Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Tea and cake with total strangers
Well, I drove past the grey, rain-soaked stones of Stonehenge again yesterday and - as always - felt privileged to live so close to them. Some people actually fly from the other side of the world just to see them, and all I have to do is make my way down to the A303.
The door was opened for me by a rather attractive, 38 year-old woman, and when I went into the living room, a group of elderly and middle-aged people stood up to greet me. I wondered who they were, and surmised that they must have been visiting my brother-in-law and his children, to give some support in their time of grief and loss.
I was right, but it wasn't until I understood that the 70 year-old woman who I was embracing was - in fact - my elder sister, and the middle-aged people were my other nieces and nephews, that I realised how long it had been since I saw them last. I must have had a temporary bout of relation-blindness too, possibly caused by the anticipated stress of the event.
The thing is that - since before the kids had been born - I gave up family Christmases, and my elder sister's birthday falls on Christmas day. It doesn't help that she belongs to a religious group which doesn't celebrate Christmas or birthdays either, and sometimes I think that her nativity date was a big factor in joining it.
Then I was reminded what bloody awful cooks my entire family are, when the surviving Sis handed me a piece of cake to go with the cup of tea. I asked who was doing the cooking now that other Sis was dead, and who had been cooking in the run-up to her death when she was in hospital. Nobody owned up, but niece confessed to a liking for supermarket ready-made meals which could be microwaved.
After a bit of hysterical chit-chat, the other half of the family left to go home, using the excuse that they all had dogs waiting for them which were probably eating the curtains as we spoke, so I was left with the bereft, and things settled down to a much more realistic tone of conversation.
As my niece spoke to hospitals and registrars on the phone, her father, brother, sister-in-law and me pawed through old family photos, trying to work out whose baby was whose. Another thing that didn't help was that older Sis was once a staff-nurse in a children's hospital, so there were plenty of pictures of her as a young woman, holding up totally unrelated babies.
I heard niece ask for the name of the mortuary assistant who she was due to meet that afternoon, and watched with incredulity as she wrote down the name 'Gaylid' on the page of the notebook she was using to remind herself of all the little details and duties one has to perform upon the death of a loved-one.
I asked if she was absolutely sure that his name was 'Gaylid', as I would have even been surprised if his name was the much more common 'Gaylord', so she asked the woman on the other end of the phone how to spell it. She crossed 'Gaylid' out and replaced it with D.A.V.I.D, spelt out letter by letter, as dictated by the hospital registrar.
So it wasn't just me suffering from temporary sensory deprivation caused by the stress of the situation.