Maltese Traditions – Il-Quccija

Malta is a small island, and yet its multi-cultural history cannot be denied, since throughout the years it was conquered and influenced by so many civilizations. The Normans, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Turks, the Aragonese (Spanish), the French, and the English, all left their footprints in Maltese culture and traditions, and this mix makes up the unique Maltese habits and customs we know at present.

Il-Quċċija, which could be roughly translated as ‘the choosing’ or ‘the choice’ is one of the ancient old traditions dating back to the 18th century, which is still predominantly popular today. A year after a baby is born, its parents organize a party and invite all the family members and close friends for the gathering. After having eaten traditional Maltese party food, drunk a drink or two and chatted to their heart’s content, the parents prepare a table, basket, or section of the room for the Quċċija. The aim of the Quċċija is to determine or try to prophesy which profession or career the child would have later on in life, depending on which object he or she would pick up from all those offered in the pile.

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(photo: Clare Galea-Warrington – https://cgwarr.wordpress.com)

This entails collecting and setting out many different items, all reflecting or relating to a particular profession, career or aspect of life. For example, a calculator denotes that the child will become a mathematician, a rosary that he would become a priest, a pen that he would be a writer and a book that he would be learned and wise.

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In the past, different items would be set forth for the child to pick up, depending on his or her gender. If the child was a girl, most often the parents prepared a dish or table containing a pair of scissors, meaning that the girl would become a seamstress, cooking items, a ribbon, which if picked, would mean that the girl would be a beauty, corn which denoted fertility, or an egg which used to signify that the girl would have a big and prosperous home. If the child was a boy, the items would reflect totally different professions. A stethoscope would definitely be one of the items, in the hope that the boy would grow up to be a doctor, if he grabbed an inkstand it would mean that he was going to sit for the bar and become either a lawyer or a magistrate, while if he touched a geometry instrument it would mean that he would become an architect or engineer.

Today, the tradition has changed to reflect the society we are currently living in. Careers and professions are no longer subject to one’s gender, therefore usually the same items are offered to the child at the ceremony, be they male or female. The items themselves too have evolved, in reflection of today’s technological aspect. A baby might therefore grab a computer mouse, pointing at a career in I.T, or a credit card, pointing either towards a banking career or at the promise of future wealth.

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(photo: Clare Galea-Warrington – https://cgwarr.wordpress.com)

In the end, there is really no strict list of items which must be presented, and parents tend to let the baby crawl around everyday things which are to be normally found around the household. The object the child touches first, tradition holds, will be a dominant aspect in his or her life.

This small ceremony, apart from being held in the Maltese islands, is also believed to be something of a custom in some remote parts of Sicily, Italy, and Greece.

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to read the whole article please go here

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PERSONAL – December Ups and Downs

This has been one roller-coaster of a month. Plenty of highs and lows. So, in a nutshell:

During the first week of December, me and my boyfriend went to Sicily for a short 4-day break. You can read the first part of how that went here, but I’ve still got to continue writing about the rest of the trip. You might ask yourself – why is she taking this long to write about a mere 4-day long trip? The point is, I love travelling – I am simply enchanted by the plethora of emotions, new thoughts and ways of perceiving the world which open up whenever I set foot in a country different from my own, with ‘exotic’ mentalities, colors, history and trends, SO I actually don’t find it that easy to describe it all when I come back, because there is just SO MUCH TO SAY! In fact, if you look through my past posts, you’ll realize that I’ve never actually sat down and documented each and every one of the places I’ve traveled to – simply because there are so many of them. However I told myself I’d make an attempt with this 4-day Sicily trip just to see how it would go. Anyhow, there you have it, still to be continued. And don’t worry, it WILL be, all in its own good time.

Got sidetracked there. Sorry.

On our last day in Sicily, I woke up suffering from some serious back-pain. Sciatica to be precise. The pain extended down to my left leg and I could hardly walk. Needless to be said, the last day was the climax of our trip, as we had planned on going for a jeep-trip up Mount Etna… you think I flunked that? AS IF! I still went. Hopping and wincing and dragging my sorry carcass up the whole mountain. And boy, was I glad I did!

