I have never been a great fan of eating melons. Not for any particular reason, apart from a vague memory of trying them for the first time a long time ago and not liking what I bit into. Years went by, I grew a few stray grey hairs and never gave much thought to that particular fruit until one day BlueBeretDad took me out to a lovely Italian restaurant. We were served the freshest and most delicious cantaloupe melon wrapped in Parma ham and from that day I have been a melon convert.
I have a similar relationship with the so-called ‘celebrity’ autobiography section in my local bookshop. I have been harbouring deep distrust for that genre ever since I tried to taste-read one of ‘those’ works once and gave up for good. Well, at least until My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding landed on my doorstep.
To someone who grew up in a concrete jungle on a housing estate (that could easily rival Amazonia with its number of tribes) under the watchful eye of a gigantic statue of Lenin Clare Balding’s childhood, with her dogs, horses, more dogs and a few more horses, and occasionally royalty popping by for breakfast, could not have been more different. Yet, her witty and anecdotal writing style had me hooked from page one till the very end.
Her descriptions of various family members are vivid and honest: stories of upsetting a very strict grandmother and Princess Anne (not at the same time), Clare’s mother forgetting to pick up her daughter on her first school holiday, Mean Girls type of gang at the boarding school and the list goes on but I would prefer you read the book.
Apart from witty storytelling what really gives the book extraordinary warmth are the animals: each chapter is dedicated to a family dog or horse and Clare’s love for all the creatures barking and neighing (including Derby winner Mill Reef) would melt any cynic’s heart. I was completely lost in her world and as soon as I put the book down I emailed my mum demanding an explanation as to why I never got to have a pony. Also inspired by this wonderful biography I made an attempt to summarise my life story through animals:
- Various Fish in a Small Aquarium – I used to love watching them swim in circles and occasionally eat each other. Then one day my mum sent them all back to the sea via the toilet plumbing route.
- Funior – my beloved guinea pig. Made a racket each night, ate my Fleur’s toes (that’s a cheap Belgian Barbie substitute for you). One day we came home from a playdate and found him stiff and dead in a corner of his cage. Poor Funior ended up in the bin (in 1980s Poland people were not very sentimental about their pets). I am still grieving.
- Mr Carp – do not even get me started on this one… again. We were best pals for a day…until my dad had to slaughter the poor fish for the Christmas Eve supper. Dad is still in counselling.
- Gapcio – a mad dog that we got as a 6 week old puppy and who stayed with us for the next 19 years. He survived being run over by a car at least two times, would run away from home almost daily, hated everyone apart from my immediate family members and within said family he adored my mum, tolerated my dad, ignored me and secretly tried to get rid of my brother. Also, Gapcio would do anything for a bowl of sweet and sour sauce.
- Niunia – my parents’ current dog. Despises anyone else who is not family (spot the pattern), hates walking when it is too hot, cold, wet or dry. Ideally she would like to be carried around 90% of the time. She also thinks my dad is god. My mum disagrees.
You can buy Clare Balding’s book in all good bookshops and I recommend you give it a go – you will not regret it but you may end up buying a horse.
Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of My Animals and Other Family and I received no other payment to write this review. I really loved this book and all opinions are my own. I would not have it any other way.