Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Family Ties

I’ve just had a very random memory of my father, drunk as a lord, dancing to “Because I got High” in an Essex dining room at a New Years Eve party about three years ago. This is remarkable only in the choice of music – my father, when inebriated, becomes the life and soul of the party – as long as his every whim is catered for that is. Petulance is never far away – an argument started at one family gathering when, despite our best efforts, we were singularly unable to identify a song he was insisting was by Elton John (or “that fat poof” as my father likes to call him. He was personally affronted when Elt came out, and has since been observed in front of the telly as a concert was being screened, listening but looking at the ceiling as he can’t bear to look at him….), which after a bitter and protracted argument turned out to be “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits. That particular evening also featured his (frankly terrifying) rendition of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday Mr President, which still has the power to make a friend of mine wince at the memory when reminded.

Christmases at the family seat in Wiltshire are niggle-by-numbers in our family. Every year, the decision-making process over who will sleep where is kicked off round about September time, as my stepmother struggles with the logistical nightmare of up to ten adults of varying tolerance, four small children, two very nervous cats and a four-bedroom house. I’ve slept, variously, on a sofa bed in the dining room, on a sofa, in my brother’s bed (sans brother, I hasten to add), and once, memorably, on a lilo in my sister’s room. Small Person has shared a room with every member of the family at some point, and is often to be found wandering the landing searching in vain for a parent. At some point during the festivities there will be:

1) A discussion regarding the infiltration of society by the homosexual element. At some point my father will play his trump card “Gays? Sads, I call ‘em”, while the rest of us roll our eyes and talk amongst ourselves.

2) A spirited game of MasterQuiz, an interminable low-rent precursor of Trivial Pursuit, during which my little sister will complain viciously that she always gets the Geography questions and it’s just not fair.

3) Accusations of cheating levelled by my father at anyone who might participate in any game with him, usually engendered by someone else getting two answers right in a row, while he is consistently asked questions which assume a level of interest on his part in Eastenders/Pop Idol/Eastern European political processes since the Second World War.

4) A helpless fit of giggling at the table involving my sister and myself, which serves only to irritate everyone since we are in our thirties and therefore old enough to know better. My sister’s crowning moment was during a family game of Scrabble, when, struggling with a troublesome letter, she asked in a loud, steady voice “Is quim a word? Q-u-i-m, quim?”. Bless her.

This pattern is repeated without deviation, year after year, and we love it. Days are spent glassy-eyed with boredom by the fire as the permanent cricket commentary emanates at ear-splitting volume from the TV, and my father snores, oblivious, in the corner. Any unapproved programmes (ie, everything apart from cricket) are watched huddled over the tiny portable black and white TV in my sister’s room. My stepmum will at some point dance alone in the hallway to a Rod Stewart cassette, fired up on brandy and festive cheer. A cat will escape, be captured, escape, be recaptured and confined to a bedroom, whereupon someone will unwittingly leave the door open and the whole process will begin again. We eat too much, drink too much, moan about the washing up and have a thoroughly good time. I know we’re not alone in this family routine, but believe me when I say that it’s just about the only normal thing about us. Really.

The Other Half is even now rehearsing in order to deliver his “I’m very very busy over Christmas for the rest of my life, honest” speech in a convincing voice. He’s not getting away with it though.


Blogger elvira black chimed in with...

I love-love-love it!

Mark Knopfler (?) and Elton John, separated at birth? I don't think so.

25 September, 2005 20:59  

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