While the residents of 58 Azalea Avenue are away, their cat, Ozymandias, invites you inside to learn the truth behind an intriguing assortment of snapshots on the Fantora Family Wall. Revel in Francesca's revenge against a ballet class bully. Witness vegetarian vampire Auntie Varvara's wedding. Attend Rosie's course in imaginative cookery. Ozzy's extraordinary tales about this decidedly offbeat family will tickle your funny bone at every turn of the page.
Read an Excerpt
The Dancing Class
Francesca started attending the Otter Street Primary School in January. I can recall her first morning as though it were yesterday. Bianca and Marco normally slurped through their cornflakes in a state that in many ways resembled sleep, but on Francesca's first day, they were unusually talkative. They showered their poor little sister with advice.
"Don't draw attention to yourself. No snowstorms at playtime."
"Don't remind people that you've got a brother and sister further up the school. They'll think you're showing off."
"Don't show off."
"Don't tell anyone you're Filomena's grandchild."
"Don't dress too warmly. The heating's always on too high."
Francesca listened calmly to everything they said, and smiled sweetly.
"Everyone knows I'm related to you and Filomena. There can't be two families called Fantora. But I'll try not to fiddle with the weather at first." She bit into her toast. "Anyway," she went on, "I'll be fine, because the knitting says so, doesn't it, Filomena?"
"It does," said Filomena. "Nothing but rows and rows of evenly-spaced stocking stitch in a delightfully happy shade of apple green for new beginnings."
"So there's nothing to be nervous about," Francesca said, and went off to school with Bianca and Marco. There was a poignant moment, just before she left the house, when she buried her nose in my fur and said, "Oh, Ozzy, I shan't see you till four o'clock. I'll miss you so much. Will you think of me?"
I promised to think of her, and I did. I thought of her constantly. At her old school, the day finished at twelve o'clock for the infantclasses, and I'd become used to having her at home by lunchtime. When the clock ticked around to noon and there was no Francesca to feed, a sort of restlessness ran through the whole house. Monkey and Leopard were nibbling listlessly at one of the succulents growing in pots on the windowsill, and Rosie didn't even notice. She was rustling through the newspaper at the kitchen table.
"There's a job advertised here," she announced to Auntie Varvara and Filomena, who were drifting more or less aimlessly around the kitchen, drinking unwanted cups of coffee. "I shall apply for it. It will be better than rattling around an empty house, waiting for the children to come home."
"Yes, a job would be lovely," Auntie Varvara murmured. She had taken to murmuring rather a lot since falling in love last September. "I would look for one myself, only I simply haven't the time. There's so much to do before the wedding."
It seemed to me that Auntie Varvara's main occupation at this time was the leafing through of magazines. "Leafing through" is perhaps not the best way to describe it. No, as a Narrator it is my duty to be accurate, and Auntie Varvara was studying these publications, poring over every page with the devotion of a medieval monk at his prayer book. From the glossy pictures in Bridal Bounty and Wedding Wonderland she gleaned priceless information on such subjects as what were the most fashionable fabrics for the modern wedding dress, how to set up tasteful table decorations, and where to seat such awkward members of the family as the groom's second cousin four times removed.
To return to Francesca's first day at school ... even Filomena, who was never at a loose end (you will forgive the pun, I'm sure!) began to find bumpy little patches of discontented moss-stitch showing up in her work. But, "We'll all get used to the house being empty," she said. "In a couple of weeks. It was just the same when Bianca and Marco first went to school full-time. Still, I do think a job for you, Rosie, is a splendid idea. I feel like a new woman since starting mine."
Filomena goes into Otter Street School every Wednesday morning, that is all, but as she confessed to me once, "It gives a shape to the week."
As for me, I couldn't settle to my after-lunch snooze. I found myself wondering and wondering how Francesca's first day had been.
She told me all about it after tea, when Bianca and Marco were too busy to listen, Filomena was trampolining and Rosie was cooking the evening meal.
"I've got a friend, Ozzy. A really proper lovely friend with brown curly hair and blue eyes. She's called Polly. Polly Roberts, and guess what? She lives in the big white house on the corner of Sparrow Lane and Gale Street."
I purred my delight at Francesca's happiness, but wondered whether she might not become a little dissatisfied with 58 Azalea Avenue when she was invited to look at life in the big white house.
The children had been making up stories about the inhabitants of this house for many years, and now here was Francesca on her first day at school, bosom friends with the little girl who lived there. I was very curious to learn all I could about the denizens of such a magnificent residence. According to Francesca, appearances were deceptive. The big white house turned out to be in need of a dusting ("I wrote my name on the mirror in the downstairs bathroom," Francesca giggled). Mrs. Roberts was one of those vague mothers whose thoughts are fixed on more important things than food, and Mr. Roberts was permanently hidden behind something, usually a newspaper or a pile of books. Polly, however, was exactly what Francesca required of a friend. That is to say, she was very pretty and she generally agreed with Francesca. Filomena's knitting was showing thin stripes in two colors.
"That's very good," she told us. "That shows a nice friendship. Only two colors and pleasantly close together."
A few days after the beginning of term, Francesca told us at supper, "Polly goes to ballet lessons. It's cool, she says. They all meet in St. Christopher's Church Hall on Tuesday afternoons at five o'clock, and they have lovely satin shoes and the big girls stand on their toes and they're having a Dancing Display in April. Could I go? To the class? I'm sure they'd have me. The teacher's name is Madame Vera. She's Russian."