Dad’s Family

     Dad hated his brother, Uncle John.

     The reason for this hatred was never revealed to us in any coherent form. In fact it was unwise to even ask about the matter. It was as if the entire subject lay behind an industrial-sized red pushbutton labelled “DO NOT PRESS”.
     This was quite normal as far as my parents’ relationship with opinions was concerned. Any enquiry after their reasoning was automatically interpreted as disagreement.
     Their opinions were absolute, never to be questioned or challenged. Their opinions were The Law.

     So we had to make do with sporadic comments and isolated remarks, and thereby attempt to piece together the cause of his animosity.

     Mum was the more approachable of the two, but her reply to the question “Why does dad hate Uncle John?” would invariably be:

     Their default answer, when asked to explain dad’s hatred for someone, was the single exclamation ‘Well!’. It was usually accompanied by an expression of sneering disdain. The word itself lasted for a second or two, during which time it descended in pitch by a couple of semitones.

     Here are some examples:

     ‘Why does dad hate Granny?’
     Granny, dad’s mother, was ostracised from 1980 to 1992, just before she died. More about that later.

     ‘What did Mr. and Mrs. Perryman do that was so bad?’
     The Perrymen (as they liked to call themselves) were banished in 1989. I don’t know why. Neither, I imagine, did they.
     Anne Perryman, a teacher at New College, had been mum’s closest friend for 20 years. She and her husband, Mike, had been indispensable to mum and dad when they took over the school.
     And yet, from 1989, erased from memory. 

     ‘Why is dad so unpleasant to Amber?’
     Amber was one of their dogs. A long-haired collie like our first dog, Lassie. She was the kind of dog whose tail was in perpetual, joyful motion.
     Her crime was to love everyone she met, and this behaviour was intolerable to dad. It was disloyalty, and had to be punished.
     So punish her he did, with small acts of micro-sadism, as was his way.
     For instance, he would make her “sit” before placing her dinner before her. Then, in the middle of setting her plate on the ground, he would suddenly withdraw it and command her to “sit” once more.
     Or, if Amber were ‘guarding’ a stick or a toy, dad would take it from her and give it to his favourite dog, Dusty.
     Small acts designed to belittle and demoralise.
     Which Amber didn’t understand.
     Because she was a dog.

     “Why does dad hate me so much?” I asked now and again.
     To be fair, she did once make a passing attempt to search for an answer.
     “I don’t know why he hates you so much”, she began.
     She appeared thoughtful. Her face contorted with the effort of exploring a question of such complexity.
     She gave up.
     “But he just does” she concluded. Brightly.
     And went about her business.



     But most of all, Dad hated his brother, Uncle John.

     His resentment cooked and simmered, spitting out occasional ejecta of disgust:

     “He’s Got More Faces Than Big Ben!”
     “He’s A Load Of Rubbish!”
     “He’s A Waste Of Space!”
     “He Can Go To Hell!”

     By way of explanation, mum sometimes recounted the episode at The Saxon Mill, a nearby restaurant:
     ‘Your Uncle John made such a fuss about the potatoes. He complained so loudly and had them sent back!’
     It’s easy to see how that might have been embarassing, but sufficient cause for full-scale hatred?

     To be honest, we never did find out the source of his rabid bitterness. It’s possible that there was no rationale behind it at all. He was perfectly capable of making the emotional journey from equilibrium to hatred without passing through any of the usual intermediate stages. Disaffection, Annoyance, Irritation, Disapproval – these were not stations at which he cared to disembark. His was a one-way ticket to Hatred, express travel.

  {TO DO…}

     There were a number of collateral implications:

1. He also hated his brother’s wife and children by straightforward association.
2. His sister (Aunty Sue) was not subject to the hate-by-association condition of (1).
     This makes perfect sense when you think about it. If he’d hated John’s siblings, it would have caused (at best) a paradox, or (at worst) an infinitely recursive hate loop that would have taxed even his formidable powers of hate management.
3. Granny and Sue were allowed unrestricted access to John, but were forbidden to speak favourably about him in dad’s presence.
4. Mum, Marianne and myself, on the other hand, were subject to a more severe constraint. We were not permitted ANY access to John.

