A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Xantippe, Primogeniture, Subjective & Objective
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It seems to me that the biggest difference between British and American whodunits is that while the British ones, and in particular novels by P.D. James, stress that foul play more often than not has to do with a family will, American authors like the gore of serial killers. I dislike gore. This is why I read P.D. James, Colin Dexter and Reginald Hill. It is only recently that I have come to understand how family wills and family affairs can lead to serious crimes.

I have watched old couples in big houses in my neighbourhood be persuaded by their children that the family home is much too big and that moving to a cozier place might be an improvement. Understood in the suggestion is that whatever profits the couple might make those profits should be transferred in the direction of their children. Soon after the couples sell one of them dies and the other descends into dementia. It is for this reason that Rosemary and I have sworn to stay where we are and to be taken out in coffins. I am pleased to report that both our daughters agree on this.

But there are things, here in there, in everyday family interaction that make me still understand how right P.D. James is about human nature.

I remember that when our daughters were entering teenage hood, we had many family squabbles at our Burnaby dinner table. In fact I found out that, statistically, our squabbles were the norm and not the exception.

With some exceptions (and certainly I can not recall any P.D. James novel that would indeed be an one) it can all be narrowed to the scary technical term of primogeniture. Firstborns in wealthy families of the past (I rather like the Spanish primogénito) would inherit everything and siblings would become soldiers, priests or nuns.

When my Manchester-born grandfather Harry moved to Buenos Aires around 1902 he and his wife Ellen brought their son Harry. While it was never spoken out loud I did find out that my uncle Harry was born before his parents had married or perhaps he was even born from another mother. Most of the people who could confirm this are all dead so what I write herewith is conjecture. It was the custom in the Hayward family that the firstborn male had the middle name of Waterhouse. My uncle Harry never seemed to exercise this custom. My father was, in theory, if Harry was a bastard, the first born male of the Hayward family. He then had the exclusive right of saddling Waterhouse on me. I will not explain here how I came to have an older half-brother, Enrique who is also a Waterhouse. The explanation is also conjecture.

I had a sister who was born dead so my mother always told me that I was spoiled because I was an only child. She never really had the guilt or the problem of having to tend to more than one child. My mother was the eldest of a family of three (a sister and an uncle). My grandmother was showered by jewels made in Paris by her husband (my grandfather Tirso de Irureta Goyena). My grandmother became a widow in her late 20s and my mother had to take care of the family (she was 11) in New York while her mother worked. My mother received that monthly cheque from her mother and she did the shopping, the cooking and the paying of the bills. In some way my mother and her mother lived together for most of their life. My uncle and aunt financed their divorces with funds that were obtained by pawning my grandmother’s jewels. When my grandmother died my aunt and uncle wanted to share what was left of the jewels. At that point my mother finally rebelled and said no. When my mother died and I informed my aunt I was accused of being the son of thief and a thief myself. It is not too difficult to figure out that the problem is one that P.D. James would have understood and in some way had to do with primogeniture. My mother was the oldest but my uncle, the youngest, was the firstborn.

To this day my aunt will not communicate with me and my uncle who died some years ago did not either.

I watched my wife take care of our second daughter Hilary as we both deemed our eldest, Ale to be independent and self-sufficient. Hilary was shy, withdrawn and bullied mercilessly at school. It is only as an adult that Hilary told us of the bullying. Since Hilary took most of our time we did not give Ale our emotional support and perhaps we might have even been shy in the hugs and kisses department. I never realized that a child’s jealousy and resentment could have been a factor in Ale’s growing up.

Some years ago there seemed to be a rift between our daughters but with the advent of our two granddaughters (Hilary’s daughters, Rebecca and Lauren) the rift has healed and the two sisters are close in ways that they may have never been before.

And it is with the modern communication tool of MSN with its video connections that Rosemary and her older sister Ruth (she lives in Brockville, Ontario) that I have noticed the lowering of barriers and a genuine feeling that they are sisters, at last.

Of the above I will never know as my mother always harped on my being a spoiled only child.

Yesterday it was Rebecca’s 12th birthday. Rebecca had returned from San José El Cabo in Baja California on Saturday and she and her sister and parents went for a vacation in Penticton today. I called up Hilary on Sunday night and told her that Rosemary and I would like to see the girls for at least a couple of hours. We were granted our wish, and when I asked Rosemary to ask Hilary to dress up the girls in their new Mexican dresses, she complied, too. The girls arrived Monday afternoon and Lauren even had lipstick!

As usual (as she gets closer to teenage hood, it seems to be more usual) Rebecca was not too pleased in having to pose for me in the garden. But once she did she became the excellent subject that she always is.

In the garden she asked me who Socrates was. When I told her he was a Greek philosopher she asked me what a philosopher was. I explained that philosophers worried and thought of such things as death, life, existence and free will. I further explained that Socrates had a bitch of wife and that he hated writing anything down. I told Rebecca that thanks to Platón (much nicer sounding in Spanish), who did believe in writing stuff down, we have many of Socrates’ ideas to discuss today.

When I took this picture of Rebecca ( I took many and many of of Lauren and of the two together) I had a feeling about it. “Rebecca, I think this is your birthday portrait.”

While in Baja, Lauren (she is 7) received lots of attention. She was learning to swim. Rebecca swims divinely. When Hilary saw Lauren’s new Mexican dress she commented on her good taste and told her that her sun-bleached hair was beautiful. If you consider that these comments came so close to Rebecca’s birthday, you can understand why she might have felt a bit left out.

At our merienda (a Spanish tea-time that consisted of Filipino enzaiamadas, a special sweet bread baked with lots of butter, polvorones, Spanish short bread and Mexican hot chocolate, with lots of cinnamon) yesterday afternoon after our photo session in the garden I had a little talk with Rebecca. I told her of firstborns and how her mother had not been one. I explained that a first child (even if you are a father) is always most special. I explained that, subsequently, parents try to compensate by showering more attention on that second child.

I invented and put words into Socrates’s mouth and told her that he would assert that you can look at things in only two ways, objectively (thinking with the mind) and, subjectively (thinking with the heart). I told Rebecca that she must not feel jealous or sad because of all the hoopla given to her sister. She understood when I said that she had to think about it all objectively and once she did it would all be fine.

When she left she gave me a big hug and now that she is gone on her vacation I must declare (subjectively) that I miss her a tad more than I miss Lauren.


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