Aunts and Uncles

On New Years Day one of my Aunts died. Or passed away as it is more usually softly called.

My relationship with this Aunt was not close. In latter years I would never visit, at most send her and her husband (my mother’s brother) a Christmas Card. We did live hundreds of miles apart but this was not the reason for the distance between us. This description could apply to nearly all my aunts and uncles, whatever the geographical space separating us.

I do have fondness towards my aunts and uncles. But ‘fondness’ though a warm word is not as warm as ‘affection’ let alone ‘love’.

I have nieces and nephews myself whom I love and love spending time with. I did not get much nephew time with my own aunts and uncles. And wonder why.

Most of my aunts and uncles have children of their own and I do not. Perhaps then this is why I am able to spend more uncle-time as I have no father-time with sons and daughters to consume my love, time, energy, affection.

But I have an aunt and uncle who do not have children and did not spend too much time with them either.

The distance between us may be related to the geographical miles between us. Certainly with social media, and Facebook in particular, I am able to keep in a more constant contact with my nieces and nephews than if we did not have this access – I live in Scotland and have one set of nieces and nephews in London England and another on the Gold Coast in Australia.

Had their been social media in the decades I was born and schooled in (the 1960’s and 1970’s) perhaps this would have held those avuncular and – what is the equivalent for aunt?! – bonds together.

But if I think about it the most likely reason for our emotional distance are the relationships between those aunts and uncles and my own mother and father. Their own sibling rivalries which ebbed and flowed over the years. Nevermind the added in-law dimension.

As children our adult relationships are naturally siphoned and routed through our parents. And so if they are not getting along with one of their own adult relatives then quite likely we children are not going to be allowed to get along with those adult relatives either.

Husbands and wives can get divorced. Brothers and sisters as adults are not so required but in all but name and legal statute they can be too.

I opened by noting that I was out of the habit in recent years of visiting my aunts and uncles. Sadly there is one event that remains a notable exception that will always bring most of us together again. A funeral.

And with age they occur more often. They become less shocking and grievous and more resigned to and contemplative. And we resume our conversations with each other. Some polite small talk, even more nostalgia and sometimes we go deeper too. We usually end by promising to keep in touch. And then we don’t….until the next funeral.

I close with a photograph featuring my recently departed aunt (we are at our most euphemistic with death – the one area we are perhaps even more euphemistic about is a bit of what you fancy?!). The photograph is the wedding of another of my aunts and uncles but one of the few I possess with her in. It is the after-reception you are seeing.

Family Wedding photoMy mum’s parents are in there and so is my mum but I am not telling you which. You are free to guess! My dad is in there too but has stood behind someone taller and only the hair of his head can be seen. I don’t know whether this was his intention! The photo is filled up with other aunts and uncles too.

There are a number in this photograph I do not recognize which I think is typical of old family wedding photos. I am presuming/hoping those unknown to me are all friends of various family members and not family members who I cannot make sense of in their younger state!

They are stood outside the home of my grandparents.

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Good morning midnight, It’s Christmas

A Christmas post of mine from last year which I am posting again. I don’t know if you remember it the first time but whether you do or you do not I hope you like it. And if you do not I may still send it again next Christmas!

Blog Rest and Play

Cristina Sleep It OffMy mother said ‘I’m a survivor, I pull together Christmas every year.

Something has to last’ she said ‘Once a year let’s have the past’

And then one year to reach up high to hang an angel from the tree

became a painful thing ‘Besides she’s lost her wing’ my mother said

Thing’s Fall Apart by Cristina Monet-Palaci first appeared pale-faced and defiant upon the world, well New York anyway, same thing they say, well New Yorkers say anyway, back in 1981. Going by her first name Cristina her pop-life burned briefly incandescent before evaporating in a puff of neon-dust several years later.

This post is about Things Fall Apart only, though it itself may tell you very much about Cristina. It was her Christmas song, or rather her concession to Christmas song, which as you should gather already is hinting that for her the spirit of Christmas is the…

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Cry me out

Blogging Dangerously

I recently came upon this post ‘The Crazy In My Head: The Empathy Edition‘ on The Living Dangerously blog. The author opens with the line ‘I never cry’ and describes how in her personal and professional life tears are rarely wrung and when they are they are like blood from a stone. Except that is when it comes to her fictional world – books and television dramas in particular – then the tears flood.

It struck a chord. I did think to post a comment in response to it but then considered that the rambling words I would likely enter would be better suited to a post of my own! The blogger can have a pingback instead!

And it did not just strike a chord with me – all of the post’s comments expressed similar sentiments.

It is the same with me. I have lost close family members in the last three years and I certainly cried but I still wonder whether I should have shed more tears. Have I let it all out I wonder or am I still brimming with unspent emotion.

And it is not that I have a heart of glass. I can shed tears quite easily – but like this blogger at fictional melodramas not my own real-dramas.

The Grey Whistle Line sung by June Tabor and Maddy Prior or Over the Rainbow sung by Eva Cassidy and my tears can flow quickly. Likewise nearly any episode of Cold Case. Jane Eyre whether the Charlotte Bronte book or a TV or Cinema adaptation will always get me going.

Perhaps it is because it is emotionally easier? It pulls on our empathy whilst not overwhelming us in a way our own heart-aches and heart-breaks might.

But the tears that dry on my own tend to be of sadness and loss – the warm uplifting feeling I have when watching, for example Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, or listening to U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’ is not then confined to the screen or the vinyl record – these feelings I feel fully and freely with my own family and friends.

Perhaps then it is about vulnerability? Being able to empathize with anothers but not wanting to expose my own.

Perhaps I need some professional therapy.

