The ninetenth-century novel that sheds light on 21st century backwardness

I finished Fontane’s Effi Briest on the train back from Warsaw. Maybe I shouldn’t have. The tale of a young girl who marries a much older, politically ambitious man doesn’t end well. I burst into tears while reading the final passage. LSB, well used to my delicate sensibilities, patted my back and let me blow my nose in his scarf. Then I hid my face in his coat to avoid the stares of my fellow passengers.

Image source: Wiki Commons (c) H.-P.Haack

Image source: Wiki Commons (c) H.-P.Haack

*Spoiler Alert*

On the surface, it’s easy to see why I found the story upsetting. 17 year-old Effi is married off to Baron von Instetten, who was once in love with her mother. They move into a creepy house in the middle of nowhere. A huge shark carcass hangs in the entrance hall and Effi is scared by the strange sounds coming from an empty upstairs room. Instetten dismisses her fears and spends most of his time travelling and pursuing political ambitious in Prussia. Lonely and shunned by all but a good-natured apothecary, Effi descends into depression.

She gives birth to a baby girl and recruits a suicidal woman to nurse her.

Enter Major Crampas. He’s a married man with a reputation for infidelity. He makes advances on Effi and implies that her husband is using her fears of the haunted house to “educate” her. One night while taking a sledge ride, Crampas kisses her. It’s a nineteenth century novel, so either the rest of the affair is glossed over, or it doesn’t go any further than that.

In any case, the years go by and things improve when the family moves to Berlin and Effi can finally bid goodbye to the creepy house with the shark carcass. But while Effi is away breathing in sea air to increase the chances of bearing a son, Instetten finds old letters from Crampas in her sewing box.

Instead of being heartbroken, he’s mortified at what society will think of him. He challenges Crampas to a duel and shoots him dead. Then he banishes Effi and deprives her of seeing her daughter. Years later, when he grants a single visit, Effi realises that her daughter has been poisoned against her. Her health declines. Eventually, Effi’s parents take pity on her and allow her to come home. She dies full of remorse at age 29.

That was the bit that got me. Effi dies believing herself monstrous. Despite the fact that she was undoubtedly the victim of a stifling, money-driven, image-obsessed society with a questionable understanding of a woman’s worth, as well as of sexual consent.

Now we get to the crux of it. I wasn’t just in floods of tears because of Effi. After all, she’s fictional!

What made me really inconsolable was recognising that young women these days are still being subjected to outrageous social pressures. And that many, like Effi, accept the blame for things which are not their fault.

Let’s take the fact that Effi’s parents have control over her sexual and marital fate. Nineteenth century craziness, right? Not really. A recent documentary followed the purity movement in the United States, where apparently one in six girls takes a pledge to stay a virgin until she marries. Specifically, it followed the troubling phenomenon of “father-daughter purity balls” where teenage girls, many of them much younger than Effi, pledge that their father will be their only boyfriend until they marry.

What about power dynamics in relationships? Did young Effi really have a choice when the sleazy Crampas came on to her in the sleigh? A video on Upworthy which went went viral last week features a young woman promoting what’s dubbed “consent culture.” She details in crystal clear language what consent is and what it is not. She argues that in some cases, consent is impossible. For example she says, “you can’t get consent from someone you have power over.” Well over a hundred years after Fontante wrote Effi Briest, campaigners still need to spell out that some relationships are by their very existence, exploitative. Echoes of wealthy, manipulative Crampas preying on young and vulnerable Effi are all around us.

Finally, let’s consider the image-based culture Effi is subjected to. She’s paraded around society, where she is expected to display flawless beauty. Last month, 17 year-old singer Lorde took to Twitter to express her frustration that a publication had doctored an image of her to correct her skin blemishes. “Remember flaws are ok :)” she tweeted to her 1.46 million followers.

If only that, and the other important messages Fontane was sending us, would actually catch on in the 21st century.

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LSB moves to Berlin, starts blog

LSB moved to Berlin, just like that.

One moment we were waiting for the 16A in grubby, familiar Camden Street and the next we were on the U7 to Spandau.

Berlin is different with him here.

I’ve had to stop sleeping in the shape of a large star fish.

I’ve had to allow cheese in the fridge.

And I’ve started becoming one of those people who complains when the lids of shampoo bottles aren’t replaced after use.

I used to spend my evenings munching Rittersport chocolate, scrolling through my Facebook feed and contemplating my existence.

Now we do that together.

Sometimes LSB laments the fact that he is arbeitslos.

