Donald MacInnes: The ups and downs of having very distant relations

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The best way to illustrate my family is with a spider's web. Not to suggest my family attracts flies, you understand; it's more a way of alluding to its inter-connectivity.

Better still would be a web from that experiment where scientists gave spiders various substances to see how their silky skills were affected. Some were given caffeine, some marijuana, others LSD and so on, producing results which have delighted students ever since. ("Look at the one on acid! He's all over the shop!")

The web which best represents my family would be that produced by the spider wearing the Bob Marley T-shirt (if you get my drift), in that it would be a bit higgledy-piggledy and, well, threadbare. Without wishing to evoke the sound of a distant, tear-stained Romany violin, I should explain that, since my Mum passed away three years ago, my family really only consists of me and my sister, who lives near Miami, so popping round for a cuppa and a Kit-Kat is troublesome.

Regular readers of my Saturday i column will know that I visited my sister in December, but such trips give new meaning to "fleeting".

Since she's been there, I have visited maybe 15 times. And, given that I spend much of each visit swinging on a hammock as she takes the kids to baseball/piano lessons/cheerleading practice, there's little time to build the kind of day-to-day conversational shorthand which my girlfriend enjoys with her large, London-based clan.

But I'm guessing many of you have relatives far from you, so far be it from me to fish for sympathy.

Anyway, I don't really know anything different, so any yearning for a present, bolstering family is never strong. In the same way that I didn't have a father around for most of my childhood (there's that violin again...), I have only really known my sister as a voice on the phone. With a two-second delay. Yes, she was around when we were kids, but siblings fight as regularly as they breathe air, at least until they get old enough to realise how much they need each other. And it was just when this co-dependence was dawning on us that she climbed onto a plane, not to return.

But you have to be philosophical. It is what it is. I spoke to her last night and we laughed like drains, so no sense moaning.

At least spiders in London are smaller than spiders in Florida.

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