09 July 1999

Brother

My brother was born a year and three-quarters after me, just before our father left, and wasn’t at all impressed with the new man about the house. He was a sickly child, allergic to everything, and ate only selectively. Our mother despaired, I wasn’t much bothered, and the stepfather wasn’t keen: understandable, given my brother’s frequent retorts. My mother recently said that she didn't love him enough, and my brother knew it; though this might be sentimentality on her part. There was always a rivalry between the brothers, sometimes friendly and sometimes not, and one which I couldn't understand. My brother was possessive and jealous about friends, and under no circumstances wanted me present when they were. If photographs were being taken, he had to draw attention to himself, feet or fingers entering the sides of pictures in obscure places, strange faces being pulled in family shots. He became a master of the awkward look which wouldn't be noticed when a photograph was being taken: to stick his tongue out would be too obvious, and he would be told to put it away, but he devised a myriad of more discreet alternatives, ways of posing which appeared innocent at the time, only to be discovered later to everyone's horror (retrospectively, amusement, although my mother sometimes permits a low sigh). There is one collection of family photographs, taken to celebrate the birth of our sister (I was eleven), taken by a professional and no small amount, which display an artist at work.

Portugal probably represented the most harmonious period in the early relationship between my brother and I: we literally had no one else. We formed clubs with only two members (The Asterix Club), wrote fantasy game-book stories for each other, learnt karate together. There was quite simply nothing else to do. And once when my brother was being picked on by a local Portuguese boy at the karate school, I wrenched the local boy off and proceeded to pick on him instead.

Things deteriorated back in Britain, back in Weston; old jealousies concerning friends reasserted themselves, only with more fervour, since we were both going through that tedious phase known as adolescence. My brother insisted on having the last word, and regarding my brother as being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative, and thus irrational, I wouldn't let him. I couldn't see the point in all the arguments, and thought that my brother must surely see reason, so couldn't understand why he was being so stubborn. Eventually we resorted to violence and for an argument and reason forgotten, I threw my brother, freshly out of a shower and naked, down the stairs. He caught himself on the way down.

This situation improved dramatically when I when off to university in Wales; during the first holiday back, over Christmas, a much more relaxed pair of brothers talked to each other, and my brother showed me some poetry he'd written. He's embarrassed by that poetry now, saying that they're juvenile love-poems. But it meant a great deal to me.

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