Too much at ease in the secondhand daylight of my imaginary world, too little at ease in the firsthand daylight of my own trials and tribulations?

But as The Empathy Edition blog post amply illustrates it is a condition of the heart widely shared and which I take comfort from it not complete solace.

Who Do We Think We Are?

The Wall to Wall family research series Who Do You Think You Are? which originally broadcast on the BBC back in 2004 and currently is being re-aired on the Yesterday channel (strapline The Past Is Always Present!) I always make a point of watching its new episodes not just because I have an interest in family research and a tree set up on Ancestry but because I enjoy the social history that underpin such programmes.  In school our British history was generally the tale of our ruling orders – Kings, Queens, other such noble (and often not very noble!) aristrocrats and latterly governing politicians – but the history of ordinary working people was often a footnote if mentioned at all and Who Do You Think You Are is a fascinating resource in correcting this – leaving aside Olympic Gold Medalist Rower Matthew Pinsent and Actor Brooke Shields and their very aristocratic backgrounds!

Royal Brooke

I enjoyed this social history of Britain and I enjoyed the USA spin off when the BBC aired some of its episodes from June 2010 as an opportunity to explore the wider history of its country.  I note also versions for other English speaking countries such as Australia, Canada and South Africa.  And a number of non-English speaking ones from various Scandinavian countries – even without knowing much about the particular celebrities of any of these countries I would be interested in viewing a few episodes from those series too, again to discover more about the history of their peoples.

The greatest family history resource for most of us in the UK for the last few centuries has been the decade frequent census first commenced in 1801.

Today we are having to fill in the 2011 census – I just completed mine online – and I completed it with my future descendants in mind so much as for the Scottish government officials who will utilize the data for the various social planning mandates stated in its purpose.  The census started as a quite modest affair and though not unsurprisingly the number of questions it asks has multiplied I still do not consider it intrusive as some people do. Though I cannot but wonder with the web and the trail we leave behind us on it whether far more richer sources of information will be found in these personal domains than in this public government overseen resource.

The BBC to mark this census aired ‘This is Britain with Andrew Marr‘ which provided a fascinating profile of our country past and present.

And indeed I found the social make-up of this country as revealed in the very recent history of the 2001 census as revealing as the social history detailed from the two centuries preceding us.

Facts and figures can be dry and prosaic but what they can reveal on closer scrutiny is as poetic and revealing as any fictional account of those times – and provide an instructive insight of a country and its people beyond the political spin and ideology of its times.

Skating on Ice – once more with dignity…Tower of London Ice Rink

Whilst on vacation with my brother’s family in London over the New Year period looking for an activity for his children to do that they had not done before we decided to give Ice Skating a go – inspired to some extent by our visit to Winter Wonderland a few days before where among their attractions was an ice-rink which at the time of our visit was not available.

We decided to visit the rink at the Tower of London instead and following a tube journey from Sloane Square to Tower Hill arrived in good time despite this being New Year’s Eve.

I had booked the tickets the night before from their website and the tickets were with me in digital form on my iPhone – however at no point was I ever asked for my tickets – perhaps I have a Deja-vu face?!

Our group included my brother, his wife and their four children. The youngest a toddler would be looked after by her mother so leaving two adults to escort three children aged five to ten around the rink – though Ice Guides can be hired – the older two were naturally a bit wary of taking to the ice if the youngest a bit too oblivious of the dangers to mind either way!

We're still standing...

I had previously ice-skated if twenty odd years ago and had some memory of being natural at it and expectant to assist my young nieces about the ice with ease – how wrong I was! Instead we formed mutual support ensuring slow if sure progress around the rink with a sole goal to remain upright! I did in the main succeed in this other than one spectacular and undignified fall on my behind! By the end of the session’s allotted hour I had improved to the extent of being able to get some speed up around the rink. My brother proved to be most comfortable, my young nephew on the other hand fell repeatedly on his behind yet did not seem to mind!

One session is clearly not enough to expect to be gliding around the rink in balletic aplomb and further sessions would clearly lead to a more confident and enjoyable experience.

There are a number of ticket options including off peak and family & group bookings but one option not available which would be of interest to me is a season ticket – either for annual use of their rink or for any ice-rink across London or indeed the UK.

My only complaint were my skates – you are able to bring your own skates with you but otherwise they provide you with skates and various padding for protection. My skates were clearly ill-fitting which I put down to my own precarious skating technique but which on reflection were simply because they were too tight and left me hobbling about for a week or so afterwards.

I found ice-skating an enjoyable group activity – just ensure if you should decide to try it out that there is at least one in your group as novice as you!

Not quite a Winter Wonderland

I attended this event in London’s Hyde Park with my brother’s family who have four young children and as a fun fair type attraction thought it would be ideal.  Additional attractions included Ice Skating and a Big Observation Wheel – and this being the festive season Santa’s Grotto type attractions – though Christmas Day being 4 day’s over the appeal of this seemed a bit spent to me but that is no doubt the bah humbug adult in me!

The usual gamut of rides and attractions with plenty of food and drink stands thrown in were on offer.

The treat was on me and I loaded up at the entrance with £50’s worth of tickets thinking this would be more than enough. How wrong I was. Perhaps this was the naivety of an uncle with no children! – and had I been a parent and one who lived in London at that I would have had a different expectation of how much this event would likely cost.

In fact hundreds of pounds are needed to be spent to take advantage of most of the attractions on offer. We went on a few of them such as The Ghost Train and Snow Slide but quickly made our way back to the exit and onto a restaurant in Victoria. This was not to say the children did not enjoy themselves just that there was a disappointment of not being able to take part in most of what was on offer.

As I am not one of those who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing I shall not be returning to this event which is open November to January each year – not even alone!