van der Does de Willebois is actually not my maiden name but my married name. His is infinitely more glamorous than my own. I did not marry him for his name although I think that as a young something of 24ish I did occur to me that it might be rather grand. By the time we actually tied the knot on a cold October day in Tuscany 2000 it was the last thing on my mind. I had dressed in the hair dresser’s broom cupboard, my parents had forgotten me, I was more than an hour late and we then had to pick up a stray male guest on the way who sat down firmly upon my bouquet and …. my stockings started to fall down as I approached one of the most beautiful romanesque altars I know. My dress maker, knowing me far to well, had implored me to walk calmly. My unseemly scurry was far from his or my nuptial dream.
So back to the name: We have been kicked out of almost every US database, we get extra airport searches – the erratic scattering of consonants clearly marks us out as likely terrorist suspects. Even were that not the case I would find it hard to give up my own name. It is my lineage, dubious as that may be. It links me to my all too wonderful father who traversed Europe, Asia Minor, India and Africa and made it all the way down to the Cape, not once but twice. When the suspension went on their VW, they just selected a few sizeable ladies and offered them a ride. On his second journey with my mother, she inadvertently terrorised Persian children by waving at them with her beloved Winnie-the-Pooh. How could I renounce all that, and so much more, that the thought of recounting it all leaves me constricted. Nothing changes in the parental camp. I heard today that they have a highly charming young French couple camping out on their lawn. My parents inherited my Uncle Christopher’s volvo. My beloved, monacled and unruly, Uncle Christopher deserves a blog in his own right so I should not digress. The volvo has French number plates, it is black from head to toe and my uncle used to complain bitterly that my Aunt was always filling it with huge bouquets which made them look like a passing hearse so that French villages would stand aside respectfully. Following my wonderful uncle’s heavenly ascent the volvo now resides at the bottom of my parent’s garden along with his panama hat on the passenger seat and several useful old yoghurt pots. Clearly our French guests felt they would be safe on my parent’s Tuscan lawn.
Back to the topic: my husband once described a dinner with my family as a very fast game of squash with endless conversations at the same time. I fear that this blog will be no better. So, nope van der Does de Will… etc is not my name but his.. Well they are what is called Jonkheers which, as far as my limited understanding of Dutch goes, means recognised as being of lineage. But as a British person we look at Continental European titles with grave suspicion. In the UK we only pass a title down to the oldest child and the rest are honourables (Hons) and their children are nothing. For futher wondrous and highly entertaining literature on the matter, read Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford. In Europe everyone gets everything so in the end everyone will be a Jonkeer or Princess and so I tell my husband and children when they get uppity. Italy for one is littered with Princesses with vinyards.
I still shudder at the recollection of that dark Amsterdam evening, a convening of the Maltese Dames (female version of the Maltese Knights) who were all ‘of title’. I crossed the Amstel, the air was crisp, the iron bridges elegant and functional, the lights glimmered on the water. I approached a lofty house with flagstone entry hall, steep stairs and entered a room full of tightly-clad middle aged ladies – thinly interspersed with a younger crowd more edgily dressed – that clung to the walls. Ghastly, the Maltese Dames were ostensibly trying to market themselves to a younger crowd. To mark the occasion the Hermes scarves were of a the season’s colour as opposed to the traditional navy and bridles. Was I ‘van adel?’/of title? they politely enquired. To numb the embarrassement the younger generation discussed the trials of getting a MacLaren onto an Amsterdam tram. My English mother-in-law with scythe-like elegance defended both me and our national take on rules of descent. We parted, dissolving into the late night air, never to meet again. Along the canals, past the high paned windows with retreating views of painted eaves.
My highlight of the evening was entertaining one of the Hermes clad ladies by terrifying her with innumerable faux pas that would cause her instant social death in England. She was rooted to her chinz armchair and begged for more. I later sent her the poem How to get on in Society. I was fortunate, the backdrop of a wondrous Amsterdam house and, views across 17 century Amsterdam powered me on.
So no… van der Does de Willebois is nothing to do with me. I fear it will never fit me as well as it does the Singel / inner canal of ‘s-Hertogenbosch or my five year old daughter. I will tend towards the unexpected French on the lawn, the monacled uncle, a life in ruins and other things guaranteed to give me no proper sense of balance or place.