We got home the other night to find the older two Drama Queens enrapt by “Out of Africa”; always gratifying to find your offspring gripped by something you loved. In an effort to gauge how far through they were I asked if they had got to the bit where Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep’s hair – which is one of those moments that I classify as creating a bat-squeak of romance and sensuality. (What a fantastic thing Google is to be sure, I have just discovered that I am indebted for the fabulous ‘bat-squeak’ image to Evelyn Waugh). Being girls they immediately understood why I thought it was romantic whereas Husband being the lone male in the house failed to see any overtones of romance in a good sluicing and dousing of female tresses.
My romantic ponderings were given further fuel by my latest fave rave on the book front, ‘Les Tres Riches Heures de Mrs Mole’ by Ronald Searle the British cartoonist, now in his nineties. The book is a classic example of how romance doesn’t always come neatly packaged in heart shaped boxes, accompanied by diamond rings, chocolates and champagne – not that I’m dismissing these traditional trimmings, I must add.
On New Year’s Eve 1969, Ronald Searle’s wife Monica was diagnosed with a virulent form of breast cancer. The first doctor’s advice was to “put her somewhere comfortable and help her die as peacefully as possible.” Instead they found another doctor who was prepared to help her fight the cancer and she embarked upon 47 gruelling and ‘horrendous’ chemotherapy treatments.
At the time of the cancer’s appearance the couple had just bought a house in the South of France and were beginning the long process of renovation. Every time over the next five years that Monica went into hospital for a round of chemotherapy, Ronald Searle created a picture for her bedside, illustrating for her the riches of life and the future in that house that awaited her.
Whilst Monica lay in a hospital bed, her alto ego Mrs Mole inhabited a world of sunshine and colour. A world in which all the ordinary things in life are celebrated and enjoyed, from tea in bed, singing in the bath, dancing in the snow, quaffing champagne, and wrapping presents to swimming in a very nifty mole bikini.
Miraculously Monica lived for another 42 years, enjoying Mrs Mole’s life in Provence, though sadly she died earlier this year before the publication of the collected drawings, that were in effect Ronald Searle’s love letter to her.
On the face of it, a collection of cartoons about a female mole doesn’t sound like much of a portrayal of hope and romance, but Ronald Searle’s drawings create a tapestry of such love I found it a really inspiring tribute to the value of optimism, love and a life worth living.
Am thankful that I can find romance in prosaic things – hope Husband can too – as he’s just about to get home to discover it’s tuna pasta bake for the second night in a row, to be eaten to the accompaniment of groans from sick child on the sofa – Robert Redford eat your heart out!