Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Well, you asked for it (well, Urban Chick did anyway, but I think she might have been drunk at the time), so here it is - a potted history of my family. You might want to go and have a wee first, or make a cup of tea, as this may take a while. And you might get to the end of it feeling a little uncomfortable, or maybe sorry for us. Don't - it's such a well-worn story now that it holds no emotions, and I'm not out for pity. Cash donations are always welcome, but pity ain't.

It all started in the late sixties. My mother and my father were still married to each other (in my mother's head this is still the case, in whatever weird parallel existence gets her through the day. She announced at lunch a couple of months ago that it would have been their forty-fifth wedding anniversary that day. They've been divorced for thirty-seven years but hey, who's counting? If I had stayed at school I'd have been there for twenty eight years this year. It's that sort of thing...) and my brother was born. He was followed by beloved sister Fifi, and then along came me in the early seventies. I was what's euphemistically known as a band-aid baby, in that I was supposed to glue my parents' marriage back together. However, me being me, this didn't happen. Not even a bit. When I was two, my father ran off with the Avon lady, in a terrible middle-class cliche. Said Avon lady was married with a small daughter at the time. Not to be outdone, my mother hooked up with the Avon lady's now-ex husband, and the fun began in earnest. I'm not entirely sure how much of this was known to any of the parties at the time; did my mother already have, ahem, knowledge of Avon lady's husband even as she was getting it on with my father? Did any of them know about the other indiscretions? Was it all a big jolly liberated seventies wife swap? Of all the possibilities I like the last one the least. Uurgh. So, as is the nature of these things, decisions had to be made. Between the two couples there were four children, with another on the way (happily gestating away inside the Avon lady). This is another part of my history that I really don't understand, particularly as a mother myself. There ensued a process that in my mind took the form of picking teams for netball. My father ended up with my brother, sister Fifi and the impending new addition. My mother gained me and the Avon-lady-ex-husband's daughter. My brother was seven, Fifi was five, I was two and a bit. My soon-to-be-stepsister was four. So the adults, satisfied with the arrangements, all went off and set up home and got married, and concentrated on raising the kids with an eye to minimising any damage caused by the events of their early years. Well, my father and the Avon lady did anyway. My mother and stepfather chose to either tell me, or to simply let me believe, that my father and stepmother were my uncle and aunt, and that my brother and sisters were my cousins, with my stepsister being my only "true" sister. We used to get together at Christmas and on a couple of other occasions throughout the year - lord only knows how that worked as far as the grownups went - a lot of polite small talk I expect. In addition to this familial obfuscation, my mother and stepfather set about drinking themselves into a coma at every possible opportunity. As their relationship worsened, so our evening and weekend routines evolved until my stepsister and I were cast in the role of peacemakers, endlessly placating and fruitlessly refereeing drunken rows. To this day I can't sleep if there's noise, only because part of me is still listening to make sure an argument doesn't break out. I first heard the "c" word aged seven, when my stepfather burst into my room in the middle of the night to tell me I couldn't go and stay with my school friend because I was a spoiled little cunt who thought I was better than him. We weathered Christmases in which the only salvation was that my stepfather would pass out at four pm, and social gatherings where we were lucky to arrive home alive, such was the frequency of drunk driving. I have a vivid recollection of sitting in the back of the family car with my stepsister, as my mother complained bitterly that the car had broken down. My stepfather was unconcious in the passenger seat, having rounded off the evening at a schoolfriend's parents' house by collapsing backwards over a low wall, knocking it down and taking a garden bench with him. It transpired that the car was fine - my mother was simply so drunk that she was pressing the brake instead of the accelerator. Armed with this helpful knowledge, she changed feet and drove us home. This and a thousand other horror stories that I won't bore anyone with now mean that I'm fairly sure that stepsister and I drew the short straw....

So, here we are. The Surly family tree contains a father who I don't call Dad, a stepmother who has been more of a mother to me than my natural mother despite never living with me, a stepfather who I haven't spoken to in nearly twelve years, a mother who I couldn't even begin to describe, a brother, a sister, a stepsister and a half sister. My stepsister is everyone else's stepsister as her father was married to our mother, and her mother is married to my father. My half sister is everyone else's half sister, as she shares a father with me, my brother and sister Fifi, and a mother with my stepsister. My mother and stepmother are sworn enemies owing to my mother's treatment of my stepsister when we were small. My stepfather has apparently gone a bit churchy in his old age. My mother is mental. My brother and half sister are the only children who haven't been through some sort of therapy, giving all the parents a better than fifty percent strike rate in officially fucking their kids up.

