Some of you will already have decided. Spent the dark winter months hunched over the glossy brochures. Debating the merits of the Algarve versus Auntie Popinjay's bijou gite in the Ardeche. Realising that the Orinoco is out because Granny Bluto would come over all unnecessary. Wondering whether to settle for Disney World for the children or eco-tourism in the Queensland rain forests which will bore everyone silly but be so "good" for you.
It's a pretty scene: background music by Uncle Mac, catering by Ovaltine, born by benevolence out of clean-living decency. Father slightly balding, in his shirt sleeves and Gap cardigan; Mother just the tiniest bit purse- lipped because she "knows" that, any moment, Father will tentatively float the idea of hiring a Harley - a Softail for preference, though a Sportster will do - and cruising along those ol' Arizona highways, up through Joshua Tree and down to Palm Springs. Men. But the "real" reason she's purse-lipped is that Father never notices that her hair is still that same glossy old-penny colour in the lamp- light (Philips Softone, and worth the bit extra) and as for breathing the scent from that special bit just behind her ear; well, she might as well have had her ears "off" for all he'd notice.
Which is why it won't work. Too much at stake. Too little at stake. Everyone jittery but can't take the risk. Everyday life is impossible. The living-room carpet is too wide for Mother to cross to Father, throw her arms around his neck and snog him to the giblets. The distance from armchair to armchair is just too great; Father cannot possibly hurl himself at Mother's feet and say: "I just caught sight of your penny-coloured hair and I want to say that I would die for you as certainly as I would die without you." It can't be done. He knows he "would" but he can't say it. She "doesn't" know he would, and is dying because he doesn't say it.
It runs throughout the family. Up the stairs where the children scuffle and snore and dream their filthy innocent dreams. Down the street and along the M6 to Granny One's house. Round the back doubles to Probert's Seaview Cafe, where Uncle Dai lies beached against Auntie Megan's white whale back, yearning for slim golden girls like fishes, presenting their eager behinds for the firm manly slap of his big cafe-owner's hands. Tucked away behind the Kingston By-Pass, poor sweet pretty Aunt Jessamyn (for whom things never quite worked out) potters in her room, sorting through the boxes of presents she accumulates all year round, thinking of the children who aren't quite her own, while Cousin Robbie, snug in mock-Tudor Bushey, doesn't give a fig. He's just raised the money for a brand-new aeroplane, better than his current one; tomorrow he's taking a pretty little thing to La Rochelle; a bit of a fright on the way and she'll shape up nicely.
On they go, disconnected, revolving in their predictable lubricated orreries. And yet they would die for each other. Family. These unjoined souls, ploughing their furrows, are linked by grudging happenstance, and most of the time utterly unaware of each others' existence. But let fate bare its rotting teeth, let the abyss gape, disaster threaten, life do what life does, and they'll galvanise, suddenly, on the second, without a thought: "Is there anything I can do?"
Of course there is, and it's always the same thing. "Tell me you care about me. Tell me I belong. Tell me I've made a difference. Tell me I'm safe." We're not good at it. We've evolved this whole vocabulary of love and haven't a clue what to do with it. Most of the time we cannot even articulate, except at the most oblique and furthest remove. Go and do your homework. For God's sake Graeme. It's your favourite: burgers. No, "I'll" do that. Are you coming, or what? I'll get the car out. You go on in; I'll bring the shopping. You can't go out like that. Hark at him. Where do you think you are, the Old Vic? It's for your own good. Well you've nobody to blame but yourself. No, Graeme, I'm exhausted. Some of us have to work in the morning. Suit yourself, then.
It's not the rain. It's raining here, now, outside my window; the ITN building is lit up, glowing like a bone against a sky the colour of old Elastoplast. It's not the rain. It's not the office or the traffic, the shopping, the non-fast coloureds or the trouser nonsense. It's not the lawn-mowing or Asda or them next door with their big mouths, or the taxman or the mortgage bastards or the yapping telly morons telling us we were born to buy. That's not what we peer at brochures for, trying to spy, through the glossy promises of a consumer idyll, the cracked tiles, the snot-green opacity of the fungal swimming pool, the condemned paella full of radiation victims, little eyes peering up at you and pink shelly catastrophes with too many heads.
We're seeing beyond all of that, to a real escape. An escape from our embarrassment, an escape into a world where somehow the writ of truth still runs; where, on the beach, by the water- slide, over a glass of grappa (we "hate" grappa) to the sound of bouzouki music (which seems to potentiate the awfulness of grappa) we will somehow rediscover the truth. Father will touch Mother's cheek and that night, instead of making up, they will make love. The children will say: "Thank you for the life." Aunt Jessamyn will find someone who will love her as she deserves, and never, ever leave her. Cousin Robbie will propose; be accepted; and sell his silly plane. In the holiday of our dreams, we will hold hands. We will smile. Bougainvillea will scent the velvet air, and the sky will be radiant with flying pigs. Book now to ensure disappointment.Reuse content