Tadpole’s most prized gift this Christmas was not one of the carefully selected educational toys I ordered from the wonderful Fnac Eveil et Jeux catalogue. Nor was it the Princess Barbie or the stable of my little Ponies she received from her French grandparents, or indeed anything from the sack of presents which awaited her in the UK (although the sack itself, it has to be said, was a great success).
No, Tadpole’s favourite new toy is a Little Mermaid Barbie, with glittering removable turquoise tail, a purple plastic strapless bikini top (which falls off, baring her breasts, approximately ten times a day) and a mass of unlikely, blood-red hair. She found “Ariel” on a recent visit to the bio-parents’ house, amongst a tangle of Barbies and Sindy dolls of all shapes and sizes which used to belong to my bio-cousins and, given that she had already seen the Disney cartoon of the same name, there was absolutely no way we could leave the premises mermaid-less.
The Little Mermaid used to be my favourite fairytale, once upon a time, never failing to make me shed a tear. I owned a dark red hardback collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales – sadly I have no idea where that book is now – and when the Disney version saw the light of day many years later, I refused to watch it with my little sister on the grounds that I objected to the making of a sanitised version with that obligatory happy ending.
My Little Mermaid had to make huge, painful sacrifices to walk on the land. Every step she took felt like walking on the sharpest knives. Her voice didn’t transmit itself to the wicked witch by means of a pretty ball of light flying from her throat; her tongue was brutally severed. And of course at the end of the story, when her prince marries another woman, she is given the opportunity to return to her life as a mermaid if she stabs him through the heart with a knife provided by the witch, a deed which she refuses to do, casting herself into the waves instead and becoming a spirit of the air, condemned to live in some sort of strange limbo for three hundred years, after which she will go to heaven.
That I remember all of this is a testament to how much I loved the original story, because in general I have a terrible memory for books. I’ve read too many, too impatiently quickly, and occasionally start a new one only to realise part way through that I have read it before.
Tadpole, however, is in love with the pain-free Disney version, in which the mermaid gets her prince and everyone lives happily ever after, and if I let her, she would watch it from start to finish every single day. At night, long after the lights are out, I hear her singing the Mermaid’s song, pausing to adopt the voice of the wicked octopus witch to boom “keep singing!”, then switching back to the sweet song of the mermaid once more. In the morning, when I wake her, she waves her legs together as if they were joined and says “mummy! Look at my tail!”
She’s got it bad.
Which is why I really shouldn’t have been surprised when she began using the Little Mermaid to get her own way.
“I can’t eat this dinner,” she said, as I placed a plate of fish fingers and vegetables on the table before her.
“Why not?” I asked in puzzlement. “Those are your favourites!”
“Because I’m a mermaid,” she said gravely. “And mermaids don’t eat other fishes.”
It took a few minutes of negotiation before I was able to overcome this hurdle. Suffice to say that mermaids apparently like nutella very much indeed and are willing to compromise their principles to obtain it.
As we walked home from school the next day, I quizzed Tadpole, as usual, about her day. I don’t usually obtain a very clear picture of what went on, but a few tidbits are enough to satisfy me. Those bruises on her knees, for example, were caused by Jules who pushes her over in the playground and apparently climbs on top of her, although she assures me it is a game and she doesn’t get hurt. The splotches of red on her t-shirt the other day came from the lasagne she had for lunch.
But on this day Tadpole was unusually silent.
“What on earth is the matter?” I said. “I’m asking you a question, it’s rude not to answer!”
Tadpole shook her head and gestured silently at her throat.
“You’ve got a sore throat? Shall we go see the doctor?”
Tadpole shook her head.
“Well what then? Come on, tell me what’s matter.” I came to an abrupt halt on the pavement and dropped to her level, refusing to go a single step further until she told me what was going on. With a sigh, she pulled back my long hair to expose my right ear and began to whisper.
“The wicked witch stole my voice!”
I’m starting to wonder if those éveil théâtral classes I was going to sign her up for next September are really such a good idea, after all.