Thursday, April 06, 2006

Colonel Moseley on Family Gatherings

What ho! Funny time of year, December. The approaching festivities seem to give rise to perverse desires and practices. They range from drinking advocaat, not normally to be touched with a very long (and appropriately Dutch) barge pole, to an implausible wish to “see more of the family”.

I guess I should have seen it coming. Yesterday afternoon, just after Countdown, the Mem decided it was opportune to dust off the Christmas card list. Understandably, my resistance was at its most feeble after my weekday dose of the lovely Ms Vorderman. She had coyly shared a particularly brilliant solution to 931 using six small ones, but I digress.

I really ought to have known better. As the Mem, apparently casually, ran through the list with suggestions for inclusion and exclusion, in my reverie I distractedly said “Yes” and “No, M’ dear” in what I thought were the right places. Before I knew it, I had negligently agreed to entertain the Mem’s sister Bunty, her dull husband and their brood for the whole of Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Thus was a prospectively pleasant, relaxed and solitary Yuletide converted to tribal misery. Let this be a warning to all, of the heavy price to be paid for too deep an absorption in even the most attractive and numerate of daytime TV presenters.

This also leads me to share with you my top ten insights into the use of mild deception at family gatherings and how to make more effective use of your status as “elderly”:

1. Like cold-sores and Morris dancing, family gatherings are best avoided if at all possible. To do so full use can be made of excuses and white-ish lies. Favourites include: illness, simulated or exaggerated, bereavement, distant and unverifiable, urgent business afar, broken-down cars, inclement weather and acts of God. It is important that the option selected is plausible. It is sensible to keep a list of those used to avoid repetition giving rise to suspicion,
2. If attendance is unavoidable, it should be limited to the shortest time possible. This may be flagged up in advance, on arrival or more dramatically by a prearranged ‘phone call requiring one’s immediate attendance elsewhere. Again, it is prudent to keep a record of circumstances used to avoid any duplication another time,
3. Cover up your complete inability to remember the names of family members by using your own mode of address for everyone. In my case it’s “my dear” for the ladies and “old boy” for the chaps. Done correctly, this manages to be practical and yet endearing at the same time,
4. Sleep is a great comfort during long days en famille. Whether genuine or feigned, it provides a break from the interminable conversation. With advancing years this refuge of the terminally bored is tolerated and even expected,
5. Tedious tasks such as looking through family photo albums or playing board games can be avoided by “accidentally” leaving one’s spectacles at home. In extremis, they can be broken in situ, but this is an expensive final resort and to be saved for cases of desperate need,
6. Watch out for the “nephew and niece promoters”. They are ruthless, devious and persistent. If you are childless and reasonably solvent, even if not actually well-heeled, you are likely to be targeted by the cash poor and child rich and encouraged to bond with tiny Torquil or Petunia. This is done in the hope that the little beasts will feature in your will, or at least, that you will fund their gap years abroad. Such predators should be avoided or put off with protestations of poverty and, if necessary, hints of prior claims from a string of illegitimate heirs in Torquay,
7. Family bores can safely be ignored by faking deafness. Certain large national health hearing aids give added authenticity to this deception and can be converted to radio reception, enabling one to tune into the cricket instead of the family,
8. Only regular practice will enable one not to cause embarrassment by compulsively mentioning any of the one’s relatives’ afflictions, ranging from hare lips and lazy eyes to flatulence and obesity. Happily, occasional faux pas are allowed by the elderly and even considered quaint,
9. Feigned infirmity can be used to avoid tiresome family rituals such as the birdie song, conga, charades, karaoke and long country walks to build up an appetite. Any mention of a hip replacement or flash of a surgical boot is as good as a note from mother to get off PE, and
10. Above all, truth has very little part to play at family gatherings. Like Christmas newsletters, the role of conversations with relatives is to perpetuate comforting myths and give the deluded the strength to carry on. Topics where it is acceptable to blur the truth beyond recognition include fidelity, wealth, career prospects, weight, looks, age, sexual prowess and, most particularly, happiness.

I hope that helps. If you have to grow old, do it disgracefully. Pip, pip!

*this piece first appeared in Birmingham 13

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