Sunday, March 02, 2003

Family's different

The difference between my generation and that of my parents is the invention of the video camera. My dad can tell the story about the time he set fire to a farmer's field, but he has no proof. When Sophie and my little second cousin Harry ask about the antics of their parents, uncles, and aunties we'll just reach for the video tape.

Harry will be able to watch his dad, Jonathan, twice eating cat food, and his uncle, Jeremy, sticking his head in a garden pond or spitting a mouthful of ketchup all over a window. The stunts were done for the benefit of my dad's video camera. Jonathan was spoofing a cat food advert where the food was literally 'good enough to eat'. Jeremy was being a Blue Peter gardening expert, looking for fish. This was all part of the fun of going to see our cousins.

The same video also sees Jonathan demonstrating a recipe involving an old 7" record, a fish tank, lots of water and four bags of flour. He then pours it over himself. My sister Kirsty is seen wearing tights on her head whilst tied to a set of railings. Don't ask.

Yep, when Sophie and Harry come asking, they'll get it in spades.

Sadly though, the oddest day of them all was never recorded on video. It was Christmas, we were visiting Auntie Joanna and Uncle James as part of our Christmas family tour.

Upon arrival we were furnished with champagne, Uncle James’ default position is standing in the middle of his living room with a bottle of champagne tilted at 45 degrees. You say, can I have a drink, and he pours. For the first time my sister Annia's now fiancĂ© Chris had joined us, through a combination of paranoia and nerves, she got absolutely mullered on champagne. Chris was left to fend for himself whilst Annia lay prostrate on the couch groaning.

Auntie Joanna spent the day talking almost entirely in pidgin Italien. She had just retired and was about to buy an 'apartmento' in Italy. She also planned to rent rooms of their house out to foreign students. Jonathan and Jeremy weren't long left home, but as you know the church of your parents is a tough ministry. It was Christmas, Joanna handed out crackers. Inside were blow up toys... no no not what you're thinking, they were blow up balls and bats, tennis rackets, baseball bats etc.

The house has a long hallway, and when we were kids we'd either play football in the park opposite, or in the winter, in the hall. In the park we'd play first to 175 in an empty swimming pool. I vividly remember Jonathan, looking like a seven year old Leo Sayer, purple faced with his top off celebrating putting his team 168-165 in the lead. We were of course, too big to play in the hall now, except the blow up toys unleashed uncontrollable feelings (don't they always, fellas?). There was an impromptu game of football, four grown men; me, Jonathan, Jeremy and Dudley pushing and shoving and smashing ornaments like a bunch of eight year olds in a three foot wide hallway.

Joanna was insistent after lunch that we help her move a settee from the top floor three flights of stairs. We went upstairs to survey the work. When we got there Jonathan spotted that something wasn't right. It had been his room, and by the simple rules of displacement, his stuff had to have been put Somewhere Else. But where?

When asked, Joanna told him that they'd been thrown in the skip as part of a massive clearout. Everything had gone, teddy bears, clothes, games, books, shells collected off the beach, and two completed football Panini sticker books from the late 70's, valued of £1000 each. Gone, his childhood, gone, his heirlooms, gone. All of it in a landfill site somewhere in Hertfordshire.

Jonathan's soul was ripped right out of his throat where he stood. He was flabbergasted, devastated, and not to say a little hurt. It took Joanna a good hour to realise the extent of what she had done to him. Although she probably should have noticed him standing in the middle of the kitchen silently mouthing the word "Why?" to nobody in particular.

My dad helped, the same thing happened to him when he was a kid, he told Jonathan, that "If it's any consolation, you'll never get over it". He hasn't, we're advised not to talk about it.

All the while Jeremy had been quietly enjoying the spectacle. It wasn't that he wanted his brother hurt, but there's something satisfying in seeing it happen. He shouldn't have been quite so smug. In an attempt to get an explanation, Jonathan asked why his stuff, and not Jeremy's. Well, Joanna is nothing if not fair. She'd skipped all Jeremy's stuff too.

Jeremy couldn't believe it, by this time Joanna had become very very aware of what she'd done, she couldn't console them both at the same time. Every time she went to Jeremy, Jonathan would start mouthing "Why?" every time she went to Jonathan, Jeremy would ask about something else. All of which had gone in the skip.

"What about Sooty?"
"I threw Sooty out"
"But" he gaped with a Thousand Yard Stare "Sooty had a Sooty Passport"

Ever the pragmatist, Joanna realised even though she had placed black spots on her sons hearts, she still needed her settee moving. So we moved it, five men, three floors. Every turn we took a chunk out of the wall, we ripped wallpaper, we chipped the stairs. But we did it, eventually.

It was time to go home. We'd got drunk, had hangovers and recovered, we'd regressed back to our childhoods, then been wrenched into our present and faced with the transience and disposability of our lives. Another nice day with the family.


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