More of that in future posts relating to the actual holiday.

We came back on the 12th. Tuesday 13th was a local Public Holiday so I didn’t have to go to work, and spent the whole day in bed resting and hoping my back would get better. It didn’t. On Wednesday, I went to the doctors’ who gave me pills, painkillers, and the advice to get MORE rest. So, that was the second week of December – which I spent in bed sleeping off my pills.

Luckily for me, the pain retreated, and I was okeyish for the weekend. This was important since my birthday was on Saturday 17th, and I knew that my boyfriend had planned the whole weekend with events for me. That is what we do – I plan stuff for his birthday and he plans stuff for mine. We spent some days meeting friends and family, and I really enjoyed that. Kudos luv! Not to mention that one of the pressies I received is a nice voucher from Ryanair to be redeemed by November 2017! Yay!

On Monday I felt a bit better and so went back to work, taking a large cake with me for my colleagues in celebration of my birthday. The cake was in fact so large, that we are still eating from it (we are a small department). And today is the 27th! During the third week of December we also had our ‘official’ Xmas party at work. The food, I admit, wasn’t anything spectacular, HOWEVER I did make up for it with alcohol consumption… enough said. Unfortunately this also meant that I was too tipsy and suffering from a hangover to actually do my Yule ritual. Ah well, I’m sure the Gods didn’t mind all that much since I celebrated with libation anyways.

On the 24th I cooked and slaved the whole day to prepare an enormous family dinner. Family members came late, and I was quite angry about that, but it was ok in the end and the food was a huge success. We still have our fridge packed with delicious left-overs. On the 25th we ate an enormous Indian buffet, after which Aunt Flo came to visit, and actually floored me. I had to stay home and rest to cope with that, so I missed another family gathering in the evening.

I’m so so tired of eating… AND YES my weight has gone up again! Frankly after noticing the first 3 kilos, I stayed away altogether from the bathroom scales… they scare me.

January will come soon enough, and then it will be time to face the music all right!

 

Halloween Movies perfect for Kids!

Halloween also called All Hallow’s Eve and Samhain, this Autumn festival historically marks the end of harvest season and the beginning of Wintertime. Celtic and Gaelic traditions saw huge bonfires lit, as well as celebrations to mark the occasion. This is where the practice of dressing up comes from, since costumes were supposed to keep the cold, dark, evil spirits at bay by confusing them. It was the last festivity before the onset of the coldest months.

Today, we’re fortunate enough to live in a time where electricity, air-conditioners, heaters, and a marked jump in health institutions are enough to keep most of the cold chilly darkness under control. Nonetheless, we still celebrate Halloween. Apart from the usual parties, costume competitions, pumpkin fairs and trick-or-treating, many also take the opportunity to watch some good old horror movies to get into the mood.

Here are a number of some old favourite movies which I always make a point to watch during this time. These are not films of the slasher-horror type, but rather those which I associate with childhood, and which always leave me feeling of good cheer. Definitely ‘must-sees’ for all those with children and for those who can’t handle scary flicks!

The Tim Burton QuartetThe Nightmare before Christmas(1993), Corpse Bride (2005), Beetlejuice (1988) and Edward Scissorhands (1990). Tim Burton’s work is just perfect to watch cuddled on the sofa while a heavy rain lashes against the windowpanes. These dark fantasy movies are all, somehow or other, centred around Halloween. The first two mentioned are animated, full of catchy tunes and delightful characters. In fact, the ghouls, ghosts, skeletons and monsters aren’t scary at all. Although all of these movies are targeted at children, they also have dark sinister meanings which only adults will be able to appreciate, and which have nothing to do with Halloween and everything to do with the society we live in; a society which can be cruel and intolerant, and end up pressuring people into doing what is acceptable instead of being happy with their own individuality.

