I am blessed with a large family of aunties, uncles and cousins. I love them whole-heartedly and unconditionally. I miss being able to see them when I want to because they are all down South and we are up North. We meet up at weddings, funerals, and back in 2009 when we rented a different house in Hamble, an impromptu open house day where everyone brought food, drink, and especially Pimms. It was a fine day.
My Mum was one of five; the oldest girl. When we were growing up we met all our cousins at various functions – my Dad was the youngest of thirteen so I had dozens of cousins that I rarely knew – but we had the most to do with the children of my Mum’s two sisters; Auntie R and Auntie P. Auntie R had three boys of similar ages to me and my sibs, then ten years later beautiful blonde twin girls. Auntie P had a boy, then three girls, all young enough for me to able to say – on far too many occasions – ‘Ha! I used to change your nappies when you were little!’
At various stages of my life I have stayed with them and we have played pivotal parts in each others lives. We are a family of mild eccentrics and largely, we have acquired partners that complement those peculiar quirks that make us who we are. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the celebration of diversity has always meant more to me than the suspicion that you so often encounter with people who can’t cope with change. I like unusual, original, bizarre – which is just as well really.
Whilst the older generation have whittled down a bit and are no doubt having a celestial garden party at this very moment, my generation has remained blessedly intact. Things were touch and go when we nearly lost my almost Twin – my Auntie R’s second oldest . We were born a month apart and for a long time he found it hard to forgive me for being born first – especially when we were about three or four, bridesmaid and pageboy at Auntie P’s wedding, and I squeezed his hand too tightly as we walked down the aisle. As an obnoxious almost teenager I used to pull his hair and give him migraines, but always a gentleman he rarely retaliated. He got swine flu – Christmas 2010 and was very, very ill. He was in my thoughts daily and the combination of his indomitable strength and the family forcefield pulled him through in the end. A life without him in it would be unthinkable.
The last time we met en masse was July 2011 for a handfasting and wedding. It was a beautiful day and my Ronnie loved every minute of it. There was time to talk and for the next generation to tentatively get to know each other again. One of the best bits was to see my Twin, high wide and handsome, and almost completely recovered. The photographer climbed up to a vantage point in the house where the wedding was held, and managed to take one of those panoramic photos where you can spend hours with a magnifying glass trying to identify everyone and still failing to work out who that was in the fuschia fascinator – assuming that it was a fascinator and not a horrible growth on the side of someone’s face.
In short – my family are brill.
Before leaving home we sent out e-mails, texts and some snail mail to let everyone know that we were visiting down South again and when. Responses trickled in. Day 2 of our holiday was the designated open house and being a bit better off than three years earlier, we just said bring yourselves and some booze – we’ll feed you.
Bearing in mind that Lovely Hub and I had only seen pictures of the garden here and had arrived in the dark the night before, drawing back the curtains and revealing a sunny conservatory that opened on a not too big but not too small enclosed garden the next morning – was bliss. We breakfasted, left the boys in bed and hit Tesco with a vengeance.
By the time we got back the boys were beginning to surface and ablute – much disgust from CB because we only had one bathroom and he had to wait for his older brother to shower first. Hub and I ignored the whingeing, laid out the food (Hub) and prepared the Pimms (me of course).
There were eighteen of us at one stage; my Twin brought his four boys and there was a commingling of cousins and second cousins that worked harmoniously – apart from me chasing CB round the front garden with a stick – I was smiling therefore it was playfighting. The sun shone, the drink flowed, the food was consumed. A semblance of American football was played out in the garden by those with more energy and inclination, CB’s flight simulator kept the small boys (and the big ones) occupied when they weren’t running, eating and drinking. Us olders just ate and drank and talked and laughed; raised a glass to absent friends and in particular to Mum and Ronnie, just as we had three years before about half a mile up the road. My big sis brought back the crate containing Mum’s jewels and bric-a-brac ready for us to tote it around the rest of our relatives to see if anyone else wanted a memento. It seems a lifetime since I loaded all the little boxes and bubble-wrapped packets into the crate but in reality it was only two months ago.
Our last guest – one of our beautiful twins – left at 2300 hrs – ish. We put the world to rights and caught up on lost time whilst Hub and the boys tidied up around us and battened down the hatches for the night – well UB did – CB had retreated to his bedroom with his laptop – the strain of having been sociable all day too much for him. Hub, UB and I walked our guest up the rutty unmade road to her car. A pothole found me and with a definite feeling of deja vu, down I went. Full force on the knee that had almost recovered from the football boots incident of the week before.
Got up. Brave face. Waited till I got back indoors before having a permitted whinge and snivel, and the application of stinging antiseptic wipes to get rid of the gravel. More than slight feeling of relief that I’d packed some First Aid stuff and that it all seemed to be just surface damage anyway.
From the first guests – including the youngest – our splendid great nephew H at only 9 months – to the last – it was a great day. Whatever my sons say the falling over at the end bit was due to pot holes, darkness and my general clumsiness. Nothing at all to do with the vast quantities of Pimms consumed – Hub was dispatched to the local Co-Op for more supplies during the evening – we didn’t even consider the possibility that the Hamble Co-Op wouldn’t sell Pimms.
Perish the thought.