Once again I am collaborating with my friend and fellow blogger, Mr Adam Pain, this time on simultaneous posts for our respective blogs.
This time however, there’s a catch.
Previously, when it has occurred to me that something I’m working on may be on a subject that has also caught the ever-watchful eye of Mr Pain, I have enquired as to whether we might each take a different strand of the story and go in our own direction with it, coming at it from two different angles, so to speak.
We would then link our two posts, so that you, my lovely readers, could pop over to A World of Pain and get Adam’s take on the subject, and vice versa.
But this time Adam suggested we both write on the same subject, one that he would suggest, and post directly to each other’s blogs, thereby communicating with one another’s audience.
With me so far?
And so to the topic of this little challenge – Being a sibling.
I have submitted a piece that details the horrors of being my little sister, which you can read AT THIS LINK and which doesn’t even include the incident when she did an Exorcist / Mr Creosote impression (minus the spinning head, or the exploding) in the face of an unsuspecting dentist as she came round from being gassed. Aren’t I the considerate brother?
But for now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr Adam Pain…
Being One Of The Fantastic Four
When I was a kid at school, the last day of every term was marked by a delicious slice of perceived childhood freedom. Firstly, it was invariably declared a mufti day – a term I suspect is both archaic and quintessentially British, now likely to have been christened something depressingly functional, like ‘wear your own clothes day’. This was treated as an opportunity for ten-year-old girls to dress as their thirteen-year-old future selves, whilst the lads turned up in the replica football shirts they’d press ganged their parents into being shafted over a barrel for that season.
But it was the second treat bestowed upon us that was the most tantalising to me. We were all allowed to bring a game in. It was probably just an excuse for our frazzled teachers to take their feet off the educational accelerator for a minute, put them up on the dashboard and catch up on a few Reader’s Digest articles, but we relished it nonetheless. Who wants algebra, when Claire’s got Buckaroo under her arm, or David’s struggled in with a full set of Subutteo in his backpack?
There was always one kid who brought a game in that cost more than the entire contents of my house, complete with a power supply like a Ukrainian sub station. Most kids would coo, gasp and fawn in it’s presence, but I was always inclined to take a step back and let the others get in on the action. Firstly, because I’ve always had a deep-seated fear that I will break anything with substantial value the minute I touch it (one of the reasons holding other people’s babies freaks me out) but, also, because I often felt a little sorry for the owner. Sorry, because really expensive toy usually spelt only child.
I have always regarded my siblings as being my most precious possessions, and am fiercely protective as a direct result. We fought, squabbled and sulked as all siblings do, but my childhood is liberally smothered in memories of the four of us howling with laughter whilst playing silly buggers. Cats dressed as Victorian prostitutes; underwhelming but enthusiastic gymnastic displays in the back garden; water fights that lasted for days; pranking our parents by moving all of the lounge furniture onto the front lawn – tv, lamps and rugs included. These stories represent just the tip of a joyous iceberg that often lured the whole motley crew of kids on the estate into choppy waters. Local parents sometimes regarded us an utterly feral bunch, but it was water off a duck’s bum. We were the awesome foursome, the quad squad, an entire world of Pain – with our own ecosystem, honour code and secret handshake. A few disgruntled old squares weren’t going to ruin our adventures.
The tempestuousness of our teens led to adult lives in far-flung places (although I’ve ended up settling about three minutes away from my childhood home) but geographical distance has never dulled the homing pigeon instinct in any of us. When Mum died, we spent two weeks together – just walking, sitting, thinking and playing – because it was the only way we knew how to cope. Licking each other’s wounds.
When Katy got sick with the cancer that had first taken bites out of her in her early twenties, it slowly became apparent that the fantastic four might be in some serious trouble. All of the pissing about in the world wasn’t going to get us out of this one, and the gravitas of the situation made me feel emotionally bloated. Like turning the contrast down on the telly, whilst boosting all the greys. Saying goodbye to Katy in the hospice was unbearably grim, mourning not only the loss of an enormous part of the team, but the team itself. We felt like The Beatles without John – a shotgun sized hole blasted into the fabric of the family.
That feeling never goes away. We all think about Katy at various points every day. Not because we are trapped in some morbid cycle of despair, but because she’s so intrinsic to our cultural and emotional make-up. You can’t escape it – to try would be as ludicrous as attempting to recall Spain in summer without summoning a vision of sunshine.
This week, on my birthday of all days, Dad was taken into hospital with crippling abdominal pains. The three of us adopted the brace position that’s become so horrendously familiar to us, only to sigh in relief on finding out it wasn’t anything too sinister. A hiatus hernia sounds hideous, but the relief at the diagnosis starting with an ‘h’ and not a ‘c’ was palpable for all of us.
The remaining members of the world of Pain remain, our wizened patriarch fit to fight on for the foreseeable future too. Shields down, weapons set to stun.
So – I’m not bothered I never got to take in the world’s best toy on the last day of term. My most treasured gifts were dotted around other classrooms, playing the dog eared versions of Guess Who, Operation or Mastermind we’d carried into school that morning – together.