‘Muuuum! He hit me!’
‘But muuuuum… he punched me!’
‘Well, he hit me first!’
‘Only ‘cos he used a rude word’
‘Yeah, but only ‘cos he called me a BAD name’
‘Because he nearly sat on my arm…’
‘Only because he sat too close to me on MY sofa!’
‘Yeah, but he was whispering… and breathing… and ‘stuff’.’
This is, very obviously, a fictional scenario. In our house this Christmas, the boys will play beautifully together all the time, respecting each other’s needs and encouraging each other to shine. Err… ahem.
There are nearly two years between my brother and I. Two years and at least two universes. Because we are totally and blatantly and irritatingly different.
When I was eight, my parents bought a ramshackle pair of gable-ends in the wilds of Scotland and set about restoring the water mill to its former glory. This would’ve been a fantastic idea, had it not been for the fact that the building work required us to live on site in a caravan (a ‘built for two, occasionally three’-type van, not a swanky modern mobile home) for over 12 months. And even this would not have been so bad had it not meant me sharing a bedroom (I use the term loosely) with my BROTHER.
I had the top bunk in our 4 foot wide cubicle. To reach the chemical loo on the other side of the paper-thin wall, I had to slither past my brother (still sleeping) on the bottom bunk. Only he wasn’t. The minute he’d hear me begin to clamber out of bed, he’d stick out an innocent leg, dramatically impeding my drop to the floor. Then, whilst I was still recovering, he’d leap out of bed himself, race round the corner and commandeer the loo for his morning pee. ‘Muuuuum!’ I’d shriek, racing after him and banging, furious, on the door, ‘Muuuuum… he won’t let me go to the loo!’ My mother, six feet away on a pull down bed, would sigh, and pull the blankets over her head.
And so the day, and indeed the years, continued.
He liked computers, I liked horses.
He liked being inside, I liked being out.
He didn’t like my friends and I didn’t like his.
If he was into this, then I was into that.
We had absolutely nothing in common and we made sure that the world knew about our differences. Horrid Henry and his side’kick’ had nothing on us.
When I was 30 I had my first son. My brother had had a daughter the year before. Suddenly my brother and I had something in common. No longer did he live on planet mathematics whilst I languished on a humanities’ star; now, to our amazement, we inhabited the same world of nappies, bottles and too little sleep. For the first time, we could empathise with each other, could see where we were coming from, respect our rights and wrongs. We started, albeit very belatedly, to get along.
So this Christmas day, my mother (whom I realise, equally belatedly, must either have been a saint or astonishingly unaware) will smile when I sit calmly next to my brother, chatting pleasantly to him about this and that, and I, in turn, will smile too. Because I will know that my boys – no doubt kicking each other under the table – will not continue their sibling squabbling forever. If history, and my maths are anything to go by, I’ve only got another 22 years or so to go. I’ll raise a glass of festive cheer to that.