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Diary: Chine McDonald

18 August 2023

ISTOCK

A star is born

WELL, it finally happened. Just two weeks before the end of his first year at school, my son was crowned Star of the Week. When I picked him up from school that day, his face was a picture. He was beaming. I myself had to hold back the tears. Finally, my boy had been recognised for the exceptional little person he is.

I was bursting with pride. Until I looked down and saw he was ladened with a heavy bag. “What’s in there?” I asked. “Brucie Bear,” he said. My face fell. The prize for winning Star of the Week was to create a picture-book diary of our weekend with Brucie. Alongside the class bear was a heavy, lever-arch folder containing all the previous Brucie Bear diaries created by other children when it was their turn.

My urge to win suddenly kicked in. If we were going to have the bear for the weekend, it was going to the best weekend of Brucie Bear’s life. Brucie spent a morning in Cambridge with us and friends, and an afternoon at a party in East London. Brucie made pizzas from scratch, as if this were a normal occurrence in the McDonald household.

On Sunday morning, Brucie found himself in the pulpit at church, and, at Sunday school, playing the starring role of the paralysed man being lowered down into a doll’s house to illustrate the passage in Luke 5. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when my son had to explain that at the show-and-tell on Monday morning.

 

Crowing allowed

ON A recent, post-church, trip to Greenwich, my husband and I were afforded the luxury of a couple of hours in a coffee shop while some beloved friends took our children for a wander through the National Maritime Museum. I was keen to continue reading Caitlin Moran’s More Than a Woman as part of the research for my own upcoming book on motherhood and womanhood (Unmaking Mary: The myth of divine motherhood; Hodder & Stoughton, 2025).

On our way to the coffee shop, whom should we bump into but Ms Moran herself. I couldn’t help but stop her and, like a fawning groupie, whip out my copy of her book to show her how much of a fan I am. We chatted about the tortuous book-writing process, and she encouraged me to keep on. She also asked why we were holding a cuddly toy crow. We explained that he belonged to our son.

Regular readers will remember that Mr Crow is usually found by our son’s side at all times, but, on this occasion had been lent to mummy and daddy — perhaps so that the crow, too, could be part of this coincidental encounter.

 

Back to basics

THERE is something divine about coincidences. I’m fascinated by stories of million- to-one occurrences. They make me feel that the world has meaning; that we are all connected; that some things are supposed to happen, just so that we can feel a small moment of joy in the suddenly seemingly co-ordinated randomness.

A few weeks ago, I visited the stunning St Francis exhibition at the National Gallery (Arts, 12 May), which included artwork, sculpture, and film inspired by his life. It was the first time I had been to the gallery in some years; so I was surprised at an invitation that arrived, a few days later, for me to take part in a panel conversation exploring the exhibition, alongside the director of the National Gallery — who also curated the exhibition — at St James’s, Piccadilly.

Also on the panel were the deputy CEO of the homeless charity the Passage, and the artist Michael Landy, best known for destroying all 7227 of his possessions (including his passport and his car) in a performance-piece installation, Break Down.

St Francis and the Order he founded are also known for renouncing material possessions. I had so many questions for Mr Landy. I find it hard to let go of things — material possessions that have meant something to me. But there’s a part of me that was intrigued by the possibility of complete and total freedom from stuff.

One of the lasting memories from the St Francis exhibition was a clip of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 film, Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna (Brother Sun, Sister Moon), in which a young Francis strips himself of all his clothes in front of a court full of people, declaring that he wants freedom; to be fully alive.

 

Starting over

MY BELOVED notebook has buckled under the weight of all the things I have stuffed inside it. In January, I wrote in these pages about my favourite New Year ritual of buying a beautiful new book in which I note down thoughts, make to-do lists, itemise family tasks, and keep a gratitude journal. Eight months in, its spine split in a careless moment of me trying to make it contain more than it was designed to hold.

I’ve taken this as symbolic of my sense of being overwhelmed: too much clutter; too much to hold in my brain; too many things to do.

There is now a choice before me: to keep going, and patch the book together in order to avoid facing the nakedness of being without my companion in notebook form — or to start anew, and embrace the naked pages of a fresh start?


Chine McDonald is a writer, broadcaster, and Director of Theos.

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