Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Peaches and the discovery of motherhood

In the sixth of his Songs of Education G.K. Chesterton wrote the following delightful lines:

When Science taught mankind to breathe
A little while ago,
Only a wise and thoughtful few
Were really in the know.

In the early twentieth century Chesterton was gently lampooning the growing trend to laboratoryise - pardon the neologism - everything we know. He was greatly amused that scientists should labour away at some tests which would only show in the end that common sense had it right all along.

A hundred years later we find ourselves in a moment in which much of the common repository of human wisdom seems dimmed and fading. Now, we are engaged in a struggle which turns what once appeared self evident into an object of lengthy demonstration. The recent problems over gay marriage are only one sign of this state of things.

But at the same time, there is a kind of human redemption which seems to dawn whenever one of our embattled contemporaries stumbles on one of those fragments of truth which have now fallen into neglect. And it is in this light that I have read with interest the various obituaries and articles reacting to the news of the death of Peaches Geldof at the tender age of 25.


Peaches and her punk-rock family are everything the British tabloids love to get their teeth into. The marriage of her mother, Paula Yates, and her father, Bob Geldof, collapsed. Yates' new beau, a louch individual by the name of Michael Hutchence, the front man of INXS, hung himself in a hotel room in 1997. Yates followed in 2001, the victim of an unwittingly self-inflicted heroine overdose.

As if this wasn't bad enough, Yates managed before her death to inflict the stupidest names imaginable on her poor children: Fifi-Trixibelle, the late Peaches, Pixie, and Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. Maybe Yates thought that by giving her children stupid names they would learn to be tough as they grew up, rather like Jonny Cash's boy named Sue.

Her death was of course another affliction she visited on her children. Peaches Geldof claims never really to have dealt with her mother's death until she herself became a mother much later on. Peaches was 12 when her mother died. For the record, I suppose I should record that Peaches also carried on the family tradition of imposing stupid names on her children. One of her now motherless sons is called Astala Dylan Willow and the other is called Phaedra Bloom Forever. As Bertie Wooster observes, " "There's some raw work pulled at the font from time to time, is there not, Jeeves?," to which Jeeves replies with his customary, "Indeed there is, sir."


So, Peaches repeats the history of her mother? Well not exactly. She experimented with drugs in her teenage years, but police have already suggested that her death is not related to drugs, suicide of crime. Only the post-mortem examination will show the truth but the most plausible theory at the moment is that she died of natural causes. At age 25? Well, sometimes it happens. That said, perhaps one way in which she did indeed imitate her mother is that, like the otherwise self-destructive Paula Yates, Peaches Geldof 'late' in life fell in love with being a mother.

Now, there will be the skeptics who say that she was just following the latest parental craze; that she had the money, so she could afford to be self indulgent; that her motherhood was all about herself and not her children, her moment of self realisation.

But I think that would be a harsh analysis. Mother and Baby magazine, which had recently recruited her as a columnist, today posts her final column in which Peaches reflects on being a young mother and on adjusting from the life of a childless party raiser to the life of a responsible parent whose being is no longer her own. Don't get me wrong: this is not high literature or even deep philosophy. It is just a stumbling, blundering discovery of the joys of motherhood.

Curiously, Peaches describes her erstwhile party-going life as one of "apathy". That in itself I find interesting. Somewhere, somehow, even the self indulgent can hit the bottom of the glass and find the magic running dry. I see this kind of emotion sometimes in the faces of my students who usually shuffle through my lectures like bored Sunday shoppers. We are all consumers now, and the young more than anybody else.

Again, the skeptic might conclude that in having children after her apathetic life, Peaches had merely found a new commodity on which to dote. But again, I would find that harsh. She did not employ a nanny. She was famed for her interview in which she admitted to pushing her husband out of bed if her two little boys needed to come into bed with her. She was an advocate of attachment parenting which, whatever one says about it, is perhaps the least convenient of all parental practices. She was, in other words, given to her children in a way that few consumers are given to consumables. I quote again:

Then, one day, Astala came running in to me in bed carrying a drawing he had done. Phaedra crawled adoringly behind him, felt tip all over his face. Astala proudly announced ‘Narny (what he calls himself) draw Mama. Narny love Mama’. ‘Mama’ was some squiggly lines so heartbreakingly sweet, I teared up. Phaedy gave me a wet kiss and both collapsed giggling into my arms, looking at me with pure love. In that magic moment, all my doubts were erased. Everything else was nothingness and it just… didn’t matter. I had the perfect life – two beautiful babies who loved me more than anything. It was, and is, bliss.

Is it trite? Sure and Peaches probably knew it. It's what the readership of Mother and Baby would want to read. And yet there is something deep in this experience which peeps from beneath the surface; in one column, Peaches moves from the immobility of apathy - the dried desiccation of her own generation - to the dynamism of love, a motherhood rediscovered, the sudden epiphany of nature's way.


Chesterton's Songs of Education also contain the following, immortal lines:

I remember my mother, the day that we met,
A thing I shall never entirely forget;
And I toy with the fancy that, young as I am,
I should know her again if we met in a tram.
But mother is happy in turning a crank
That increases the balance in somebody's bank;
And I feel satisfaction that mother is free
From the sinister task of attending to me.

I have no doubt that the mother depicted in these lines is the kind of mother that our State now desires above all. Our deeply corrupt government and administrative class have made it clear: only mothers who are tax payers have any merit or are of any worth to the country. All others have made a "life-style choice" for which they most pay.

I remember when I first heard those glib, poisonous lines fall from the lips of George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Osborne would rather have an apathetic Peaches, paying out money on booze and entertainment from which the Treasury could scrape off its due in taxes; Osborne would rather have a Peaches out at work, pumping more money into the State's coffers, than at home looking after her two little boys with their bizarre names, and failing even to employ a nanny and thus contribute to the economy. This is in part a deeply political problem but it is also a deeply cultural problem; ultimately, of course, it is a deeply theological problem. But Osborne won't be solving it any time soon. Indeed, Peaches was a lot closer to solving it than Osborne, bless him, will probably ever be.

Perhaps the finest monument to Peaches as she passes from this life is that, although an immensely privileged woman, she somehow reconnected with feelings and passions that show to those who are listening - those who do not demand that everything must be proven in a laboratory - that the relationship of a mother to her children is irreplaceable. Whatever you feel about such painted celebrities, stop a moment at least and say a prayer for Peaches, her children and her family.

God grant them all grace to draw something extraordinary from such human sadness. And God grant her, and all young mothers who pass away, eternal rest.


Long-Skirts said...

Oh, how terribly sad. A wonderful piece by you about this poor, young mother, may God have mercy, for so many young women have been lied to and not protected...


Withered, wearied
Ripped and torn
My mother’s feet
Were rough and worn.

For they had carried
Future’s weight
Engraved by God
Her pregnant plate.

No money for
The perfect fit –
So when in pain
She’d pray and sit

Until her purpled
Blood would race
Body, soul
Varicosed in grace.

And though so wearied
Withered, torn
Emeralds fade…
‘Fore feet so worn.

Mari said...

This was lovely, thank you.