Today is my brothers birthday, and if he’s x years old, it necessarily follows that I’m y years old.
I’m amazed he hasn’t ‘phoned yet to gloat over this fact, which is just the sort of thing he’d do to annoy me, because believe me, believe me, if the roles were reversed – he older, me younger – I’d do the same! Because if he’s x years old, that makes me y years old and that just can’t be the case, because half an hour ago I was eighteen and….NO!I guess most people feel this way as they get older, but whatever, who cares?
Not me. I only care about me and my ageing is a travesty of an unspeakably monstrous magnitude, the one saving grace in all of this being that its happening to him as well. I know he thinks the same way. He’s told me. Often, at length and with swearing.
When he started getting a bald spot on his head, the considerate thing to do would’ve been not to mention it every time I saw him, nor to give him information about hair restoring treatments or call him ‘Elton’, ask him if he was going to take a vow of silence or just get to wind him up about it generally. Did I? Again, if the roles were reversed, he’d do the same, in fact I’d be oddly disappointed if he didn’t and think him unwell or afflicted by something.
My brother is eighteen months younger than me, and so as I’ve always told him, there has only been nine months where he hasn’t been bothering me. Despite us growing up in a three-bedroom house, my brother and I shared a bedroom until I left home at eighteen. It was only when I told my partner this, just in passing, and she was speechless, that I thought it a tad unusual. ‘Didn’t you find it, well, odd, that two adolescent boys, coping with puberty and all that that entails, shared a room when there was a spare bedroom?’ was the gist of her argument. But that’s the thing. When you’re in a situation, you don’t think to yourself ‘Hang on!’, you’re too busy getting on with it to notice.
And besides, the spare bedroom was used, mainly to drive me spare.
We both went to the same primary school, which was only ten minutes walk away from our house. We’d arrive home from school half an hour before Mum got back from work. So naturally we’d have a bundle. (A bundle is like a fight except no major injury is sustained.) And then minutes before Mum was due back, we’d stop, tidy up the mess we’d made, neaten our clothes and present a facade of sibling harmony, which I suspect never fooled her. Any excuse, we’d have a bundle. It’s always been somewhat amazing when I meet someone who has a brother of a similar and discover that they never carried on like this. What were they doing?
My brother has asthma. What it meant to me, who had to share a room with him, was countless nights of interminable wheezing. So what if he couldn’t breathe? I couldn’t sleep! As a child consequences are the last thing on your mind. Had they been, I wouldn’t in the summer months when the pollen was high, have emptied his inhaler. Nor would I have deliberately engineered bundles whereby I’d drag him into the garden, hold him face down in the grass inducing an asthma attack, causing him to lurch indoors for his inhaler. And laugh like a drain when he found it empty, his difficulty breathing hampering his instant desire for violent revenge. As I write these words I know I should feel a sense of shame, but actually I feel only admiration for having had the foresight to think ahead and plan accordingly. The fact it worked so often gives a revealing insight into our characters, me the cold calculating one, him the impetuous and impulsive one.
I’ll give you an example of how even the most petty of things could be used as weapons in our own never-ending childhood war. Every Saturday, Mum would do a weekly shop and as a treat for not us wrecking the house, she’d make us crusty rolls filled with cheese, ham, tomatoes, etc.. We’d also get a large jam doughnut. Now I know this sounds sad, but this is how competitive we were with each other; we’d scoff the rolls and leave the doughnut. For ages. They’d both be sitting there in front of us, causing us both frustration but not as much as the other one hopefully felt. One of us would then crack and eat his doughnut, whereupon the other would take the smallest possible bites out of their one, all the while making infuriatingly pleasurable noises as they did, interspersed with “Oh I’m too full, I can’t eat all of this, d’you want it?” Or else when one finally got to the jam groaning in a way that would be better suited to a more adult activity. I told LMS this and she does it to me all the time now. Bless. I know if I tell him this, the next time he meets her he’ll purposely bring two jam doughnuts, just so as he can do it to her. Sick fucker’s, the pair of us.
A few years ago my brother and I were playing tennis. Or to be exact, he was playing tennis whilst I was flailing my limbs around in an increasingly uncoordinated manner. His frankly patronizing comments only added insults to indignity. One shot, which I had no hope of returning, sent me crashing to the ground with a combination of dust and grazed knees. We played on, another two sets I think. I’d like to say he’s a gracious winner and I suppose if he’d beaten anyone else, he would’ve been. But he’d beaten me. Not actually beaten. More like thrashed. So he ‘phoned me the next day to gloat. He’d tried me earlier, where had I been? To the hospital said I. For what, he said? To have my wrist seen to, I answered, giving the receiver a bash to prove that the plaster on my wrist wasn’t a sticking one. There was a long pause. He knew that I knew what he was thinking. That even though he’d won on points, because I’d played on with a fractured wrist, and not said anything – in other words styled it out – I’d won, because that’s the sort of thing he’d pull on me.
I wouldn’t behave that way towards anyone else, and possibly to anyone without a sibling a couple of years older or younger, that kind of thinking will make no sense whatsoever.) Possibly not even then, actually.
He’s always nicked my clothes, even as boy’s I’d buy something and he’d say ‘I’d never wear that’ And then years later I’d see a ‘photo of him doing just that. So anyway, back in the ‘90’s me and my partner went to Paris. Whilst there, I bought a jacket, not an especially remarkable one save for the fact my brother liked it. Really liked. I eventually stopped wearing it and as is the way with these things, presumed I’d lost it. Oh no! My delight of a a younger brother had somehow gotten hold of it and had worn it so much, that his daughters thought it was his. Being the sadistic fucker he is, when he knew both he and I were visiting Mum’s, he’d wear it on purpose because he knew I wouldn’t start a bundle. On one visit he left and somehow Mum conspired to effect his departure, so naturally I travelled all the way across London to his house to get it. Once at his house I ‘phoned Mum that she was going to ‘phone him on some spurious pretext or other, which she did, and as planned he was embroiled in this when I rang the doorbell, allowing me to get my foot in the door before he shout to his daughters to close it.
Basically, my brother can wind me up and irritate me in a way that no-one else can but this fact is more than offset by the fact that he can also make me laugh like no-one else. He can say something with most deadpan of faces, but there’ll be something in his voice, something about the way he’ll say it, something imperceptible, that tells me he’s on a wind up.
So I know his birthday this year isn’t the one he’d have wanted and truth be told I wouldn’t want it for him either.
No. Ideally there’d be no lockdown, no coronavirus, no self-isolation nothing. Everyone free to come and go as they please, to whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. To be how it was.
Except for him. There’d be some inexplicable yet compelling reason why he out of everyone on the planet had to stay indoors while the sun shone, and he could see people gadding about in front of his window. Of course I’d be there, just holding, then licking, then finally very, very slowly eating a doughnut.
Oh believe me, believe me, he’d do the same to me!