My year of discoveries, sad, bad and trivial

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The Independent Online
WHAT discoveries have I made in 1993? They range from sad to good, from trivial to bad, from interesting to obvious. Here are some of them, in no particular order . . .

The first, since my father died on 1 January 1993, was grief. I am not exactly sorry that he died, for he was 83 and almost impatient for death; but I do find myself nowadays lacerated by the sight of old men who look like him. It moves me very much to watch them bent almost double to walk against the wind, or struggling to negotiate stairs and crowds. Only a toddler exhibits greater courage in braving public spaces.

Now for some of the lighter discoveries of the year.

I have learnt how to make good nourishing soup. The secret is in the bones. In France, every butcher gives you these for nothing. Here in London, my local Sainsbury's no longer does its own butchering, but a few chunks of oxtail intended for osso buco will do instead. A bucketful of delicious soup concocted from bones and dregs of wine and scraps of vegetables (be generous with the garlic and fresh herbs) costs a pound or two. I lived on it and French bread throughout the autumn.

I spotted for the first time recently that deshabille and dishevelled are the same word. Never thought of that before.

I found out that my 22-year-old daughter has grown up. As she's the youngest of the three, I postponed acknowledgement of this, unwilling to accept the end of active motherhood. She insisted that she wanted to live alone in a flat, not just one room. On her budget, that meant a council estate in Brixton - not an easy place for a middle-class kid to set up residence. She negotiated the initial hostility with subtlety and grace, disarmed suspicious neighbours, and has settled in brilliantly.

She writes thank-you letters without being prompted; visits her grandmother in the country without asking me to pay for her train ticket; claims the insurance on her stolen bike without my help. She's probably more mature at 22 than I was at 32.

More than 20 years after buying a house in a French village, I have at last been asked to dinner by my neighbours. This must be the vital step towards acceptance. It is true that they cooked without garlic, fearful lest we English didn't like it, but we had a noisy and convivial evening and conversed throughout in French. I discovered the difference between la meme and pareille and neuf and nouveau, and learnt that the verb for enjoying a meal is se regaler. Such nuances point the way towards fluency rather than mere competence in French.

I have faced the fact that, having worked out assiduously at a gym three times a week for seven years, I've had enough. I haven't the time and, more to the point, I no longer have the inclination. I surrender to sag and bulge. I am prepared to age disgracefully rather than do one more sit-up.

I discovered that the fax machine has brought back the days of the Victorian letter-writers. Statement and reply within moments; it's more like a game of tennis than correspondence.

The trivial now . . . I found that second-hand clothes shops are so comprehensive that they beat even the sales for economy chic. Even the greatest designer names can be bought for a tenth of their original cost, pristine as new. I now wonder why anyone ever pays full price.

I discovered that the cosmetics marketed under the brand-name Bourjois, available at Boots, are the experimental range for a desperately expensive, wildly modish cosmetic and perfume house, but because Bourjois are prototypes and inexpensively packaged, they cost a tenth as much as the glossy version. These last two discoveries have saved me at least pounds 500 this year, which is why I pass them on.

What, I wonder, does 1994 hold?

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