The other day we saw a happy-looking postman in a green uniform on the subway. He was on a poster, recruiting.
I told LSB that my best ever job was being a postwoman in Rathgar in the run-up to Christmas. I got a bike and men’s overalls and everything. We noted down the number.

Today we went to an enormous Turkish market. First, I bought a sewing set, some elastic and six wooden buttons.

copyright: LSB

copyright: LSB

LSB advised me to haggle but I refused. Not for the first time that morning, I cursed my tentativeness. Instead, I slunk away from the rude man behind the stall to another whose face I preferred. He under-charged me for the buttons.

I felt completely vindicated.

I don’t need painted wooden buttons. But sometimes I fantasize about making my own dresses.

I have similar daydreams of baking apple pies and looking adorable on a bicycle.

Next I bought three mangoes, six avocados, two courgettes and a punnet of pears.

I was so pleased with my purchases that I dragged LSB into Kaiser’s so we could calculate how much we’d saved.

This evening, LSB told me gently that I hadn’t stopped talking about mangoes all day. I asked him if he understood what a bargain it was to get three mangoes for a euro and six avocados for two.

He said he did but his eyes told a different story.

They were glazed from having been at a computer for too long.

I looked at him carefully.

I might not be a doctor but I’ve often been praised for having a physician’s intuition. I knew immediately that he had joined WordPress.

As a savant, LSB naturally upstages me in most respects. But now that he’s started a hilarious photo blog, I’m more in his shadow than ever.

To make matters worse, he’s even threatened to start posting about “LSG.”

Familienfest: The Ferguson Sisters’ Moment of Truth

“Keep your gaze fixed at the back of the room,” LSB had said, against the conventional wisdom of imagining your audience naked.

I instinctively disregarded his counsel, and fixed my eye creepily on a number of individuals I believed would be sympathetic. I looked most often at my mother, who had abandoned her high-heels in favour of a pair of sensible sandals.

Given that I often fail to entertain myself, the prospect of commanding the attention of the entire Schultz family and even attempting a few quips along the way was rather daunting.

My mama’s letter to the Christ Child

However, there I was standing in my black graduation dress with all the Schultzs staring at me, desperate to figure out what the Irish contingent had come up with this year. I decided the best thing to do was to start speaking.

“When our mother was a little girl,” I began (in German) “and adults asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer was always the same.”

I paused for effect and a Schultz baby (third generation) began to cry. Unable to decide whether it was in empathy or disgust I continued:

“She wanted to be a martyr.”

The baby wailed again. My sister clicked the next slide and a picture of my mother as a child beside a stock image of Martin Luther (the reformer) appeared.

I regaled my audience with a hilarious anecdote about my mother challenging an irate nun in class. The Schultz family laughed politely. The baby demanded to leave the room.

Before I knew it, it was time for the first theatrical performance.

As part of the research into our mother’s past, we had stumbled across a letter she had written to the “Christkind” when she was a little girl.

While the Christkind fulfils the same role in Germany as Santa Claus does in this part of the world, there are notable differences between the two. For one, the Christkind is an angel, rather than a Coca-Cola-inspired fat man, and according to my mother, genderless. He/she flies from the heavens on Christmas Eve and deposits presents under the trees of good children.

My mother made modest demands of the Christkind. She asked for a pair of tights, a bottle of Rotbaeckchen juice and a fountain pen.

The Christkind

I acquired these items in Regensburg and decided that a cameo appearance from the Christkind simply had to feature as part of the presentation. Having mentally auditioned the entire younger generation of Schultzs, I finally cast my 17-year-old cousin in the role. She is a natural Child of Christ, waif-like with long blonde hair and an angelic countenance.

She fashioned herself a golden costume featuring an enormous pair of glittery wings and to complete the transformation, LSB had the ingenious idea of covering our Frisbee with tinfoil to make a halo.

Shortly before the presentation (we were interrupted by the Family Song) the Christ Child and I briefly rehearsed what cue she would need in order to fly to my mother at just the right time. She had prepared to hide in a little adjoining room until the time was right.

Up to that point –all things considered — my performance had been without major hitch. I was fair-minded enough to put the baby’s reaction down to the stress of his first ever introduction to the Schultz family and accounted for his disappointment at the standard of my opener by diagnosing a case of precociousness.

When I spoke the Christ Child’s cue (“To show our mother that dreams really can come true, we have invited the Christ Child here today to lavish her with gifts”), nothing happened.

