‘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.
So the summer holidays are here. Six looong weeks of industrial-scale eating operations, of broken Crocs and too late nights, of persuading the boys that life is viable, and can even be pleasant, without resorting to a screen.
‘What shall we do today folks?’ I ask brightly. (It is, as I say, still week 1). ‘Beach? Canoeing? Walk?’ I look outside at the clouds which are threatening rain for the first time since June. ‘I know, let’s go for a bike ride!’
This appears to be a good idea. The boys, stupefied by morning CBBC, even manage a nod.
‘Are your bikes good?’ I say to the sofa. ‘Anyone need to pump up tyres, oil… ? No? OK, right, we’re good to go.’
45 minutes later, I have packed some snacks, bottled water, found the bike pump and pumped up tyres. Binary Boy’s bike, it appears (belatedly) was not ‘good to go’.
‘Never mind,’ I say, sweating profusely from the exertions of re-inflating a flat-as-pancake tyre, ‘we’re off now.’
‘Finally!’ mutters Sensible Son. We hoist ourselves aboard.
The first 12km go well; really well. Meandering through pine forests oozing perfume, careering over bridges with rivers below, tooting through tunnels at top noisy speed. We arrive at the turnaround café and sit, munching on chocolate brownies in a smattering of rain. The FOB and I smile at one another: five and a half weeks more of this won’t be so bad.
Pit-stop over, we mount our bikes and prepare to depart.
‘It’s all downhill home from here boys!’ encourages the FOB. They yelp their approval.
‘Yes, so be careful guys – and don’t go too fast!’ I add – to their backs. Three boys, on bikes, are already out of sight. The FOB and I set off at a more appropriately middle-aged pace.
We round the corner. There is a long straight stretch of track in front of us, Sensible Son and Binary Boy are in the lead, scattering stones. Feisty Fellow peddles like Wiggins, desperately trying to keep up with the pack. ‘Wait for meeeee!’ he shrieks. And now, as I watch, he swerves unaccountably and violently to the left, before following an out-of-control trajectory into… a ditch. Sudden – silence.
‘Oh my God!’ I screech, roaring to his side, and fearing a repeat of Lesson 8 – or worse. I arrive at the ditch, hoik the bike off my son, and pull him – sopping – from what appears to be a bog. He stands on the track, fetid water cascading down his legs, mud and muck oozing from every orifice. ‘Are you OK?’ I ask him, wiping grit from his face with the sleeve of my hoodie. He nods, slightly shocked, but thankfully physically fine.
‘I’m soaking,’ he understates. I eye his top, contemplate the return journey.
‘Here, put this on!’ I say, stripping off my own T-shirt from under my hoodie. I have a distinct sensation of déjà- vue of being half-naked in a petrol station in France in Lesson 6. Today is turning into a repeat of lessons (not) learned from MOB Rule.
This emergency over, we remount our bikes. ‘Take it easy this time,’ I admonish, but they’re already off. Experiential learning is obviously not an Evans’ strength.
We round a corner once again. Sensible Son and Feisty Fellow are just visible in the distance, Binary Boy is on go-slow-cycling behind.
‘Well done for biking sensibly!’ I say catching him up. He looks at me mournfully and points to his tyre. It is, once again, flat as a proverbial. I look at the tyre, I look at the FOB. We are miles from anywhere and this puncture requires substantially more than our sticking plaster pump.
‘Sensible Son and I will bike on to the nearest cycle hire and see if they’re open,’ says the ever-practical FOB. ‘It’s only about 3km up the road.’ In the absence of other options, I nod my approval.
‘We’ll keep moving to meet you,’ I say, ‘hop off and push your bike, Binary Boy.’ He hops off, attempts to push the rubber-bound tyre. Fails. I sigh.
‘You ride my bike – carefully,’ I say, as he clambers aboard and wobbles off. I bend low to grab his handlebars, and thus we limp on.
Two hours later we are home.
The cycle hire saviour arrives in the form of a teenage lad bearing a smile, a spanner and the ability to replace an inner tube in five minutes flat. The RAC has a lot to learn from the Tarka Trail SOS crew.
Feisty Fellow completes the bike ride without further ado, and is verging on ‘merely moist’ as we puff up the drive. ‘Do I have to have a wash, mum? I’m actually quite dry!’ I shoot him The Look and he scampers to the shower.
I, meanwhile, am struggling to stand upright: muscles protesting painfully from pushing a too-small-bike and frozen forever from a lack of clothing layers.
So, all in all, it’s been a good day.
‘What are we doing tomorrow mum?’ asks Feisty Fellow as I kiss him goodnight.
I roll my eyes and rub my back. ‘Nothing, absolutely nothing,’ I say, heading, at half eight, for Radox and bed. There are times when I can understand the US obsession with kids’ summer camps.
I had a lovely chat with a lady in Morrisons last week. For nigh on quarter of an hour we discussed friends (‘I saw x the other day, isn’t she doing well?’), work (‘Have you finished the renovations – I hear the house is looking lovely!’) and family (‘And how are the kids doing? You must be so proud!’). Supermarket catch-up over, she turned to leave. ‘Do send my regards to that husband of yours,’ she shouted over her shoulder, ‘I haven’t seen Chris in ages.’
Chris? My husband?!
‘Err, but… umm…’ I splutter at her back, but she’s already out of earshot. ‘Chris isn’t my husband,’ I whisper, ‘Chris is my dad.’
Since the Morrisons mistaken identity experience I have reflected on the fact that I appear to have morphed into my mother. According to research, it’s in your mid-30s that you look most like your parents, so, OK, I’m something of a late starter, but I have to – a tiny bit reluctantly – admit that the scientists seem to have a point.
Reluctantly because, like most of my female friends, I spent the majority of my childhood, and all of my adolescence, determined that I would never, EVER turn into my mum. I would NEVER pick up my kids from school wearing – ugh – gardening gear, I would NEVER squint at a remotely technical object and say – too loudly- ‘how does this thing work?’, I would NEVER make my children wear ‘sensible shoes’ instead of bunion-inducing patent leather pointies.
And the list of ‘never evers’ went on, and on. No, I would not be buying a wreck and spending years renovating it, only to move on just as soon as it was finished. I would not be starting up my own business which meant working all hours, and especially not with a husband who worked mainly away. And I would not be filling the house with strangers for the sake of ‘the business’ so that us kids could only use the garden when they weren’t in it. No indeed, I absolutely would not.
But I did, didn’t I? I have, we have, done all of the above.
Not only, it seems, do I look like my mum, but I also appear to have inherited much of her approach towards living life.
And as we up-sticks and move to Devon whilst our just-painted walls are still wet, as we embark on our new business venture (‘But the weekly commuting FOB’s very hands on when he’s home!’), as I skid through the school gates wearing gardening gloves and wellies, I realise that not only is history repeating itself, but that we are – quite probably – paving the way for another generation of mini-me’s.
‘I think I might run a hotel when I’m grown up, mum,’ announces Binary Boy as we reap the benefits of a left-over corporate lunch. He has not reached the ‘never ever’ adolescent age yet, and I think his enthusiasm for a career in hospitality may have more to do with the chocolate brownie he’s eating, than a desire to serve, but still. Still. The foundations may be being laid now for future choice.
And is following in your parents’ footsteps a bad thing? Probably – hopefully – not. I have, as a ‘morphed-into-my-mother’ never been happier.
As a MOB however, there is one thing I can guarantee.
The boys may – in their dotage – look like me, and they may even decide to do as I have done, but they will never – presumably – be mistaken for their mum. And if they’re mistaken for their dad? Well, call me a bit biased, but that won’t be so bad.