I have just returned from reading my son his bedtime story.
It was Harry Potter.
But not a word of it can I remember because my mind is rather too full of the orderly shrine which has been set up on the shelves next to his bed.
It is filled with items taken from a raid on the Houses Of Parliament.
The two chambers were closed when we went last Autumn, barricaded in by lavish PR tables giving out freebies. Mouse mats, pencils, post-it notes, leaflets, all bearing the crests of the two chambers.
Cheated of seeing the chambers themselves we raided the freebies mercilessly and came away with posh carrier bags full of crested tat.
The bags gathered dust the Winter long.
Until now: Felix discovered it and has arranged it all meticulously on his shelves. I was given a short tour.
“This,” Felix gestured expansively to one shelf lines with House of Lords mouse mat, “is where I put yesterday’s apple juice glass ready to go downstairs; and this,” (waving airily at another shelf lined with a House of Commons mouse mat) is for today’s glass. I have pencils and post it notes to jot down ideas here. And I am reading this. It is called called House Business.
“Because,” he concluded with polished assurance, “I have decided I want to be a politician.”
Easy, son. Don’t let all those freebies go to your head.
It is true that Felix has the mind of a barrister, and is known in the playground as “Charlie’s lawyer” for his services to the class card. But politics? Really? What colour?
Because his mother is a Red.
Is this how Stalin’s mother felt, when he told her?
Stalin’s mother, Ketevan Geladze, -Keke – wanted her son to be a bishop.
She was a serf, her father a slave-potter to a Russian prince, and she married a violent man who beat her within an inch of her life. But poor as she was, she wanted her son to be someone. Someone religious.
So she scraped and saved and got him an education, and in time he attained a place at the Tiflis Theological Seminary, a Georgian Orthodox college.
But you couldn’t make Joseph Stalin a holy man. He was expelled. He was so frightened of his mother’s reaction he hid outside the town for a while, with his friends bringing him food.
Later, after he had made good, he bought Keke a palace in the Caucasus. She spent her life living in one room there, writing letters to her son. He didn’t visit her much.
But at a rare meeting he is said to have asked her: “Why did you beat me so much?”
His mother answered: “That’s why you turned out so well. Joseph – what exactly are you now?”
“I’m like a Tsar,” said Joseph.
His mother snorted. “You’d have done better to become a priest, ” she retorted.
How different was Lady Randolph Churchill, Jennie to her friends; the flamboyant woman of many partners who came from an echelon of society as high as Keke’s was low. The inventor of the Manhattan cocktail, playwright, pianist, benefactress of soldiers in the Boer War, she was her own woman. I can find no record of her ambitions for her son; perhaps she was very busy living her own life.
Which role model to choose: the lonely babushka living in one room of the palace or the multi-talented society beauty?
Ah, if only life were that simple.
Sources for this post:
- Simon Sebag Montefiore: “Young Stalin,” 2007.
- Edvard Radzinsky: Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia’s Secret Archives, Anchor, (1997)