No Christ Child flew in, bearing fruit juice, a pair of tights and a fountain pen.

I paused and spoke again.

Still no Christchild.

The Schultzs were quiet. No baby cried now.

I paused a while.

In spite of my meticulous preparation for this event, I had not tested the acoustics of the room next door.

I became increasingly desperate.

“Christchild,” I yelled. “CHRISTCHILD.”

There was a flutter of wings at the door and the Christchild flew in to a great cheer from the Schultzs.

My mother was overwhelmed by her winnings and immediately asked the Christchild to pose for a photograph.

The public’s positive reaction to the Christ Child’s appearance was unprecedented and I relaxed in the confidence that the next theatrical performance would go down just as well.

It did.

My Greek cousins re-enacted my parents’ first dance with rare and delicate sensibility. My research had revealed that my father and mother had communicated in French when they first met and that my father was an exceptionally poor dancer. My male cousin, dressed in an afro wig similar to my father’s hairstyle of the time, grabbed his sister around the neck and stepping on her toes, misdirected her in an unfortunate and entirely graceless waltz around the room. She, a method actor in turn, called out “Oh la la,” and “Fais les petits pas” in what came across as very genuine desperation.

Here’s a picture of us all that Onkel Fritz took it just before the presentation. Do we look nervous?

Having completed the first section of the presentation, I breathed a sigh of relief, let my sisters take over and took a seat in front of the laptop. On my way, I managed to catch LSB’s eye. He couldn’t give me the thumbs-up because he was holding his camera at arm’s length (much to the mortification of my sisters) but he winked encouragingly at me.

At this point in the story, perhaps I should offer some insight into the background to this curious presentation. This might be of particular interest to my mother, who at time of writing, remains in the dark.

The Ferguson sisters are like any series of collectables. We are essentially the same but we each have some nice individual characteristics to recommend us to the peculiarly attentive.

When we were little, our father used to invent stories featuring my sisters and me in a parallel ancient Greek world. So that they don’t beat me up, I’m going to refer to them by the names our dad invented for us. My oldest sister, Penelope is the DIY extraordinaire and one not to libel, the middle child, Hermione is the scientist and bag-maker in Philadelphia and you all know me, Persephone as the youngest, least accomplished one that isn’t quite sure what she’s doing with her life.

In preparation for the presentation, Penelope scoured the family archives (dusty boxes in the basement) for photographs, Hermione compiled them into a Powerpoint file and I, Persephone wrote the accompanying text.

In the weeks leading up to the Familienfest we encountered a series of artistic differences, which were fortunately tempered by the great physical distance between us.

On the day however, as I watched Penelope and Hermione present our mother finally with a magnificent home-made medal (a speed limit sign with the number “60” within it) and I closed our speech with reference to her love of etymology (the word “martyr” is related to “memory…”) I realised that no matter how far apart, the Ferguson sisters are a bizarre force to be reckoned with.

Belated Happy Birthday, Mama. Hope you liked the juice.

“Disc”overing Ourselves

LSB and I are bookish types. We met in a library, not on a sports field. While he gallops through the classics, I canter along beside him, skimming paragraphs to keep up. Altogether we’re contented.

But ever since our arrival in Vienna, we’ve been committed to a course of self-improvement. When we’re not saving ladybirds or relaxing in the museum quarter, we’re exchanging skills. I’m teaching him German (his progress is remarkable) and he’s introducing me to chess. I now know my rook from my knight and he can distinguish between the genitive and the accusative case.

LSB in a coffee shop off Mariahilfestrasse, where he began teaching me chess

It’s all well and good to study a new language and familiarise yourself with chess; for bookish types like us, both activities qualify as recreational. To really test our commitment to self-improvement, we need to tread outside our comfort zone.

Conversation turned to that very theme last week, while we were walking down Mariahilfestrasse.

“Let’s buy a frisbee,” said LSB.

How could I resist?

We went into a sports shop. I saw some kids trying out the treadmills so I did the same. A shop assistant came over to reprimand the children, accusing them of breaking the machines. Then she came to me wearing a large smile and asked if she could be of help. I said I was just “looking” and ran away as fast as I could.

Eventually we found the section we were looking for. In between snorkels and body boards, we found some large plastic discs.

“There we are,” I said. “How much is that?”

LSB picked it up and gasped.

“20 euro! Forget about it.”

“Sure we could use a paper plate for free!”

We continued down Mariahilfestrasse.

We passed a stamp shop, a furniture store and a hat shop.

