Life at the Shallow End
Chapter One

Life at the Shallow End What on earth possesses a parent to saddle a child with a ridiculous name like Apple, or Peaches or Dweezil?

Don't these parents have a pang of guilt when they stand in the park shouting, 'Fifi! Come along Fifi!' and a child, rather than a poodle, runs up?

I think there should be some sort of law which allows kids to choose their own name if they don't like the one their parents have lumbered them with. There'd have to be an age restriction of course, like you couldn't pick your new name until you were a teenager, otherwise you might grow up being called Tinky Winky, Barbie or Cinderella, and you wouldn't even have the satisfaction of blaming the parentals as it would be all your fault.

'But, darling, you wanted that name. We weren't happy, but as it was the law we had no choice but to let you call yourself Snow White. Don't blame us! Blame yourself!'

I think it's very important that you suit your name, and how can the parentals know how you're going to turn out when they give you your name at the point in your life when you're nothing more than a screaming wrinkly bundle of skin lying in a cot? Who wants to go to college and have to register as Angelchild if there's nothing remotely angelic about you? Or what about if you're called Willow, but look more like a great big gnarled oak tree?

I really understand how minging it is to have a name which doesn't suit your looks or personality, and that's because my parents named me...wait for it...drum roll...Electra. Electra Brown.

Electra! What possessed them? What were they thinking of giving me an exotic Greek name when I'm as English as fish and chips and wet bank holiday weekends, and I've got bog-standard Brown as a surname?

I know what they were doing. Mum's older sister, Victoria, and her American husband, Hamp Hampshire, thought they were being all trendy and alternative calling their daughter after the place where she was conceived, a swish apartment on Madison Avenue in New York. So when I was born three months later than my cousin Madison, Mum and Dad thought they'd do the same with me. But I didn't start life in one of New York's smartest streets. I started life in Greece, specifically in the Electra Self Catering Apartments. Mum and Dad haven't actually admitted this of course, they always just say that it's where they spent their honeymoon, but as they had a September wedding and I arrived, late, on the 5th July, go figure! It could have been worse I suppose. I could have been named Faliraki Brown.

I am so not a Greek girl. Angela Panteli's parents own a restaurant in the High Street, The Galloping Greek, and Ange and her sisters are all olive-skinned, dark-eyed exotic beauties. Nothing about me is remotely exotic or Greek. I don't even like moussaka because of the aubergines. Aubergines are vegetables of the devil in my opinion. They taste like a bit of old bath sponge soaked in day-old liquidized vomit and I think there's something deeply suspicious about the sort of people who like vomity veg.

I've got a pale face as wide as a satellite dish, and straight hair that can at best be described as dishwater-blonde, but is really on the light-brown side of mouse. I don't look like I think an Electra should look, I've never felt like an Electra, and I hate it when people say, 'How unusual!' when they hear my name. I don't want to be unusual. If you've got a face like a white dinner plate and mousy hair, you're designed to blend in, not stand out. And it's hard to blend in when you're called Electra, which if you're not Greek has a slightly dodgy porn-star or drag-queen ring to it. I don't even suit its meaning. I looked it up once. Apparently it means The Bright One.

Hah! Tell that to the teachers who take Year 9 at Flora Burke's Community School and they'd have a laugh. Bottom set in French and maths, the only two lessons we're streamed in. Struggling in history and geography. Quite good at English language when I put my mind to it. Ditto Eng lit when I can be bothered to put down Teen Vogue and pick up the books we're supposed to be studying. Chemistry? No hope. Biology? Forget it.

I can't even shorten Electra to Ellie because my mum's called Ellie, short for Eleanor, though her family never call her anything other than her full name.

There was a brief phase where I toyed with the nickname Lekky, but then some of the boys at school started saying things like, 'Can I read your meter, Lekky?' with disturbing looks on their already very disturbing zitty-bum-fluff faces, so I abandoned that idea very quickly.

I thought about trying an anagram of my name, but the only word I came up with that made any sense was Treacle, and names connected with confectionery like Honey or Candy are truly tragic for anyone over the age of five. Anyway, I'd be in the school register as, Brown, Treacle. Enough said.