It's a wonder I've turned out so normal, isn't it?


Blogger Whinger chimed in with...

Oh. my. gosh. I fully had to put my hand over my mouth while reading this. That is some drama that I wouldn't believe if it showed up on a soap.

You should write a sitcom of these wacky adventures, perhaps leaving out the "C" word, and the alcoholism. In fact, let's just rewrite the stepdad altogether.

20 September, 2005 20:46  
Blogger Urban Chick chimed in with...

oh god, SG - i'm speechless (and not a little befuddled with all the inter-relationships...in fact, i think i might need to read it all again and make some notes)

i agree with the whinger: if this was an 'eastenders' plot, i would think it somewhat far-fetched

don't know what else to say and rather than say something horribly gauche, i will shut up for once

20 September, 2005 21:03  
Blogger Kyahgirl chimed in with...

Thank you for sharing that story sg. I am torn between humour, because your style is so funny, and sorrow. There is a world of pain in that story. (This isn't pity!) My heart goes out to all you little kids.

You have grown into a fine adult and I'm again amazed at the resilience and strength of the human spirit.
However, Doesn't stop me from wanting to kill/torture/maim your various parent figures. WTF were they thinking?


20 September, 2005 21:05  
Blogger Kyahgirl chimed in with...

p.s. I have to write it down because the 'tree' totally confuses me!

20 September, 2005 21:07  
Blogger Urban Chick chimed in with...

p.s. (cause i said i would shut up and i do intend to!) i think the worst thing is the deceit from all four 'parents' - it's beyond belief

20 September, 2005 21:13  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

writing it down is the best way - i have a nifty diagram that has astonished many over the years.....

i have reconciled with my father and hold no resentment towards my stepmother. they never, as far as i know, misled my brother or sisters.

my mother? don't get me started.

20 September, 2005 21:18  
Blogger Fifi chimed in with...

Blimey! You've gawn and done it!

20 September, 2005 21:19  
Blogger Fifi chimed in with...

It is hard for me to comment as it is my life story too, but suffice to say you have told it how it was/is and made me laugh to boot.
You are valued beyond riches my Surly Sis x

20 September, 2005 21:35  
Anonymous Other Half chimed in with...

I had a handle on some of that bizarre saga but thank you for illustrating it so beautifully my love. Supplementary diagrams always welcome (bit like in algebra class).

It took a lot of courage to publish that to the big wide world but hopefully in some small way you get some peace by externalising it.

Makes me seem almost normal doesn't it...don't answer that...I'll only take the 5th amendment to any serious accusations !!!

21 September, 2005 08:26  
Blogger Amanda Matilda chimed in with...

Oh. My. God.

If nothing else, at least you had prime examples of how NOT to be an adult in Small Person's life.

21 September, 2005 08:56  
Blogger Geoff chimed in with...

What is it with alcoholics and driving?
My dad used to drop off his last customer of the day (he was a driving instructor) and drive home to his pissed girlfriend, drinking a bottle of vodka on the way.
Who did he think he was? Jackson fucking Pollock?...Ok, kill yourself. But DON'T kill other people.

21 September, 2005 09:33  
Blogger Who is this Dave? chimed in with...

Yes. I want to comment, but don't want to seem sympathetic or...
oh, I don't know what I want to say.

At least my wife and I split up after our kids had left home. And I'm tee-total. But I'm no-one's role model either.

21 September, 2005 10:49  
Blogger Fifi chimed in with...

We are none of us perfect, as parents or otherwise. But at least our generation has some sense of what the future consequences of our current actions may be.
Back in the 70's (a LOT to answer for) the notion of cause/effect had yet to kick in, hence a LOT of bad mistakes were made.

Despite it all, (and I have the luck and the guilt of being in the Good half of our Good/Bad family) Surly Girl and I are both fabulous people, and, recently, fabulously happy.

So there.

21 September, 2005 11:05  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

fifi is fabulous, i am resolutely the black sheep of the family - the evidence of that is a post all of its own....

but yes, fabulously happy. mostly.

anyone out there with a normal family? anyone?

i thought not.

21 September, 2005 12:59  
Blogger patroclus chimed in with...

Christ alfuckingmighty. I thought I had it bad. I don't, in any way whatsoever.

It's not just the 70s, I don't think. The war years were just as bad for that type of behaviour - the shadow of things that my grandmother might or might not have got up to in the 1940s still hangs over (what's left of) our family.