Finally we found a toy store.

We found some frisbees inside a basket of Barbie beach balls.

LSB pulled some out.

“Grey or green?”

“What a toughie! Go grey.”

He did. We bounced to the till and paid €2.49.

Since then, LSB and I have discovered talents we never knew we had.

We may have started out unable to toss the bloody disc in any direction at all, and we have certainly hit a good number of beautiful Viennese park-dwellers, who thought they were out for a relaxing afternoon in the park, but you should see the beautiful arcs in the air that we can now achieve.

While I’m content to continue shooting long backhands, which I have mastered, LSB is keen to make swift improvements. In recent days, he has become intent on mastering the forehand. Unfortunately up to now, all attempts in that direction have landed far off target. I swear he’s doing it to make me run.

A few minutes ago, I looked up at LSB, who is sitting at the window with his laptop, looking over the Danube. A strange sound was coming from his computer. It sounded like a chorus of sea gulls.

“What are you doing?” I asked LSB, who is supposed to be preparing for his future life in Edinburgh.

“Just watching an Ultimate Frisbee Game,” he said.

The sun is beginning to set, casting a beautiful orange glow over the water. There’s just enough light left for a quick game.

Update: We played frisbee in the dark outside the national library.

Also, as regular readers may have noticed, I have a new picture as my header. If you become a fan of Katekatharina on Facebook, you can see the complete album of the photo shoot, which I’ll be posting tonight.

Books in Berlin: “How do you meet men?”

Image source: salon.com

He had fine bone structure and an English accent. I put him a little short of his 40th birthday.
He waved a pair of sunglasses from his pocket.
“I’m so sorry to be rude,” he said, putting them on and obscuring half of his face, “but the sun is blinding me.”
“Not at all.” I said.

He was an IT teacher, a former diving instructor and the partner of a Swiss diplomat. Now he was learning German at a language school. It was difficult. He was a science and maths person.

We talked about teaching and travelling. He had a boyish wonder about him, a kind of naivety. He was softly spoken. He was kind. He had seen me alone and sat down beside me.

A lady came up to us. “Rupert!” she said. “I was trying to call you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said.
He turned to me. “Apologies, I don’t know your name.”
“Kate.”
“Kate, this is Georgia,” he said.

Georgia was dark, attractive, with black curly hair. Later, she told us that she was 43.

She was intelligent, expressive, sharp. She watched people carefully as she spoke to them.

The conversation meandered.

And came to sperm donation.

“You know, there was a story in The Spiegel a while ago about a Dutch serial sperm donator,” said Rupert.

“I edited it,” I said.

“You did? How funny!” said Georgia.

The man in question had fathered eighty-two children and ten more were on their way.

He didn’t just deliver his sperm in a container. He catered for women who wanted to conceive the natural way. He visited them, they made him dinner and paid for his transport and then they went to it. There were good and bad experiences. But really, he just wanted to make them happy.

“He wasn’t a looker,” said Rupert, “but by the sounds of it, he was at least of average intelligence.”

“Ha!” said Georgia.

“I have so many beautiful, successful friends in their late thirties,” Rupert went on. “And they’re all single.”

“But where do you meet men?” asked Georgia. “I mean… I’ve been with my husband for twenty years so it’s been a while since I’ve dated, but isn’t it hard to meet people?”

She turned to me.

“What’s your situation? I mean, are you single?”

“No,” I said. “but for me it was very simple really. I met my boyfriend in the university library.”

“Yeah, that’s easy,” she said.

Then Rupert told us the story about how he had met his partner.

“I was a diving instructor in Crete. And I know what you’re thinking… She was not my student.”

She was on holiday with her girlfriends. But what she didn’t know was that this was a “singles holiday.” She had brought a pile of books to read, but her friends said there were more important matters to investigate.

She talked to Rupert, who was used to being flirted with. It came with the job of diving instructor.

But she made him nervous.

“That’s how I knew,” he said.

They travelled around the island together. And now they move around the world, wherever her job takes her.

The story was winding to a close. Somebody started tapping on a wine glass.

Loose Change

Uncharacteristic affection for the cat

Here in Berlin I sleep in an extremely comfortable double bed in a light, airy room where the sun shines in through linen curtains.

Sometimes the cat wakes me up by jumping in my face or by scratching at the door until I let him in. Other times it’s the alarm on my phone, which goes off at 6.50 am, the exact time it used to ring in Dublin.

