to prepare a talk to give in front of the whole class about anything she liked. The chosen topic? “My Funny Daddy”.

Now, I know this is a proud, shameless step-mum talking but I reckon her talk must have utterly trumped the others’. Who else could claim to have a daddy who split his trousers in front of the Queen? That alone could have done it, but with the claim that he also kept a pet baboon as a kid, that must have blown away the fierce seven-year-old competition good and proper. Brilliant!

He’d first told me about this just before dropping off to sleep a few days into our honeymoon. No amount of shaking would get any further information out of him until the morning. I just lay there giggling through the night.

‘We had monkeys as well,’ he continued the next morning, ‘but they were naughty, they’d pinch food and cause havoc. A lot got killed by the dogs or had heart attacks. They didn’t last long.’ The guard baboon meanwhile, would be let out at night to guard the premises, in the morning he was lured into his cage with bananas by a nervous domestic or human day guard. ‘He was a mean baboon, far from cute.’

The girls, who like me, have spent most or all of their life in the UK, find this fascinating. And so did Sweet Pea’s class. For Hubby, it was just a passing point of mild interest and ever-so normal.

But despite the menagerie of exotic pets, the monkeys, the baboon, the parrots, the dogs – the one that was sold without Hubby and his brothers knowing and the loyal Lassie dog who ran after their car all the way to the airport as the family left China after their dad’s time as Congolese Ambassador there… Pets in our Glasgow house are another matter.

The girls are desperate for a dog. So am I. I’ve had a West Highland white terrier on the top of my Christmas list since the age of seven. Still no luck. But I can’t help but think there is still hope. The girls would prefer a golden retriever or a sheep dog collie. When we went to my boss’s house the other day his very patient Collie ended up wrapped in Sweet Pea’s pink cardigan. We count dogs on the way to school in between times tables and spelling practice. And we especially like it when they’re carrying funny things, like massive sticks, bottles or shoes.

But a dog in our household? Well I think we’ll have to wait until we’re a bit more settled, have a bigger garden, have time to take it on walks blah blah blah. A baboon, on the other hand, could be a little more likely at this rate…

Baboon versus Westie

The Queen on the Coco Pops

By Appointment to HM the Queen: Coco Pops

The Queen tends to feature at our dinner table quite a lot these days. Not that she’s visited in person recently, but Her Majesty doesn’t half come up as a topic of fascination for the girls. It all started well before the Royal Wedding had even been announced. In fact, I think it all started when I told the girls that my mum had met the Queen when she was an officer in the RAF. The Queen came to have dinner with all the officers and in preparation they had to learn how to eat politely, which knife and fork to use when, which glass was for water and which were for wine and how you should never put your elbows on the table.

It was around about this point that the succession of ‘Why?’s ensued.

“Why do you have to eat well in front of the Queen?”

“Because it’s polite.”

“Is she a bit grumpy about these things?”

I’ll admit it was a ruse on my part to encourage Sweet Pea to stop licking her knife. I’d been brought up on the strictest of table manners, perhaps they were instilled a slight bit too much, but the knife-licking, at least, had to stop.

It didn’t take hubby long to mutter under his breath in his deep French accent,

“Pah the Queen, what is she good for? Going from one place to another on horses.”

I know he was being provocative and it made me laugh. He’s good at feigning grumbles. I think he likes to do it especially now that there are three women in the house. Three against one gives him licence for his grumbles and we love him for it. For someone who was brought up with so much protocol and formality as a son of a Congolese Ambassador, he knows more about the importance of etiquette in those sorts of situations than I did.

Hubby met the Queen when he was about 10 years old and his father was Ambassador in the former British colony of Zambia. The Queen was visiting the capital, Lusaka, and his dad was off to meet her with all the other dignitaries of the city. Hubby asked his mum if he could go with his dad, and they’d agreed. He put on his best suit and travelled in the motorcade feeling very important. He sat up front with the driver of the tinted window car, flags of Zaire (the old name for Congo) flapping on the wings, his waistband feeling snugger than last year…

When the time finally came for him to meet the Queen, Hubby was very excited and stood in line with many dignitaries standing behind him. His mum had told him to be sure to bow when he met her… And as Queen Elizabeth herself stood before him he obediently bowed, promptly splitting his trousers right up the back. The dignitaries standing behind him stifled guffaws and the Queen started chuckling along, not really knowing what everyone was laughing about.

Of course, mini chubby Hubby couldn’t stay any longer and was sent home early in disgrace. Poor thing. Needless to say the girls love this story and still ask him to repeat it, usually at dinnertime. In fact it’s even featuring as the topic of her two-minute homework presentation at school.

Another favourite Queen-associated activity is finding out what the Queen has on her shopping list. I mentioned in passing that some products have the Royal seal of approval or are singled out ‘by Royal Appointment’ if the Queen likes to eat it. These lucky products have a coat of arms stamped on the box and if they looked very carefully they’d find them. Well…. I thought the kitchen was on fire when I was brushing my teeth one morning. A stereo yelp followed by elephant feet on the stairs made me open the bathroom in alarm,

“Mwhat iv it?!” I asked through a mouthful of toothpaste.

“The Queen’s on the Coco Pops!”

Brilliant. Simply brilliant. The girls’ couldn’t believe it. But there was the seal right above the copyright note for Coco Monkey. And from that moment on the Queen’s shopping list has been something of a family challenge. And the table manners aren’t half bad now either.