Hocus Pocus (1993) – I must admit, the Sanderson sisters have always been my favorite media witches. Especially Bettie Middler, who’s somehow perfect in her rendition of an angry yet funny medieval witch, who after being burnt at the stake, comes back to the present to take her revenge. Unfortunately, she and her sisters are totally unprepared for today’s world, not to mention today’s children, who are much pluckier and smarter than the ones she was used to.

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The Addams Family (1991) – The stories of this eccentric, affectionate clan who don’t care what others might think about them have always been close to my heart, and the 1991 rendition with Angelica Houston as Morticia, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester and Christina Ricci as Wednesday is just perfect in complementing Halloween. The Addams seem to live in a perennial Halloween all year round. Their neighbors think them strange, and society tries to shun them. And yet, they love and care for each other, especially when it matters the most.

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To read the rest of the article, which was published on EVE magazine follow the direct link:- http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/10/26/halloween-movies-for-the-faint-hearted/

My Secret Fear

Are you afraid of old age?

Ever since I can remember, it was not the thought of death which really terrified me, but of actually growing old. The thought of not having complete control of my body, and not being able to function in a self-sufficient manner, has always been a nightmare. I hate depending on others and being a burden, and the knowledge and certainty that someday, this time will arrive (if I do not die young that is), has always terrified me.

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When I was nineteen, my grandfather, who was a writer, a poet, and a very intelligent man and whom I loved very much – had a stroke. He ended up in a wheel-chair, was not able to move the left side of his body at all, suffered from incontinence, and had to be lugged about, washed, cleaned, and taken care of by his two middle aged children and their spouses in order to survive. Day and night. Every day. For years. He begged us to let him end it. Twice, my mother found he had dragged his wheelchair to the window and was trying, ineffectually, to jump. Since assisted suicide is illegal in Malta, and since we didn’t want to let him go, we aborted his attempts. He suffered immensely for two years. And then, he had another stroke. A worse one, which caused him to actually forget who we were. I don’t even want to go into the agony I felt when my grandpa, who had been so independent, witty, and wise, who had survived the war and taught me to love books, reading and knowledge – didn’t even know who I was.

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Anyways, after four and a half years of terrible pain, my grandpa died. I know that for him, this was a relief.

My grandma, his wife, is currently over 80 years old. She suffers from severe arthritis, can hardly walk, is almost deaf, and blind from one eye due to a botched cataract operation. She is lonely and misses my grandpa a lot. All she does is cry, swallow her pills (she has many of those), and pray. I love my grandma, but I know she is waiting for death. And that terrifies me.

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It terrifies me because when I look at her, I see myself, as I will be, in some fifty or so years. It seems far away now… but time is short and flies quickly… and someday, that part of my life will arrive…

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It does not bear thinking about…

 

Dear Neighbours, I would really like to report you to the Police because…

Dear neighbours,

I appreciate that you are passing through a rough patch, which is why you find it necessary to fight, scream and swear obscenely at 5.30am each morning as soon as you wake up and see each others’ faces. I also appreciate the fact that you on the other hand don’t like to hear our T.V, which is why you reported us to the police some time ago. I can also understand that all this fighting while at the same time having one’s nose in other people’s business can take up a lot of one’s time, which is perhaps why you ignore your sick daughter who has been coughing her head off for two weeks, while you bicker and screech at each other. So, can you please give me a tip? I’ve got the police station on the line – should I report you for disturbance of the peace, domestic abuse, or child neglect?

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You’ve been fighting ever since we moved here (and were here to hear you), which is since last September. Personally, I’m not being nosy. I don’t need to be to hear you, since my bedroom is right over your internal yard and your door is always open. You make no effort NOT to be heard, if you know what I mean lol. Which is why I know a lot about what is going on with you, since the shouting matches take place every day.

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You reported us coz our TV irritated you (and this at only 9.30pm when most ppl watch TV), instead of keeping your issues behind closed doors and shrieking them at everyone at 5.30 in the morning. The police were laughing their heads off when they came. They themselves had not heard anything because the TV was NOT loud.