For my little bro, aka The Little Runt, Mum and Dad decided not to continue with the Where they did it theme, and called him Jack, which is a good choice because not only is it ordinary, you can't turn Jack Brown into a daft nickname. There's a boy at school called Frazer Burns, but of course everyone calls him Razor Burns. Everyone except me and my friends who call him Freak Boy behind his back, and FB to his face, if we can be bothered to talk to him at all. Freak Boy suits him perfectly as he has this weird nose shaped like a puffin's beak stuck in the middle of his podgy face, and he scuttles around like a beetle, hunched over, reciting ridiculous information such as bus routes and car number plates. A freaky beaky saddo. Even for Freak Boy it could be worse I suppose. I've heard of someone called Russell Sprout and someone else called Dwain Pipe. Tragic.

Sometimes what starts as a good idea goes horribly wrong.

Take one of my best friends, Sorrel Callender.

Her mum, Yolanda, is a total lentil, and has named all her children after herbs. She even runs an organic café called The Bay Tree Café.

The whole herb-name scenario started off well with older sister Jasmine (lovely), then Sorrel (cool and it suits her), but then took an unpleasant turn with Sorrel's younger sister who Yolanda called Senna. Not Sienna, which conjures up pictures of sunsets and glamorous film stars, but Senna, known throughout the world as the herb that cures constipation. She's known at junior school as The Constipation Kid, and has to put up with jokes about going through the motions, and boys coming up to her and asking, 'Keeping regular?' before sniggering and running away. The lack of one little i turned the name from film star to laxative. It doesn't help that last time I saw Senna she was an unfortunate-looking child, a large dark-skinned scowly lump with thick specs and braces. I expect she'll just pop in an i when she gets older, and her life will become considerably easier, even if she doesn't become prettier.

Even the boys couldn't escape from the herb horror as Sorrel's three-year-old twin half-brothers are named Orris and Basil, but luckily their father, Ray Johnson, Yolanda's partner, seems to have managed to get everyone to call them OJ and BJ.

So, even though unusual names can be OK, I still think it's best to choose a regular name.

My other best friend who I've known since Primary School is called Lucy. Lucy Malone.

I once asked Luce whether she liked her name and felt like a Lucy, and she looked at me as if I was barking and said she'd never even thought about it. That's why Lucy's such a great name. It fits someone of any age, unlike names like Ethel or Mildred, which could only ever be for wrinkly coffin-dodgers.

None of this name-angst applies to pets of course.

We have a guinea pig—though I'd rather have a dog—but I can't believe he sits in his hutch worrying that we've called him Google. Or perhaps he does, which is why he's turned from a cute little bundle of toffee-coloured fur, to a fat demented monster who totally ignores the gorgeous juicy dandelion leaves I offer him and simply launches himself towards me with mad eyes and flaring yellow fangs. I'm looking at this from a guinea pig perspective obviously. I don't really think dandelion leaves are tasty, though I'm sure Sorrel's mum probably puts them in salads. Perhaps as he sinks his teeth in to my hand and sees me hop about the garden shrieking, 'I hope the fox eats you!' (I don't really, but those bites hurt and you say things you don't mean in the heat of the moment) he's thinking, Serves you right for calling me Google, you horrid human.

The name was Jack's idea as he saw it on the computer and thought it was one of the funniest words he had ever seen. I guess it is when you're young and don't know any better, so proving my point that if you could choose your own name, you must be made to wait until your age is at least in double figures.

Because of the threat of hutch violence none of us dare go near Google now, so Dad feeds him. I say feeds—he approaches the cage wearing an old oven glove and carrying a badminton racquet, quickly opens the door, launches a scoop of dried Gourmet Guinea food towards the beast, and beats a hasty retreat. The badminton racket is there just in case Google has quicker reactions than Dad, but so far he's never had to use it to defend himself from unprovoked vicious rodent assault.

Poor Google. He's obviously nuclear angry about something. As he got angrier, the less we were able to cuddle him, and so now he just sits, alone, tweeting and twitching, looking at the garden through his cage door, feeling sorry for himself.

I know how he feels. I'm in serious Why me? mode at the mo.

And that's not because I've got a dodgy-shaped face, or can't get a date on a Saturday night, or that I've never been allowed a dog, or that I've got the world's most annoying little brother. Those things usually get to me, but today they don't really matter. Not in the grand scheme of life, the universe and everything. That's because yesterday Dad dropped a bombshell in to the middle of our quiet ordinary little family.

He's leaving.


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