Older relatives from when I was growing up had a habit of counting the age of younger people in donkey years – “Fourteen? That’s two donkeys already!” In the 21 years that I’ve lived in this English land, I realise it might be quite useful to chart it in three donkey phases. Seeing Shrek, the Musical yesterday at the Bristol Hippodrome might have something to do with this!
The first seven years were a mixture of starting out as an emigrant which meant being a tourist at every available opportunity. It was when we would blindly pay a fortune to visit the grand estates of Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, travel to Oxford and Windsor, accompanying hordes of relatives and doing it over and over again. By the end of that phase, we realised it was time to buckle down and try to behave like we lived here – learning to derive joy in the mundaneness of the school run, the relentless washing cycle and a hard to comprehend bedtime routine and yes, try and be thrifty.
The early part of the second phase was about happy times with people we met serendipitously – neighbours with whom we gelled, people known to family in India, those met through work. There was real freedom in not seeking to identify ourselves through the narrow channels of race (i.e. just with fellow countrymen), religion or something that’s rarely mentioned, caste, as in America where there are many middle-class, predominantly Brahmin congregations in every county’s Hindu temple from Maryland, Cleveland to Chicago. So in the mix for us was English, Pakistani, Indian and Austrian that became established as a substitute family circle of our choice. By the end of this seven year period, many of these friends moved away, leaving us behind with loads of wonderful memories and a sense of sadness at things changing.
The last seven years have been more of a gritty reality – understanding the true implications of living 5000 miles away from next of kin, growing older and worrying about the state of the world. So, when the youngest member of our Austrian family who was all of three when she left Bristol, arrived as an unaccompanied minor at Bristol airport this week – we have been spun right back into the golden time of our happy phase, Suddenly there seems to be pleasure in having simple fun again. Like going to the Wallace and Gromit exhibition at the M-Shed, admiring the intricate miniatures of the popular animation characters and laughing at titles like Brighton Roquefort and East of Edam, and building models out of plasticene. Seeing a real Oscar statuette wearing a bow-tie was an unexpected thrill too. We found ourselves in Dyrham Park, near Bath where the horns of the wild fallow deer are, I’m sorry to say, in tatters. This is the when their testosterone levels are at their lowest and the velvety skin on the antlers are shedding – the closest thing to male menstruation that I’ve seen. Once they shed completely, they are ready to lock horns for the rutting season in October. We might yet get an annual subscription to the National Trust.
Back to being a donkey and slaying dragons on stage – Shrek the musical was a grand production and we giggled our way through all the farts and burps. The actors who played the lead parts – the talking donkey, the ogre, Shrek, the cursed Princess and the vertically challenged Farquhar were brilliant. Special mention to the huge dragon on stage that swayed and moved with fierce intensity, reminding me of the dragon dance during Chinese New Year. Rejuvenation.