The occasion is a party at Thurrock
Cycle Speedway Hall, Blackshots Lane, Grays, Essex. It is my nan's 80th birthday party, and her four daughters have paid for the celebration which will involve four generations - nan, the daughters and their husbands, children and grandchildren - along with a lot of booze and enough party spirit to illuminate a small underwater city.
Auntie Bubbles - real name Jacqueline - will be there, with Uncle Roy. Ah, loves a drink, Uncle Roy. Always taking the rise out of me. 'Oi, Alexander, you one of them punk rockers, or what? Ha-ha-ha. Have a drink, go on.' Only he has to watch his heart these days.
Auntie Judy will be there, too. Her real name is Josephine. Used to be a nurse. I have an infantile memory of her and Uncle Fred staying with us, and noticing her Airtex underwear in the laundry. Mum said she was a nurse, and Airtex was healthier. Fred enjoys a drink. Big cheery bloke, always smiling. And Trygve, their son, is always smiling, too. Funny, I always think of him as a pretty little boy, and then remember meeting him 15 years later, as a man. I have to adjust the picture, make the hair thinner, the skin less glossy and pink, the waist thicker, more like his dad.
Then there's my mum, Molly, and my stepfather, Barry. Mum's real name is Jeanneane. They both like a drink whenever they're not working, which isn't often. They run the Old Hendon Ex-Servicemen's Club. A social club, a place for drinking. Odd, really, because my genetic father was a violent alcoholic who drank himself to death. Alcohol and I parted company only two years ago, after I'd become an aggressive drunk for the zillionth time. Sometimes I think I must be pretty stupid: it took me 17 years to see a pattern. And it's an occupational hazard for journalists. I mean drinking, not stupidity.
There'll be Sharon and Chris. Although Sharon is my aunt, I still think of her as a trendy cousin. She fell in love with a mod boy called Chris. He was a boxer for a while, then did nearly 20 years in the docks, before being made redundant when the Dock Labour Scheme was abolished. Like hundreds of thousands of British workers, he feels betrayed. They have two boys, Shane and Luke. Cowboy names, says my mum.
'Where's Kitty? Alexander - where's Kitty?' Sharon will say it first, then they'll all be shouting across the disco. Love a disco, my family. Love to get in a big circle and dance. Love to get dressed up, have a drink, have a dance, have a laugh. Always looking forward to a wedding. Kitty, my girlfriend, is a big hit with the family, ever since her debut two years ago at Trygve's wedding. Not surprising, really. She's gorgeous. They know I've done well for myself. Most of the family took one look and said I should marry her immediately. Her absence will cause some concern. But Kitty is in east London tonight, at a fabulous soiree hosted by those glamorous post-feminist entrepreneurs, the Pussy Posse. She is decorating part of the club in a 'Las Vegas Victoriana' style. After the clan gathering I'll drive the 30 miles between the two. It won't be the first time: after my grandad's wake I came back up to London and practically closed the Wag.
There'll be my sister Jeanneane and my brother Stuart. Jeanneane was a nurse, too. Now she's something in electronics. Stuart got into trouble as a kid. 'Went away' for a while. He quit drinking years ago, and has since made good as a builder and decorator. Stuart pumps iron and dwarfs me, and is the only one of us still using my father's name. I took my mother's maiden name in a gesture of love and defiance. Jeanneane stole her French surname - Cesvette - years ago, off a well-to-do boyfriend. Dump the boyfriend and steal his posh name. She's got some neck, that girl.
The focus of proceedings, of course, will be my maternal grandmother, Lizzie. Despite her age she's still pretty sharp. She left her husband, Jack Sharkey, Irish merchant seaman, for another man in 1957. The daughters were all adult by then, but it was obviously a profound shock. I can only remember meeting her once as a child. She was living with Henry then, and she showed me how to draw glasses and moustaches on people in the newspapers. But everyone lost contact with her until, a couple of years ago, Judy tracked her down and brought her back into the fold. She'll be delighted by this late but sincere family reunion. Perhaps I'll get a chance to ask her what happened. Perhaps I'll just show a little respect and mind my own business.
Someone very smart once said you should never make the mistake of thinking other people's lives are less complex than your own. Everything I have ever learnt about people supports this maxim. But I'm staggered by the thought of billions of such complex emotional matrices. All I can say is: God help us all.
And almost certainly, none of them will have read this article. When told about it they'll say: 'Oh, Alexander, you should have told us. We could have bought it. Why didn't you bring one along with you?'
Then I'll reach under a table and produce half a dozen copies. Just imagine the looks on our faces as we try to comprehend all these strangers peering in on our peculiar matriarchal festivity.
So now you've met the family. Glad you could make it. Get yourself a drink and get on that dance floor.Reuse content