I eat breakfast with my flatmate at a little plastic table in the kitchen. I have peach yoghurt with strawberries and he eats a jam or meat salad sandwich. We don’t buy cereal.

He goes to his job in an insurance company and I get the underground to work.

On the way home in the evenings I pick up some scallions or pesto or whatever else I have run out of.

It’s eerie how quickly I have got used to it. To my corner in the office, to the daily news meetings where I pitch story ideas, to the fact that the Brandenburg Gate is around the corner, to calling German museums and asking them about rhinoceros horns.

I talk to my family and LSB almost every day. I tune in to Drivetime on RTE and I click onto the Irish news websites. I’m on Facebook. I know what’s going on in Ireland.

And yet it is as if I have been remade here. As if I have been encased in a little protective shell and rolled across the continent.

I never knew how easy it was to be alone.

And suddenly I’m sitting next to LSB in the train with my placard stuffed back into my bag and I think, How strange.

How strange it all is, the way my life has been transformed and his hasn’t.

“This is a bit surreal,” he says as we change from the train to the underground. “This is all new to me. But for you, it’s.. just commonplace.”

“I know,” I say. “Is it strange for you?”

“A bit,” he says. “I just hope you haven’t forgotten me.”

“Of course not.”

When we arrive in the flat, the boys are still playing poker.

For the next few days, LSB and my flatmate (from now on we shall call him “Klaus”) are much more polite than I know either of them to be. Klaus stops teasing me as he is accustomed to do, and LSB sticks up for him when we have a jocular disagreement.

I sleep terribly the first night of LSB’s visit. Because suddenly a piece of home, and a piece of me is tapping at that little shell. I find myself caught between two places.

But I am so happy to see him.

LSB comes to work with me. At the U Bahn he doesn’t have enough change for his ticket so he puts his Laser card into the machine and asks, “Katzi, what does all this stuff mean? All I want to do is pay for my ticket!”

Tomorrow: LSB’s Chocolate Tour of Berlin

My boyfriend is a savant

My boyfriend is a savant. He can multiply enormous numbers by each other in seconds and can list the members of my expansive German family in order of age without ever having been formally taught. He can recall facts about obscure historical figures I’ve never heard of and whenever we share a book to read, I have to skip paragraphs to keep up with his page turning.

Of course he denies it. He shakes his head with a bemused smile, masking the beginnings of faint frustration and says, “I’m not a savant, Katzi”. Then I ask him to multiply 678 by 78 and he says “52,884”.

“Is it really?”
“I think so”, he replies modestly.
I check it on my phone. He’s always right. I have found that he finds it difficult to refuse an offer to compute.

Being a savant’s girlfriend has its complications. One becomes idle. Instead of whipping out a calculator, or typing something into Google, or even better lifting one of my enormous encyclopaedias, I call him.

Another problem I have found is that it is extremely difficult to find a fault or defect to offset the genius quality. As well as knowing lots, he’s also unbearably humble.

The difference between us is that I don’t like to let the facts get in the way of a good diagnosis. I understand that according to the Strict Diagnostic criteria, LSB unfortunately does not qualify as a savant. However, this does not stop me from addressing text messages to him with “What’s up, Savantface?”

In an effort to refute my hypothesis, this Christmas he gave me a book with the title “Islands of Genius” with a foreword written by my hero Daniel Tammet. I fear he thought that reason was the way to a change of heart. This book, like most academic works, disguises interesting and insightful points with dull prose.

Peculiarly, though I received it last week, the inside cover claims it to have been “first published in 2012”. I see this as nothing more than further evidence of LSB’s preternatural processing speed.

The Mouse

One September morning in our poky kitchen, my father and I were enjoying an early brunch. He was spooning floating pineapple rings from a large glass bowl while I dipped some oatmeal biscuits into my peppermint tea. From the corner of my eye, I noticed something small and dark flitting across the floor, but the moment I turned in its direction, it was gone.

My father’s pineapple ring splashed unceremoniously back into its pool. “Did you see that?” he asked.

“See what?” I replied, wondering whether he was talking about the same thing.
“Something on the floor?”
“Yes! It was probably a Daddy Long Legs”, I told him.
He agreed and we laughed at my infantile terminology.

I thought nothing more of it and we continued to eat in amicable silence.

That September represented a new and unforeseen period of my life. I’d finished university the May before and was still at home, having failed in my attempts to travel and to find a job.

The upside to it all was that I was rather enjoying domestic life. I got to see a lot of my dad, and we’d developed our own little routines, like making mochas in the tiny steel pot which he’d had since university and listening to programmes on Radio 4.

