Uncle Barry: Life of the party

Life as we know it. No.87

Dj Taylor
Sunday 20 December 2015 00:35
It has become uncomfortably clear over the years that Christmas brings out a dormant side in Barry's nature
It has become uncomfortably clear over the years that Christmas brings out a dormant side in Barry's nature

5.30pm on Boxing Day afternoon and the air in the terraced house in Croydon – very stale and overheated air it is – hangs heavy. Yesterday's reheated turkey has been and gone, followed by yesterday's reheated Christmas pudding; the half-dozen six-packs of Tennent's (for the gentlemen) bought on Christmas Eve have been reduced to two; and the three bottles of sparkling white wine (for the ladies) to one. All should be torpor and fitful self-indulgence: an ideal time, thinks Stuart Mower – the gathering's notional host – to lie on the sofa watching the Star Wars box set that was his principal Christmas present.

This, though, would be to ignore the extraordinary noise coming from the dining room, where Barry, his younger brother, having first put on a blonde wig and accompanied himself on the piano to a selection of Adele's greatest hits, is now, in a painfully cracked tenor voice, singing what sounds like a collection of ancient Devonshire folk songs to the half-dozen children (Stuart's three, his sister Katy's two, the other girl that Katy had before she met Allan) that the Mower's clan gathering has brought together.

It has become uncomfortably clear over the years that Christmas, Easter and certain bank holidays – not to mention birthdays and anniversaries – bring out a dormant side in Barry's nature.

Though he is normally a diffident man in early middle age, habitually silent in a pub conversation and tongue-tied at the end of a telephone, something seems to come over him whenever the atmosphere turns remotely Saturnalian. Only the day before, he had jumped out of the car which brought him to Croydon, dressed as an elf, while Christmas dinner was enlivened by a 10-minute recitation of a 20-year-old Reeves and Mortimer sketch.

Opinions of Barry's behaviour vary wildly. The children are, of course, hugely entertained by their “mad” uncle. Stuart's wife, Denise, unimpressed by the tray of indoor fireworks detonated in the kitchen while she was making the gravy, has referred to him as a “half-wit”. Adults tend to take their cue from Stuart, who is sometimes indulgent, but at other times deeply irked. Meanwhile, the clamour from the dining room has grown yet more resonant. “Then this owd yowe went to foight for the prince…” Stuart sticks his head belligerently through the doorway. “Baz, son, will you just bloody shut it?”

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