As a kid I absolutely adored Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and Other Animals” and devoured the battered paperback many times over before I reached my teens. Looking back on it now I am struck, not so much by the animals that litter the pages and that were the driving force for me reading the book as a child, but the his family itself. They are just so joyfully… odd. And British.
I remember at the time I was bitterly envious of this family who, seemingly on a whim up-sticks for Corfu for a few months and end up staying five years. They are close, zany, arguably certifiable and clearly live life as it comes. By contrast my own family seemed so darn ordinary. I’d have given my right kidney to live in Corfu, not Glastonbury. To be tutored at home whenever my tutor wasn’t drunk or too love-sick over my fictional sister. Not to be 2.4 with dog + cat. To truly not care…
Looking back now I realize how lucky I was, in fact still am, with my family.
My Dad worked for an international shoe company, packed eggs, bottled Babycham, raced all types of boats from dinghies to tall ships, drove taxis, worked for a Sheik, irradiated small schoolchildren and was the target of a local residence association petition (though they didn’t know it was him they were petitioning against – lord, they’d have thrown rocks if they’d known it was our family!). All by the time I was fifteen.
My uncle is an engineer-turned-brain-surgeon, a member of the TA-MC, featured on a C4 documentary, served in both Gulf Wars and Bosnia, drives a TukTuk, is building a working miniature steam railway to take people on rides round the farm, and makes his own honey.
My aunt weaves, makes marmalade and flapjacks to die for, is a Ph.D, has been to two garden parties with the Queen, and has made the most welcoming and friendly home imaginable.
My grandmother was called Mop, was an award winning artist, made her own jewelry and liked Burmese cats.
My grandfather chewed coffee beans at night in the kitchen in a vain attempt to hide from his wife that he’d been eating garlic. My surrogate grandmother was called Nobby.
My other grandfather served in Africa, taught me to play chess, couldn’t stand peas, insisted that custard tarts were served with afternoon tea and that only lime worked in a G&T.
My mother very nearly got sacked from work because she was a day late back from holiday due to being ship-wrecked off Portland Bill, but her boss didn’t believe her till she showed him the headlines in the papers. She raised my brother. She raised me. Her garden is the most beautiful patch of serenity I have ever seen, she was once snogged by a camel. She in invincible on Tetris, is unbeatable at Scrabble, and she once flirted with Charles Dance in the car park at school.
My cousin is a fully trained and qualified glass blower who has exhibited at Sotherby’s and who is now training to be a doctor. Another cousin has ridden for the UK. Yet another lives in Taiwan where he teaches English and helps his wife run a business where, among other things, they sell their own line of soap. He also rides a motorbike.
My brother lived in New York for four years, loves cooking, flies light aircraft for fun, annoys the hell out of me on a daily basis, listens to R.E.M, the Doors, and P!nk, plays the piano like an angel, the guitar like a devil, and has a pet rabbit called Gilbert.
And to top it all, my dad now lives on a narrowboat.
People seem amazed that I find things about my life to write about. I’m quite frankly amazed that most people can’t find things in their life to talk about.
I used to think my family were pretty normal, then I looked again and saw that no, they are wonderfully special. Everybody has stories to tell, you just need to have your eyes open so you can see them. I’m not sure what gods were smiling over my birth, but someone up there certainly had her finger in the mix. I guess I’m thankful I come from the family I come from. More than that though, I’m grateful I realised that before it was too late. Just think of the stories I would never have been able to tell you all else-wise!