Though I could sense myself regressing, I took solace from the fact that these moments at home were precious; that they wouldn’t last forever.

Throughout the summer, I had been indiscriminately applying for jobs but nobody would have me; the country was at a standstill. Then one day an enormous opportunity presented itself: The Irish Times was looking for an intern.

600 applied and I was in the final eight. I wasn’t holding my breath but I was devouring newspapers all the same and after a summer of uncertainty, a date for the final interview had at long last been set. Many of my conversations with my father went something like this:

“Dad, do you think I have a future?”
“Of course”, he said “You will become a literary lay-about just like me”

My father is the honorary editor of a history journal and spends much of his time cycling to and from the National Library to check if Major General so-and-so of the fifth battalion really did travel to Kinsale in 1752 as the Right Honourable Blogs’ diary of that date alleges. If he’s not doing that, he’s sitting in front of his laptop, painstakingly typesetting articles, which have arrived in his inbox from the eclectic collection of contributors he has garnered from around the world.

“Of course you won’t be rich”, he said, “but you will find a niche eventually”.

So went our conversations that summer and we revelled in the gentle irony with which we viewed our mundane daily existence.

Now that the summer had drawn to a close, the brunch we were enjoying in early September was my last before the final Irish Times interview, which was to take place the following day.

That evening, my father made an announcement.

“We have a mouse”.

“What?”, I said, already squirming.

He nodded solemnly. “Yes, I rather feared that’s what I saw in the kitchen this morning, but I didn’t want to scare you”.

“Ugh”, my mother sighed, from under her woollen blanket in the living room. “We’d better seal up the kitchen door so it doesn’t escape into the rest of the house”.

And so it began.

I refused point-blank to enter the kitchen the following morning and set off for my interview without breakfast.

I’m a vegetarian but that does not mean that I like to be invaded; particularly not by fast creatures, with long, thin tails, I told myself. After all, that’s why I chose to grow up with guinea pigs and hamsters rather than gerbils and rats. I further justified my over-reaction by telling myself that I was under enormous stress: what with a potentially life-defining interview ahead of me.

I arrived home that evening to bad news.

“We saw it in the living room”, my father said, grim-faced but full of resolve.
“It was incredibly fast”, my mother added gravely.

On the way upstairs, I quivered at every nook, convinced that the creature was about to emerge from hiding and crawl up my leg. I couldn’t bring myself to take out my furry slippers from under the hall table either, in case the mouse had taken refuge there. I shuddered and locked myself into my room.

I sat there and wondered about myself.

Two days later, things took a turn for the worse:

“It was in our bedroom”, my mother said “I saw it scamper behind the cupboard”.

She too was highly uncomfortable about the invasion.

Action had to be taken. My father got some traps.

My protest was pathetic: “Can’t we just capture it and free it humanely? Please

We could not, and I had some nerve if I thought that I could just sit there, being an hysterical and inert vegetarian, applying a guilt trip while they went to war on all our behalf.

Impractical, irrational and immature, I knew that I could neither see the mouse suffer nor capture it alone.

There had to be another way.

I made my way to the local hardware store, passing through shelves of creosote and weed-killer until I got to a section labelled “Pest Control”. Jumping with delight, I found exactly what I was looking for; I snatched it from the shelf and proceeded to the till.

I arrived home triumphant.

“I have a humane trap”, I declared.

“Huh?”

They weren’t nearly as enthusiastic as I was. They’d spent the day trying to catch the thing, which had now been spotted in several locations throughout the house, only to have me saunter back from my sojourn in the moral high-grounds, wielding a tiny cardboard box, which promised “easy capture and release”

They wouldn’t replace their multiple killer-traps with my one humane one, but agreed to use it as a supplement to their own.

The following day I spotted the mouse in my sock-drawer, and screamed.

I noticed though, that it was much smaller than I had expected.

It was a baby mouse, with a beautiful little face and a shorter-than-average tail.

I thought about the techniques for overcoming fears that psychologists recommend. One of them was called “mere exposure”: simply coming into contact with a fear can help alleviate it.

On Sunday morning my mother went to Church, having seen the mouse scuttle under her wardrobe.

By then our battle with the mouse was becoming somewhat of a farce; so much so that my father had placed our mouse-shaped pumice stone onto a trap in the living room the day before in order to startle me.

Fortified by courage and relaxed by the prepostrousness of the situation I entered the room. My father was in bed, reading a tatty book with a dull title.