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Truly, you dont need us to create more problems for you, since you obviously have enough hatred and anger pent up inside you for a million people. If you hadn’t been such hypocritical assholes, I’d have thought nothing of it, even though I have to hear your bull everyday as soon as I wake up in bed, but seriously, I cant understand how you can complain about us, while creating this racket all the time.

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And what about your older son and his friends, who create another racket every weekend at 2am when he comes home after having been out drinking and carousing? They stay outside your door in the street for half an hour shouting and having ‘mock’ fights. I could report that too if I wanted to as could anyone in this street. How can you not hear them but be all over our TV?

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Anyways thanks again for waking me up this morning, and for the free entertainment. Makes me feel so much better knowing that I don’t have to face either of you in my bed as soon as I open my eyes! In a way you really make me feel better about myself and my life. Anything is better than having yours lol.

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P.S I didn’t actually report them… YET!!

 

 

What to buy a Bookworm for Xmas

DEFINITELY NOT BOOKS!

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People who are not bibliophiles (or those who think they are and enjoy telling everyone how much they read, when in reality they just read ‘chick-trash’) will tell you that buying Xmas gifts for bookworms is easy. You just go to the local bookshop and purchase something from the ‘Top Ten’ shelf, right?

WRONG

TOTALLY WRONG

WRONG A MILLION TIMES OVER

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First of all, how on earth do you know which kind of books your friend/partner/family-member likes? Secondly, if you DO know them that well, how on earth do you know whether they already have that particular book in their collection or not? Or whether they have already read it (and maybe hated it) or not? If you ask them which books they want, that might be ok – however that depends on whether you want the pressie to be a surprise or whether you just want to ease your conscience from the start, and just set out to take the easy way out, by asking about it.

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Personally, if a gift is not a surprise, I don’t see the point of it, so there you have it. You just can’t ask someone what they want for Xmas right? It’s downright rude. Like asking a new date whether they love you or not during the first hour of making out for the first time. Rude or kinda angsty teenager drama behavior anyways.

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I remember once someone I was dating tried to be clever by giving me a set of books for my birthday. BIG MISTAKE. That was actually the first indication that I needed to give the guy the sack, right there and then (my big mistake was that I waited a couple of months after that first signal). The guy actually showed he did not know me at all. Imagine giving ME ‘Supernatural teenage romance’ – you know that kind of romantic triangle mush which actually makes ‘Twilight’ look like just vomit, instead of 100-year old drainage. Yes, that bad.

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So, no, if your partner, your friend, your mother, your neighbor or your teacher is a book-maniac, DO NOT take the easy way out and gift him/her with the first book you ‘might think’ is their style or which you ‘might think’ they have not read yet.

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Give them a cute owl-patterned blanket, give them fluffy house slippers, give them an Alice in Wonderland gothic tea-set, give them panda ear-muffs or a new Gorjuss diary.

Or to be on the safe side, and make them 100% happy, just give them a voucher from Book Depository, and let them decide what to buy for themselves.

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Thank you very much!! ;0p

What is so ‘shameful’ about being a Single Parent?

The wise say ‘You can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink’. This could also roughly translate to ‘Society can try to pressure couples with a baby on the way to make a go for it ‘for the baby’s sake’, but if the couple are not good together and not meant to be, they will eventually part ways all the same’. Lengthier, but true.

I see it again and again, two people who would otherwise not continue dating past the third month, try to force themselves into continuing something against their will, heart and mind, just because one of them ‘got’ pregnant. Apart from the fact that it only takes only tiny little contraceptive to prevent this, WHY oh WHY cannot family, friends, and long-nosed push-over’s the world over realize that no matter how much you try to manipulate, stress, and bully someone into doing what is, according to you that is, ‘morally and socially acceptable’, this will not work, unless the two people in question are actually really in love in the first place? In which case, they would continue the relationship naturally, take the baby in their stride (though admittedly, this is not an easy thing to do even when a pregnancy is planned), and evolve as a healthy and normal couple without needing anyone’s pressure or solicitations.

