i Editor's Letter: The key to being a good uncle is love, kindness and messing about

Nieces and nephews give us a chance to relive our childhoods

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The Independent Online

We’re meeting our new niece today. The oldest of her generation, she has already brought such joy to our family in a week.

I need to quickly develop avuncular qualities. By that I don’t just mean kindness and friendship, but sharing a love of messing about; tricks, games and general nonsense; babysitting; buying toys and inappropriate presents; making her parents worry; reliving one’s own childhood – and hopefully handing her back just in time for the nappy change.

She will today receive the gift of stylish football in later life: her 2014/2015 full Arsenal kit (age 3 to 6 months, with changing poppers on the shoulders) has arrived and been wrapped. I trust I haven’t ruined the surprise for her with this column.

My brothers and I are blessed with 10 uncles – my mum’s the eldest of 11, six of them boys – and when we were little they delighted in geeing us up, and then taking the blame for our  giddy misbehaviour.

Uncle Neil’s practical jokes on arachnophobic Auntie Keren were a particular favourite. I recall him loading an empty Smarties tube with a dead spider discovered behind the cooker before sending me into the living room to offer her a sweet.

My Uncle Ian, meanwhile, has still not psychologically recovered from a changing mat incident in which I almost claimed his eyesight.

With so many families a little more scattered than they once were, these cross-generational bonds matter more than ever. Can’t wait!