When I was a child, I didn’t really get on very well with my brother. I was three years older than him, we had no interests in common and his idea of fun was deliberately pissing me off. However, some occasions brought us together and when they did, we had a brilliant time. Some of the greatest of these “bonding” moments happened when we were visiting Roland and Shirley.
Roland and Shirley were a couple my parents had known since Youth Club. They lived far enough away for visiting them to be a family outing and it was an outing we made maybe twice a year. The thing was though, Shirley HATED children. Roland and Shirley had (according to my Mother) asked for “the bit about the procreation of children” to be left out of their wedding service… That’s how much Shirley despised kids. This made visiting them a cross between a surreal nightmare and the funniest thing in the entire world (to me and my brother).
In case you were wondering what Shirley did for a job – she was a teacher. This meant that by the weekends her bitterness towards children was topped up to the max. We normally visited at the weekend. Before we got there, my brother and I would be instructed that because Auntie Shirley was “a bitch about children” (my mother’s words) we would have to be really, really good. Not to please Shirley, oh no, to prove her wrong. Our task was to represent every child in the World and to show Auntie Shirley that children were wonderful and that she was STUPID.
We were up for that.
Being a well-behaved child is actually f*cking hilarious, if you adopt the right attitude to it. I wish I could go back in time and watch, as my brother and I sat in Roland and Shirley’s immaculate lounge; our hands folded in our laps, our faces frozen in expressions of gentle innocence. We imitated good children with such beautiful irony that we didn’t dare to look at each other, in case it set us off. Shirley would try to break us, often by handing around biscuits to all of the adults and then putting the lid back on the tin, without offering them to my brother or me. We never so much as frowned, we just smiled on weakly and meekly. We were like artists; it was performance art of the highest level.
Sometimes Shirley cracked a little and let us play with a small bag full of plastic toys, saved from cereal packets. This was Shirley’s only concession to visiting children. We played but we didn’t really play, we were “Good Children Playing” and we competed to make our tiny characters the most polite toys on Earth “Hello Mr. Elephant, how very nice to meet you!” – all the while smirking at the floor, or making the toys copulate, when Shirley wasn’t looking.
The best time I ever had at Roland and Shirley’s house, was when my brother and I found ourselves alone in the kitchen – with Shirley’s cat’s litter tray. Shirley’s cat was a spoilt Siamese, who was only allowed out if it was tied on a long string. But we liked the litter tray even better than we liked the cat, because in the corner of it Shirley had neatly folded a few squares of toilet paper…
One of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life was the sight of my little brother, whispering “Mioaw, miaow” and miming a cat, wiping its bottom with toilet paper. Hilarious and of course, made funnier by the fact that I was trying NOT to laugh.
On the way home in the car, my family always had a debriefing session, after a visit to Roland and Shirley’s. My brother and I always came in for a lot of praise, followed by a quick stop at the Fish & Chip shop, to collect our reward for being good. But we didn’t do it for the chips – we did it for (what would now be known as) the lulz.