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The worst case scenario is when the two people try to convince themselves that they actually do feel something more than a passing fancy, or a falling-in-lust period, something permanent – since the child is obviously permanent too. You’d think this would be better, as the two would actually be trying to go along – however what this leads to is usually a prolonged period of agony. Sometimes years pass by, the child starts to grow into a sentient being, and soon realizes that something at home is just not right. His parents are different from his friends’. They are not loving towards each other, hardly touch, hardly even speak civilly. In fact, when one is in a room, the other is most often to be found at the other end of the house, if s/he is at home at all. And this takes place if they both, or singly, have not decided to have one or more extra-marital affairs, which is still yet another kettle of fish. Most people seem to believe that all this takes place ‘for the sake of the child’ – really? Do you think a child growing up in this atmosphere of tense unhappiness would be happy himself/herself?

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Others are worried about social benefits, knowing there to be breaches and cases of fraud where people maintain that a child’s father is ‘unkown’, simply to gain a percentage of society’s hard earned cash. Yes, unfortunately it has been known for there to be people who took advantage of the social benefits offered, however does this make it right to put everyone into the same basket? Apart from that, the issue at hand concerns those couples who are forced into a relationship after the beginning of a pregnancy, not those who do not claim parentage.

Why not come out and say it? Single-parenthood, for many, seems to be a shameful smut on the family name, which is why most people simply tell their son/daughter to ‘shut up and take responsibility’. This does not mean ‘pay for your son’s upkeep and schooling and take care of him/her emotionally’, but ‘sacrifice your entire life making yourself and others believe that you love a partner whom you actually wouldn’t spend more than a few minutes with, precluding any chance of happiness with anyone else’. Is this fair? Is this practical? Is this tolerant, understanding and loving? Of course not, and yet, being subconsciously afraid of the stigma, people still do it. Probably I will have to start looking over my shoulder after this article is published – maybe someone will even proclaim that I’m a henchman (or in this case, henchwoman) of endless debaucheries and fornication. Simply put, this is how I see it.

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What on earth is wrong with being a single parent? Both parents could have contact with their child, without the need of forcing themselves into enduring years and years of wasted life ‘shared’ with someone who’s less important to them than their favourite pair of socks! There is nothing wrong with a single parent enjoying a healthy relationship with his/her child. Does anyone tell off widowers/widows who take care of their children alone after a loss? No! Everyone considers them to be heroes for being so brave, strong and efficient and tackling the upbringing of a child on their own. So, why isn’t the same measure used for ALL single parents? The issue, once more, has got to do with the sex-taboo prevalent in many societies. Why let an issue which is present mostly due to lack of sexual education and awareness cloud our judgement and influence the life of many people so negatively?

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We tiptoe around it, trying not to look, trying not to acknowledge this mentality which, unfortunately, is still here in this day and age. Isn’t it time we looked straight at it and tackled it heads-on?

—- A version of this blog article was published on the online magazine EVE here – http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/07/21/what-is-so-shameful-about-being-a-single-parent/

The Hypocrisy of the word ‘Tradition’ in Malta

It is intrinsically hypocritical how society sometimes uses the word ‘tradition’ to cloak its most disgusting habits. As though ‘tradition’ were an excuse. Yes, we are the only country in the European Union which sanctions spring hunting. It’s ‘tradition’. Yes, we have ‘karrozzini‘, that is small horse-drawn carriages which clog the streets and pester tourists to slowly view the capital city while riding, jostling and sweating, on malnourished and dehydrated horses at exorbitant prices – it’s ‘tradition’. Yes, many people pen said horses in small unlighted rooms where they have to stay for days on end in the sweltering heat, beat them into submission when they make too much noise, and snap at anyone who dares to say that Malta is not a country which can support such big animals, since we do not have extra land to pasture them and let them graze in (we ARE a fairly small island after all), but hey, it’s ‘tradition’!

