Discus & Teacups

Henrietta shares her tea

We took Matilda with us to Ottawa last weekend for a little winter getaway, and it was a good thing she was there, since in the middle of the night, the hotel’s alarm went off, ten horrible long hoots followed by a repeatedly repeated emergency announcement that had N wild with anxiety. The “emergency” was quickly resolved, but getting back to sleep was another matter. So out came Matilda. A page or two of this brilliant little girl outsmarting the gruff and grotesque headmistress Trunchbull was the perfect tranquilizer.

Unlike Mr. and Mrs. Twit, you have to love Miss Trunchbull, even while you detest her. Once a formidable athlete, she has a bull-neck, sausagey fingers, and “massive thighs encased in a pair of extraordinary breeches.” She picks children up by their ears and their pig tails and hurls them at will — out classroom windows, over playground fences — and she gets away with it because she knows enough to “make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable.” The parents don’t buy the children’s tales about her, or if they do, and complain about how their kids are treated, the Trunchbull does the same to them. Imagine moms and dads sailing through the air like a discus.

But it’s the Trunchbull’s cruelty that brings out Matilda’s hidden powers — her “first miracle”. She’s so enraged at being falsely accused of slipping a salamander into the Trunchbull’s water glass, that she causes the glass to tip over simply by staring at it. “Little waves of lightning seemed to be flashing out of her eyes. Her eyeballs  were beginning to get hot, as though vast energy was building up somewhere inside them. It was an amazing sensation. She kept her eyes steadily on the glass, and now the power was concentrating itself in one small part of each eye and growing stronger and stronger and it felt as though millions of tiny little invisible arms with hands on them were shooting out of her eyes towards the glass she was staring at. ‘Tip it,’ Matilda whispered. ‘Tip it over!’ ” And so she makes the discovery of her own incredible power. (Oh, how I remember doing this myself! Never actually moving anything, but absolutely convinced that I could. Going dizzy and bug-eyed trying.)

Re power, it seemed fitting, then, that the next day we tromped through the slush to visit the Famous Five and their teacups on Parliament Hill. As we posed with Nellie McClung holding the news that “Women are Persons!” I half-expected N to say, “Well, duh, what else would we be?” because the idea of such an argument was so preposterous to her. So I explained (albeit briefly and simply) about the Persons Case, and how women have had to fight for equal treatment. I could feel N thinking hard about that. Together we stood looking at Henrietta Muir Edwards, holding her tea cup aloft. She had a perfect disc of snowy ice on her head, like an extra little cap or a discus, and when I pointed that out, chuckling, N said very seriously, “I think we should take that off Mom.” So I reached forward and returned Henrietta to her dignified state.

I love N’s sensitivity, and her curiosity too. The way she sees, the questions she asks. We used to call her “our little noticer,” and though the slightly clumsy nickname has fallen away, the noticing has not.

Later that Ottawa day we were in the Byward Market, gobbling Beaver Tails, and a down-and-out man approached us and spoke to N’s dad J, hoping for change. When J returned the greeting, the man said, “Thank you for not making me feel invisible.” And N asked about that too.

“What does he mean, invisible?”

“Well, he feels like no one sees him. Like he’s not even here, because no one notices him.”

“So it’s like he’s a ghost, then,” she decided. “He feels like he’s already died but he hasn’t.”

Like James before entering the magical Giant Peach; like starving Charlie Bucket before finding the Golden Ticket. “Several people went hurrying past him on the sidewalk, their chins sunk deep in the collars of their coats, their feet crunching in the snow … none of them was taking the slightest notice of the small boy crouching in the gutter.”

We bought two more Dahls in Ottawa — The Magic Finger, devoured on the car ride home, and Fantastic Mr. Fox, now nearly done. Thus far, our list looks like this:

The Gremlins
James and the Giant Peach
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Magic Finger
Fantastic Mr Fox
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Danny, the Champion of the World
The Enormous Crocodile
The Twits
George’s Marvellous Medicine
The Witches
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
Esio Trot
The Vicar of Nibbleswicke
The Minpins
Revolting Rhymes
Dirty Beasts
Rhyme Stew

On we go!


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21 responses to “Discus & Teacups

  1. A winter break in Ottawa is so brave–I lived there for 4 years,and swore never to return between Dec and Feb. Incidentally, I used to live in the Byward Market area, so yes, Nutella Beaver Tails!

  2. kristendenhartog

    Truth be told, the weather is easy for me, since I’m from the Ottawa Valley. Beaver Tails really are delicious…. We went to Mello’s diner on Dalhousie for a greasy Sunday breakfast.

  3. Marilyn

    I love Ottawa, winter or summer. It’s a beautiful city in any weather. The hotel alarm must have been very scary. That’s happened to us once too. I’m glad Matilda came to the rescue. The Famous Five statues are a great learning experience for young girls and women who don’t realize how fortunate they are.

    • kristendenhartog

      I’m always struck by how grand it all looks from the War Memorial. We slipped into the Chateau Laurier too, and N asked “Do only rich people stay here?”

  4. What a wonderful example of kindness to strangers and those less fortunate. Everyone should be so nice, and demonstrate it so openly to their children. But perhaps not everyone could – because where would that leave the Matildas, Charlies and James’s, who rely on mistreatment to develop their character? Still, I think we would all rather read about than be them…

    • kristendenhartog

      True. Reading lets us be so many people and go so many places, and also slip back to our comfortable selves again.

  5. Yes Ottawa has a lot to offer us all. It also has a lot of homeless and down-n-outers on Rideau St unfortunately, hats outstretched, hoping for the kindness of tourists.

  6. Lenny

    Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all whoever have. -Margaret Mead

  7. Jenn

    Dahl was a real favourite of mine as a young girl. James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator were my absolute favourites. I am so looking forward to being able to read these classics to my oldest girl!

    • kristendenhartog

      Nice to hear from you Jenn! I’m sure she will love them as you did. Dahl sure knew what he was doing, and lives on in the memories of so many.

      • Ann T

        James and the Giant Peach I never read with my boys (or myself), but I certainly saw the movie, which I loved. My favourite Dahl (in book format) is probably the BFG, and my oldest son would definitely agree. He couldn’t get enough of it. Hmmm….I wonder if my accents and giant voices had anything to do with that?????

  8. jim

    Nellie, Henrietta and a man who is happy to be noticed…..what great people for Nellie to meet. Strange to see you all bundled up!! We hot, hot, hot here……..greetings from Bob in Thailand.

  9. Ann T

    Snow makes the world seem brighter in the dull days of winter, imho, and cold weather makes your cheeks rosy. Just sayin.

    What a great experience. Parliament Hill is a beautiful sight winter or summer, and the man happy to be noticed is heart-wrenching. Good on J for being the fine man he is.

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