I can't even begin to imagine what growing up must have been like for you, Surly. There's nothing worse (well, there's war and famine and so on, but you know what I mean) than parents who fuck up their children's lives. Once again, all respect to you for having the Small Person and giving her a normal, happy life.

21 September, 2005 13:46  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

oh, it wasn't all bad. the Guilt Fairy used to deliver lavish birthday presents and i was very good on a fruit machine by the age of eight.

21 September, 2005 13:52  
Anonymous Paul King chimed in with...

They say you are the sum total of your live experiences......

You've done well to come out of that, with Donna as a mate the only negative effect.

(just kidding Donna ;-) )

21 September, 2005 14:17  
Blogger Stef the engineer chimed in with...

Blimey. I also had to do a diagram. And I still don't understand it. (In retrospect attempting to use different colours to portray genetic heritage was probably a step too far.) And then there's explaining all the relationships to Small Person. A lot of difficult things to get over to a young mind. The concept of an "Avon Lady" for instance.
I envy you the fruit machine skills, 'though. I never understood what "nudge" meant.

21 September, 2005 14:40  
Blogger Fifi chimed in with...

It's usually followed by "wink" (coincidentally the name of another random relative of ours, but I think you all have enough to be going along with...).

Surly Sis and her sister would also turn up to our house in matching perms and eighties stilettos far younger than they should have been allowed to have them (Surly Sis was about 7 I believe), something I was envious of the time, but not in retrospect. They also got to consume a lot more crisps, wine and horror movies than us...again, in hindsight...

21 September, 2005 16:09  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

don't tell everyone that!!!!

i did see the evil dead (the uncut version) when i was eight tho. i preferred i spit on your grave - more inappropriate for younger viewers.

21 September, 2005 16:27  
Anonymous Paul King chimed in with...

I saw "I spit on your grave" when I was about 10. I think my Dad was trying to b all chummy and like a mate (after th divorce). We went through them all: Texas Chain Saw Masacre (which messed me up for a few weeks), Canibal Holocaust etc.

21 September, 2005 16:48  
Blogger Amanda Matilda chimed in with...

What's a fruit machine?

21 September, 2005 16:55  
Blogger Who is this Dave? chimed in with...

A device with which children are encouraged to play; after putting money in a slot, you are able to operate a grappling claw, with which you try to pick up pieces of fruit - if sucessful, the children then get to eat the fruit.

One of the better ideas to come out of Thatcher's Britain.

21 September, 2005 17:25  
Blogger Who is this Dave? chimed in with...

I know. 2 c's in successful. Why don't I check these things before pressing 'go'?

21 September, 2005 17:27  
Blogger Fizzy good chimed in with...

I watched Heavenly Creatures when I was eight or so. It remains one of my favourite films.

Families, right? Jesus. They should be abolished in my opinion.

21 September, 2005 19:25  
Blogger spindleshanks chimed in with...

top family surly sis, mine did all that crazy swapping round stuff too, also in the 70s and my mum managed to stay in love with my father till..well till now though now she's too out of her brain with alzheimers to remember. my dad married the daughter of the couple who introduced them as idealistic research students, and when she (stepmother)was little my parents (one of whom is her husband now) used to babysit her. kind of creepy when you think about it. here's to all those who survive their families and get to be fabulously happy.

21 September, 2005 21:14  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

dave - um, okay...that's not going to confuse anyone further is it?!

kingster - in't it weird? i think it was a pally thing with my mum too; "look how normal we are watching videos together". pity they were all banned triple x's...

spindleshanks, to quote myself: eh??

22 September, 2005 09:17  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

oh, and fizzy? amen to that.

22 September, 2005 09:17  
Blogger theclamwhisperer chimed in with...

Yes, despite the outrageous upbringing you've persevered...and become a wise woman and gifted writer. Thanks for sharing your story.

22 September, 2005 17:23  
Blogger Donna chimed in with...

I need to see a picture of the 80s perm. You bring one tomorrow and I will too ...

22 September, 2005 20:26  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

if you're very nice to me i might bring rome.....

if anyone wants to know about rome i think it's in april somewhere - my archives aren't working.

how vain am i?!

22 September, 2005 20:50  
Anonymous Other Half chimed in with...


23 September, 2005 09:25  
Blogger elvira black chimed in with...

Wasn't it Flaubert who said that all happy famiies are alike? It sounds--um-- arduous, but I guess that's part of what makes Surly Girl so surly--and for that I am grateful.

26 September, 2005 13:25  

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