Brian is another character of the family. It seems that my whole family is filled with characters rather not ordinary people.
I don’t really know how to describe Uncle Brian. He’s a socialist, sometimes communist, He used to be heavily into self-sufficiency, he’s always driven old bangers that can only just have been street legal, if at all and he is probably the funniest man that I have ever met. He is everything my father is not and this alone made him a hero to both myself and to my brother.
A Londoner by birth and a Northerner by Marriage, Uncle Brian could wind up my dad like no one else could and, I’m sure that he did it deliberately. Family get togethers invariably included an after dinner heated political debate between to the two with Grandma attempting the role of referee. Name anything and Brian and Dad disagreed but, with Uncle Brian still in his communist phase and my dad being as right-wing as they come, politics was always the best.
The two families went on holiday together once. Uncle Brian bought a red cap to wear and my dad bought a blue one! But it was Uncle Brian’s self-sufficiency drives that us laughing so much that we literally almost wet ourselves. The more memorable of these efforts included; the home smoking of a ham by its insertion in the chimney breast in the living room, a home-made solar energy installation otherwise known as an old radiator positioned in the garden to catch the sun to provide hot water and, perhaps the best of all, home grown tobacco that, when triumphantly lit in uncle Brian’s pipe one Christmas, caused the immediate evacuation of the entire household whilst the dense, choking smoke cleared.
Not all of Brian’s efforts were a failure though. On a summers camping holiday, my dad decided to treat myself and my brother to a stunt kite, the type with two strings that you should be able to perform tricks with. On hearing this, Brian announced that he didn’t need to waste money on buying kites, he would make them. So, while Ian and I were unpacking our shiny new kites and trying to work out the assembly instructions Brian took his two sons, Stewart and Andrew to find some canes for their homemade kites. It wasn’t long before they returned to their caravan with a bundle of bamboo canes that they had found in some nearby woods. Whilst we struggled to assemble our metal frames and pre-packed kite, Brian and his sons had soon fashioned their own stunt kite from bamboo canes, carrier bags, and part of a tin can bent around the nose to hold things together. The only thing he had to buy was the strings.
You should have seen my father’s face when Stuart and Andrews kites sored high into the sky, proudly emblazoned with Tesco’s logo and our posh’ kites nose-dived into the ground every single time they made it more than a foot or so into the air. Chalk one up to communism.
I’m sure that Brian won’t mind me saying that he never had much in the way of material possessions and that he made career decisions on the basis of what he wanted to do not what he wanted to earn but he and his family always seemed to have far more fun than we did and Brian had a quality that my father completely lacks; the ability to laugh at himself.
Grandma didn’t last long at Uncle Brian’s. It was a brave decision of Brian and his wife Sandra to take on that responsibility and it must have been terrible to see your own mother gradually slip from you in your own home.
The last time I saw grandma was in a hospital in Yorkshire. She was a pale bag of bones lying in a bed. I could hardly recognise her and she didn’t recognise me. She died just a few weeks later.
Granddad stayed with Uncle Brian and Auntie Sandra for a while after Grandmas funeral but I don’t think that they really got on. Granddad wasn’t one to mince his words and I think that the way Brian and Sandra lived didn’t come up to Grandmas neat and tidy ways that he was used to and no doubt missing.
After a while, Granddad returned to Wantage in Oxfordshire to live on his own the retirement bungalow he and Grandma had bought some years earlier. I don’t think he ever got used to being alone. For a few months, my wife and I lived with him after we had got married but once we had moved into our own place he just seemed to give up. I always wonder; if we had stayed a bit longer would he have lived a bit longer. Still plays on my mind now.
Eventually, Grandad was admitted to hospital in Oxford. I don’t think he was even diagnosed with anything in particular, other than old age. Personally I think the diagnosis was easy; it was a broken heart. He just couldn’t live on his own without Grandma and he still talked to her and asked her for her advice right up until he died.