Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 17 August 2012
Avuncular. I like that word.
I would like to think that I have reached the age when I could aspire to avuncularity (if it exists in this spelling), but - short of surviving a devastating head-injury or a stroke, etc. - I just can't quite keep it up for any convincing period of time.
I have been talking to one of my nieces quite a lot for the last couple of days, because her mother (my sister) is seriously ill in hospital and I have been getting reports about her progress. This is not the first time she has scared us all over the last few years, and - in truth - she has been seriously ill outside of hospital for so long now, that she looks considerably older than her 68 years.
I think I fall into the category of 'wicked uncle' as far as my real nieces and nephews are concerned, because when they were growing up, so was I, and they pretty much know all about what I got involved with in the process.
The most avuncular person I ever met was a generation before me, and had survived horrific experiences during the war which - far from turning him into a 'Viet-Nam Vet'-type, paranoid recluse, had softened him in his attitude to life. As he told his son before he died, every day on earth after V.J. Day was 'bunce'. Maybe you have to have had a hard life to be genuinely avuncular. My life has been very easy by comparison. Very easy.
I had a rich uncle once, and I am not sure he was a real relation to my mother, but he did leave me £100 in his will which - when wisely invested by my parents - had matured to £110 just in time for my 21st birthday and a court conviction, leaving me with a handful of small change to fritter away on something pretty.
I think it might be essential to have some money in the bank to lend credibility to any ambitions to be avuncular, but even a load of cash splashed around nieces and nephews will not help if your psychological make-up veers toward Basil Fawlty's.
Anyway, after a few minutes of conversation with niece, I start swearing in a good-humoured sort of way, then she starts swearing back and - before you know it - any illusions of a classic Bertie Wooster, uncle/niece relationship have been destroyed for all eternity. We 'touch base' every now and then so that she can be sure that I haven't lost my marbles and become uncharacteristically subdued.
When this particular niece was very young - just old enough to talk fluently - we had a very strange relationship indeed. It wasn't as strange as the one with her mother, though.
Strange things would happen around their house. Her mother would go to the foot of the stairs to shout up "Tidy your room", but before the words came out of her mouth, niece would shout down, "No. I won't". A taught and distraught relationship developed between mother and small child, and - because of the extreme youth of niece - became impossible for Sis to explain to others who simply could not believe it or understand it.
Little things like this occurred every day, but one evening things came to a very dramatic head indeed.
Sis and her husband had finished dinner and had cleaned up the white, Formica surfaces of their modern kitchen and were watching T.V. in the other room. Niece was upstairs, asleep in bed. A sort of clattering noise came from the kitchen and Bro-in-law went to see what it was.
When he went into the kitchen, he saw an open drawer, a large carving knife on the table and a lot of blood splashed about all over the white work surfaces.
The first thing he did was check the doors and windows which were all locked and bolted, then he rushed upstairs and looked in every room, starting with niece's. The only other person in the house was niece herself, who was sleeping peacefully and unharmed.
They stared at the blood and knife for about 20 minutes and being unable to explain it away, cleared it away instead. I - of course - asked them why they didn't take a sample of blood before they re-washed the surfaces, but it had never occurred to them to do so.
The rest of the evening was spent in trying to plan what to do about the situation which had deteriorated into a classic 'poltergeist' one, and the only alternative to asking the help of a priest was to visit a child psychologist, which they did the next day.
When I next visited, relations between mother and daughter were fine, and they have been inseparably loving toward each other ever since. Niece is now in her forties. Phew - again.
So in the light of the above, maybe it is not entirely my fault that I am not the classic uncle of popular folk lore - unless we are talking about Transylvanian folk-lore.