“I have reached that age”, muses the narrator of Anita Brookner’s Incidents in the Rue Langier, “when a woman begins to perceive that she is growing into the person she least plans to resemble: her mother”.
Well, I know just how she feels. The other day, I was having a quiet rummage in my photo collection in the vain hope of finding a picture of myself that didn’t belong on Crimewatch or on the front page of the local paper (“Mad Woman Chucks Teenager’s Gadgets Into The Ouse In A Fit Of Pique” kind of thing) – and all of a sudden, I saw my mother’s eyes staring up at me.
Now, some people will have grown up knowing (thanks to a looking-glass) that they are destined to become their mothers. But I’m not one of them. At school, I was surrounded by miniature carbon-copies of old (well, everyone’s old when you’re five) women – while I, blonde, blue-eyed, round-faced, short-sighted – wondered if my dark, chiselled, perfect-sighted Mummy hadn’t found me in the local orphanage. Either that or the Landings Lane RSPCA place, which is where I once very kindly told my younger sister we had picked her up.
Of course, at that time I wanted to look like her more than anything else in the world. All my drawings of princesses had long, dark hair and wore orange and brown fringed jackets and large floppy hats – after all, if princesses were the most beautiful women in the world, then obviously they looked like Mummy – even if I didn’t.
So I was somewhat taken aback to see her looking at me through my face. But if the physical resemblance is a disturbing new development – then I can’t help wondering what other worrying patterns might follow. I can just about cope with being genetically programmed to buy birthday cakes in M&S – but am I also programmed to become interested in gardening? To watch Pointless? To play the piano when I should be doing more useful things? Or even to keep whippets?
Of course I’m not. I would never do a thing like that. I am an independent adult, not a younger version of someone else. Aren’t I?
Um, no actually. Not only do I now have her eyes: I am taking on her personality as well. There I was, harmlessly ironing a pile of socks and tea towels – when a friend who dropped by asked me what on earth I was doing. Now, ironing socks and tea towels seems to me to be a perfectly good use of my time. And why? Because my mother does it. And this similarity seems to be coming out more and more – as I notice when I find myself inexplicably drawn to the windows of estate agents in the vicinity of Bootham and Petergate.
What’s more, I seem to have inherited her habit of throwing food away if it’s more than about half an hour old, and a hardy Yorkshire refusal to take anyone to A&E unless their arm has actually dropped off. I already have a shortlist of names for the whippet puppies I am not having. And I wouldn’t
dream of using a dish cloth more than once, never mind one of those scary sponges, which are evidently harbouring E. coli, listeria and salmonella even before you’ve taken them out of their plastic packaging.
Of course, I’m not yoonique (and my mother would slap me round the chops for suggesting I was. Rightly so). We are in fact all destined to become our parents. The interchangeable George Bushes Jnr and Snr are a prime example. And, while the Royal Family may think they’ve successfully ejected Her Ferginess from their inner circle she is in fact still there – only now in duplicate, in the form of Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice.
It could be worse. When I think of the mad relatives I could have turned into, then I count myself jolly lucky. In fact, it’s just my son whom I feel sorry for, if Oscar Wilde is to be believed: “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.”