All about my brother…

by Pseud O'Nym

My last two blog posts have been necessarily serious, what with their subject matter demanding a more serious approach and all. For this I apologise. So in order to compensate somewhat, what follows will, I hope, be as diverting as I hope it is entertaining. And I know to be a successful blogger one needs to mine the shaft of one’s own personal history. But never having been overly concerned with being seen as a biscuit it’ll be on my terms. Therefore most of what follows will not portray me in a sympathetic light. But then I did tell you in the first line of my first post ‘that I put the me into mean.’ Didn’t I?

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 nemesis about this, 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 façade of sibling harmony, which I suspect never fooled her.

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.

If you’re feeling sorry for him, don’t. Whenever something deserving of a punishment for the guilty party was discovered, Mum would ask us both if we’d done it. He would always decry any knowledge of anything untoward whilst wearing a look of earnest honesty. Me, on the other hand, who knew full well he’d done it and had listened to his denials, would snigger throughout, enough evidence to convict me in the court of Mum. A bundle would then follow at the earliest opportunity. One of these stopped me partaking in the highlight of the whole primary school experience – the summer week away in Swanage.

Bear in mind that every year ALL of the fourth year at my primary school went away to Swanage. Even the children on free school meals went. (Hey – we were children!) It was a very big deal. For what seemed like all of the fourth year, all our lessons had a Swanage related theme. At the time I was also in the Scouts, and a few weeks before Swanage, Mum had bought me some steel toe-capped Doc Marten’s for camping. For some inexplicable reason, I was wearing these when we had a bundle. I kicked him, not very hard, but you’d think he’d been shot the way he screamed. Loud enough for Mum to hear, and loud enough for her to put the sand in my sandwiches (in other words, she said I couldn’t go. Which was after all, why he was screaming so loud in the first place!) She still claims to have no memory of doing so, he says I’ve got it all wrong and that it did hurt. All I know is that I’ve been to Swanage since – going again in a couple of weeks in fact – and as Old Harry’s Rock and Durdle Door are childhood memories I never had, they never can as an adult.

Every Saturday, Mum would do a weekly shop and as a treat for not 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. One of us would then crack and eat the 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.

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 the longer my humiliation continued. 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.

(To anyone without a sibling a couple of years older or younger, that kind of thinking will make no sense whatsoever.)

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 can. When people who know me meet him they’re perplexed. We don’t look alike, sound alike, have in any way a similar outlook on things, our values and our aspirations are so divergent, that in short if we weren’t related to each other, I don’t think we’d know each other. (I imagine that he thinks the same about me.)

But here’s the rub – and anyone with siblings will recognize this – that whilst you can and do slag them off, cast aspersions as to their character, motivations and lifestyle and much besides, if anyone else interprets that as an invitation to do likewise they quickly and with swearing realise it isn’t. It’s an ‘I’ve paid my dues, I’ve put the hours in, you haven’t.’ kind of thing. It’s weird how it’s the things that at the time seemed the most awful thing in the history of ever that had happened to you, but now with the passing years, you look back on them fondly.

Except for Swanage.

Next time…Is Sajid Javid the political equivalent of The Mekon…