“What’s the situation?”, I asked.

He lifted his nose reluctantly from under the book: “It has to be over there”, he said, motioning to the far corner of the room, “It definitely hasn’t left.”

With a sudden surge of courage, I ran to the kitchen and snatched the humane trap from where I had placed it just beside the door.

Returning upstairs, I opened the flap to the linen closet where scores of my mum’s dresses were hanging.

In the corner, half-concealed by a green velvet wrap, whiskers twitching and tiny ears erect, I saw it perched.

Any of the fear I had left drained from me in a flash. It was adorable.

We waved a scarf at it and it dashed. We dived and it squeezed past us in a blur. We put the hoover on and it didn’t move.

We laughed.

Mum came home and I retreated, expecting that we would have the little creature captured and released into the wild by lunchtime.

Later that day a voice called me from above.

“Kate, we have it!!! We’ve got it!! Come here!”

I rushed up, tripping on the pieces of cheese they had left in a trail across the floor.

My father, grinning, was holding the plastic box, where the mouse had become entrapped.

“There you go, it was your humane trap that did it in the end”, my mother conceded, smiling with a twinkle in her eye.

I took the box from my father and stared in at the little face, with its jet-black beedy black eyes peering back at me.

In those few minutes, as we sat there in my parents’ room, surrounded by traps, with clothes and cheese strewn around the floor and the tiny creature in our hands we felt closer to each other than we had for a long time. Somehow this little incident had brought us together: first through our nervous tension and then, when we saw the cute thing up close, in our shared appreciation of the ridiculous.

There was some sticky stuff on the base of the trap so the creature couldn’t run away.

“We’ll release it in the park across the road”, I cried, beaming at the idea.

“It won’t be long before it’s back!”, my father laughed as we were getting ready to go.

We were giddy with our success.

I ran upstairs to grab my camera so that I could record the moment of release. We got as far as the gate and I got my mother to take a shot of my father and me with our mouse friend.

Once in the park, I returned the box to my dad, to do the honours. We’d brought a pair of kitchen scissors with us so we could remove the top of the box.

Gingerly, my dad cut through the roof. The mouse, impaled on the floor, did not look happy.

“Not long now”, I gushed over it, still frivolous and light-headed with our victory.

My father placed the plastic container down on the ground.

Suddenly from behind, an enormous labrador came bounding towards us, barking madly. He had smelt a rat.

My instincts suddenly aroused, I growled and ushered him away, becoming a little embarrassed as I turned and saw his ten-year-old owner watching me.

The dog gone, the park fell silent but for some leaves, which rustled in the distance. We must have been there for only a few seconds but suddenly an uncertainty engulfed the air.

My father stepped back to look at the motionless mouse, stuck to the base of the box and after a while, he asked my mother to get him a sand scraper from the house.

While she was gone, I bent down, and looked more closely at where the mouse was stuck.

Attached to the base of the box, were not just the four paws, as I had thought, but the entire belly of the mouse, rendering it utterly immobile.

My mother returned with the scraper. Dad picked up the box again. With gentleness that stirred me, he attempted to get it under the mouse’s tiny feet.

It didn’t work. The gluey goo was too deeply ingrained into its silky-thin fur.

My heart was beating more quickly now.

The little body was beginning to twist in pain. My father’s expression changed: scraper in hand, he too was twinging with discomfort.

As the mouse moved, more of its fur became dislodged.

I began to see blood.

“Stop”, I yelled, hopelessly.

I had to look away. My father’s eyes were full of pain, as he continued to scrape at the little body, wreathing in agony.

An autumn chill was in the air.

The last I saw of the creature was its outstretched neck and taut, mangled, tortured body being ripped away from the plastic box.

It haunts me still.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, nothing has invaded me like this image. We had some other mice after that which were killed, humanely by guillotine. I got a rejection letter from the Irish Times some weeks later and didn’t feel much. And for all the bloodshed I have seen in the news, and the depressing images of suffering on the streets around me, nothing disturbs me like that image, or sends a pang of guilt so accute gushing through my entire body.

Money affairs: DSK’s third wife spends day thinking.

Imagine you are Anne Sinclair, third wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. You’re sitting in a leather armchair in your Washington mansion, twiddling your thumbs. There’s nothing to do. Normally, in this situation, you’d write your blog Deux ou Trois choses vues d’Amerique. But, malheuresement, along with the rest of your activities, you wound that up too last May. Pity, you think. It had made the list of top 12 Political blogs in France. No mean feat, when you consider the milliards of hopeful commentators polluting the blogosphere.

