Jackie Bird’s Column ...................................
“It’s not until we get much older that family history and heritage really begin to mean something”
The motivation behind having more than one child is often to provide a brother or sister. In my day the doctors had no sooner dispensed with the placenta than older relatives would be asking when you were going to have another. But of course the flaw in the plan to provide a pal for life is that sibling relationships can’t be predicted. I know there are brothers and sisters who forge close enduring bonds; equally, there are those who are happy to see each other only occasionally; and there are a few, despite the shared DNA, who get on like a house on fire – providing one of them is trapped inside. As a lazy parent the logic for me was to have children so close in age that they entertained each other and gave me a break. But envisaging that when I’d shuffled off my mortal coil they’d be inseparable into adulthood and lifelong bosom buddies was more distant hope than expectation. Sibling relationships have been at the forefront of my mind because my brother (there’s just the two of us) has been in hospital. The silly boy (he may be 52 but he’s still a boy to his big sister) fell and cracked a rib which punctured his lung. Typically the eegit ignored it for months and his lung filled with fluid, so over the last few weeks we’ve had the whole Holby City set up with surgery, lung drains and more drugs than a pro-cycling team. I’ve been ferrying our fretting parents to the specialist hospital which is far from his home and popping in myself, whether my brother likes it or not. As the highlight of his daily routine is whether or not he’s had a bowel movement, I find myself spending visits gibbering on about the minutiae of my day. I’m sure there are moments when he wishes I was at work rather than at the foot of his bed because if I was on the telly he could at least switch me off. But during these visits something rather nice happened. Stephen lives about 70 miles away and our workloads mean we only meet up for the occasional family gathering. However trapped in his hospital bed we began to reminisce about our childhood: the TV adverts we memorised and can still act out, the Saturday night carpet picnics and choreographed play-fights, and the human show-jumping course we set up in our back garden which provided entertainment for an entire summer. During our recollections I emerged as a rather domineering and manipulating Big Sis – is there any other kind? (Ok, perhaps stealing the sweets from inside his Easter eggs and telling him there had been a fault at the factory was a greedy prank too far, but more fool him for believing it.) Later I brought along some ancient family albums which took us even further down memory lane. As we recalled our assorted relatives and derided our parents’ dodgy 1960s and 70s fashions, I realised that Stephen and I shared a very special bond. We’d travelled through childhood together and were the only two who shared our tiny bit of history. It’s nice to have another human being whose early memory bank is almost a carbon copy of your own. We’ve grown up to be very different people – he is laid back while I am a control freak – but as we turned the pages of the albums and saw our childhood, the long dead relatives and the events that only we can recall, our responsibility became apparent. We are now the custodians of our history and we should try to ensure our own children keep a little bit of those who’ve gone before in their heads and their hearts. As I said, until his accident my brother and I saw each other infrequently. I’m not saying we’re now going to live in each other’s pockets, but our time together gave me a new appreciation of our relationship. Maybe those who urge parents to provide brothers and sisters are right, that it’s nice to move into adulthood with someone who literally knows where you’re coming from. The flaw in that plan, however, is that in growing up we become self-obsessed and complacent and it’s not until we get much older and family history and heritage really begin to mean something that we start to pay attention. Then, spending time with someone who knows you inside out is no longer a childhood irritation but something to cherish.
“I’m sure there are plenty of moments that my brother wishes I was at work because if I was on the telly then at least he could switch me off.”