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What about all those minorities who do not fit into what the masses still think of as ‘tradition’? How about that monstrously glorified institution – the ‘traditional’ family? During election-times super-inflated posters portraying dear grandma with her knitting, grandpa and his bushy eyebrows, handsome daddy, petite MILFY mommy, a Pollyanna-like daughter, a buck-toothed cheeky son, a fluffy dog and a charming cat, swallow streets, roads, roundabouts and every blank wall imaginable – what about all the single-parent families? What about families where there is only one grandma and one daddy, but no mummy? What about, all the gods forbid, having two parents of the same gender? What about couples without children? Of course, these do not fall within the ‘traditional family’ type the archbishop of Malta loves to talk about in his sermons, so they are ignored like the plague.

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Some time ago, while going to the hairdresser’s after work, I was stupefied and stunned when, as I was passing in front of a private meeting place for a particular Christian group, I saw a notice quoting the Bishop and the Archbishop. I simply had to stop and read it, even though it turned my stomach. No, I am not going to go into details here, suffice it to say that the description of the ‘traditional family’; what it ought to be, and what it ‘has become’ due to the distancing of the people from the church, was simply illuminating.

Honestly, one must not only be blind and obtuse and totally out of this world to not realize WHY people are alienating themselves from this kind of mentality. About bloody time too! How anyone could swallow this type of elitist hatred-inducing bullshit is quite beyond me. Some people just like feeling that they are part of a ‘special’ club I suppose, even though it sucks. It’s like the bullies at school. They usually conglomerate in a group because this makes them feel like they are better than everybody else – the superior race of hypocritical opportunism if you will.

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I am not saying that every Christian is like this, nor that every religion is (though yes many individuals DO view religion in this manner – talk about psychosis), however this mentality of exclusion is unfortunately permeating Malta, and it has been doing this for as long as I can remember. Shall we clap our hands and swallow it all, simply because this corrupt and intolerant mentality is ‘traditional’ – in that it has been unchanging in a long time? Well, apparently as soon as one affixes the magical word ‘tradition’ to something, it becomes untouchable, so… why not?

*Sigh*

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I hope you DO get my world-weary sarcasm here?

Book Review – Coraline – Neil Gaiman

First let’s make this clear – this is a review of the book NOT the animated movie, although I loved the movie too (and it could still be construed as such).

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That being said, I think what touched me most about this book is that it is truly a book for children. The plot line is quite deep, the psychology behind it is disturbing and twisted, and most of the story itself is so metaphorical as to be almost frightening, and yet, it is set so as to not only enter into the world of children, but also make every child who reads it feel totally at home there.

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It captures everyday moments of every child’s life – the unlikeable ‘recipes’ served at dinner, the boredom of rainy days, the loneliness of children with no other brothers or sisters, the sense of loss when one’s parents seem distant and busy with their own lives, the way children’s opinions are glossed over and ignored when it comes to practical matters like choosing clothes for school.

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Most importantly, it offers two different perspectives of parent-hood. On the one hand, we have Coraline’s normal family – her two working parents who both work at home and have their own studies there, who sometimes have no time for Coraline and who have forgotten what it’s like to be a child, and therefore do not understand her, yet who love her and would sacrifice themselves for her.

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On the other – there are the Other parents – especially, the Other mother. She is a perfectly frightening representation of those clutching needy mothers, who need something to love so much, that they literally stifle their children, bottling them up in a bubble of fake smiles and repression – until finally the childrens’ individuality is squeezed into nothingness… which is what they become.

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This metaphor of the needy cold mother, who selfishly does not really care about who Coraline is or what she actually wants, is the prevalent ‘monster’ in the story, and is all the more terrifying in that there are so many real monsters like her out in our world.

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Coraline’s natural communication with the animals around her is so normally-portrayed as to be totally believable, and not relegated to the label of ‘magical’ or ‘supernatural’ at all. Cats talk, mice dance, rats can be spies – it is presented as a fact, and so it is.

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This short book reminded me of the premise of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, where family issues are combatted by children through metaphorical intervention. Totally brilliant.

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