Sigh. You take out your ipad and find yourself googling Dominique. You read again his resignation statement -there’s sure to be a hard copy around somewhere – but let’s face it: such is the world we live in that it’s faster to find your husband’s press release online than in the hand-carved oak filing cabinet upstairs. You smile wryly when you get to the bit where he writes “I think at this time first of my wife—whom I love more than anything—of my children, of my family, of my friends.”

Men are like primitive women, you think. So impulsive, so fragile, so loveable. All the same, really. Well, the successful ones at least. You log into youtube and search for yourself this time. The top results: heartbreaking. You’ve gone from being a superstar journalist to a stoic wife. That’s what a few minutes of misdemeanour with a hotel maid can do to a thirteen-year career in television.

ABC News has compiled a clumsy profile of you– the facts swiped, you suspect, straight from your wikipedia page – and now two uninformed presenters are describing your marriage as that of a “Power couple”. Very original. Bloody Americans. The headline is pathetic too – you’re described as “the woman standing by her man”. They even get a French lady to say with pitiable enthusiasm “she was the number one journalist in France for a very long time”. Wonderful, insightful. That last part makes you just a little bit sad though, the ‘was’. Still, all good things come to an end.
And that bit about the French preferring you to Carla as first lady. That is true. The Telegraph report of the February poll opened “The former supermodel was heavily beaten by glamorous TV presenter Anne Sinclair”. So much for emancipation.

Such is mass media though- it condenses years to minutes in seconds. And don’t you, of all people know it. Still, it’s not like your career is everything. Didn’t you give it all up in 1997 anyway, when Dominique became finance minister and you quit TF1 to avoid conflict of interest?

Ha, conflict of interest. The stuff of affairs. Never have been too bothered by Dominique’s straying. He’s like a dog – always comes back, and there’s a comfortable power in knowing that he couldn’t live without you. Embarrassing though, always. Not personally embarrassing of course– your self-esteem is higher than that – but it’s a bother playing supportive wife all the time. You’re a lot more. You’re his best friend, and a best-selling author. And you won the Sept d’Or.

Besides, when it comes to scandals, you’ve seen it all before. The 500 odd people of note you’ve interviewed over the years have had their own remarkable scandals: Bill and Hillary Clinton – you spoke to them separately of course- the very image of successful marriage in spite of transgression. Madonna, Mitterand, Sarcozy, Gorbachev, Kohl, Schroeder… the list goes on. And of course – how could you forget – Prince Charles; the least likely of seducers but one of the more refreshing to interview, with his hoity Britishness and attempts at polished French.

Of course, over the years some of your intimate friends tentatively suggested leaving Dominique, especially after the affair with Piroska Nagy. But they don’t understand. You are no fool. You knew the man you married. You were his third wife; he your second husband. Sexual fidelity was not high on your list of priorities. He seduced you like he seduced the others. You’re not naïve enough to think otherwise but the respect he has for you is not corporal – he respects your mind, and he knows that your loyalty makes its own demands.

Still, you cannot bear to think of her, that maid. You’ve seen her desperate interview, how could you not have? The bit that makes you shiver is near the beginning. It’s when she says “he come to me and cup my breasts no you don’t have to be sorry”. You can see it, vividly. Your husband. And that maid.

Her broken English, “he won’t say nothing”, “I never see him before”, “they gonna kill me before someone knows what happened to me”. They ring in your ears, those words. First you feel rage, then contempt and finally immense, unbearable guilt, as you look around your expansive, ornate surroundings.

You can’t help being surprised though – in your capacity as a journalist – that more isn’t being made of the occurrence of the sexual encounter in the first place, which is undisputed. Sure, in France the media is liberated from petty feminist cries. But maybe now the rest of the world has woken up to it too: marital fidelity plays no part in public affairs.

Something has triggered a quotation in your mind though. An unpleasant neural connection has occurred. What rushes to mind just now is something your husband said in the “Inside Job” TV documentary about the financial crisis last year. Just the little, unarguable fact that “At the end of the day, the poorest – as always – pay the most”. Nothing more.

She doesn’t have a hope in hell- that immigrant who has been intimate with your husband. But she has inflicted upon you the gravest injury of all – the indignity of being pitied. You close down your ipad, and rise stiffly from your leather chair to make yourself, and Dominique a cup of tea. You’re getting too old for this.