     It was Granny’s failure to comply with condition (3) that was her downfall.

     In the spring of 1980, Granny attended the wedding of John’s eldest son, Cousin David. She called round at New College after the reception.

    (“She was drunk” said mum, disgustedly.)

     She mentioned that she’d been to a wedding.

    (“She said ‘I’ve just been to a wedding‘” recalled mum, in a rising cadence of indignation.)

     She was (as they say) digging a hole for herself. She was (metaphorically) bringing John into dad’s house. She was giving John shape and substance. Right there in front of him!
     That one statement, I’ve just been to a wedding, might alone have been sufficient for him to excise her from his life.

     But Granny hadn’t finished.
     In an ill-judged attempt to reconcile her two sons, she discarded her shovel only to climb aboard a hydraulic excavator.
     She released the truth about Grandpa’s will.
     She told dad that Grandpa had disinherited him for his refusal to repay the house-buying loan.
     She told him how, back in 1964, his family had clubbed together to raise £2000, pretending this sum to be his father’s provision.
     And worst of all, she told him how John had been the prime mover in that compassionate, charitable act. How John, the object of his boundless revulsion, was actually his financial benefactor.

     She had just committed the most pernicious of offences. She had sought to violate Dad’s First Law of Hatred, which states quite clearly:

Hatred remains in motion at constant velocity until I decide otherwise. External forces can just fuck off.

     Granny had now ceased to exist in dad’s universe. Forty-five years of history were obliterated in an instant. She was now an unperson.



     Shortly after the commencement of Granny’s twelve year exclusion, there was an exchange of written correspondence.

     John made the first move by writing a letter to dad in the spirit of conflict resolution. Amongst other things, he congratulated mum and dad for having made a success of New College School.

     (“How patronising!” observed mum.)

     Dad wrote a reply, after an interval, which opened with a literary flourish:

     “You’re a Malvolio on the stage of life…”

     So. No progress there!

     It has to be asked. What on earth is the point of religiously fuelling an insatiable furnace of hate? It must be a tortured, self-devouring state of being.
     Unless, that is, the target of one’s hatred can me made to suffer.

     Happily for dad, providence came to his assistance in the shape of Aunty Freda and Uncle Robbie.

     It was news to me at the time, but Granny had a sister called Freda. I’d heard her name mentioned once or twice, but only in passing, and never with sufficient contextual information as might link her to Granny. Up until now, she had been of vanishingly small importance to my parents.
     Freda, it turned out, lived with Robbie, her husband, in a block of luxury apartments situated two hundred yards from New College on the opposite side of the Kenilworth Road. Granny owned an apartment in the same block, having relocated from Welford-on-Avon a few years previously. Understandably, she had wanted to live out her remaining years in closer proximity to her son and sister.

     It couldn’t have been more convenient. Here was the most sublime opportunity to punish Granny for her crime. It was an opportunity which dad naturally embraced with commitment and relish.
     He and mum began a campaign of diligently courting the company of Freda and Robbie. They made a point of calling upon them regularly, at least once a fortnight, sometimes taking them out for a meal.
     Granny, of course, was painfully aware of these visits. She was tormented by them. Say what you like about dad, it can’t be denied that he knew his business when it came to applying psychological torture.

     There was an additional and unexpected dividend to dad’s strategy. As mum explained:
     “Your uncle Robbie is a paper millionaire.”
     Her reverence for wealth compelled her to utter the words ‘paper millionaire‘ at least one octave higher than their predecessors.
     Her eyes were wide and blazing with financial lust as she continued:
     “And we’re going to inherit all their money.”
     Here again, ‘all their money‘ explored the upper reaches of her vocal range.

     Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

     But the forces which affect human affairs provided dad with one final outlet for his spite. There was another apartment block, Northumberland Court, directly opposite New College. When one of its flats came up for sale, Freda and Robbie were persuaded to move there. Dad even bought it outright on their behalf, in the expectation of being repaid when their own flat was sold.
     He must have considered this to be a risk worth taking. After all, the reward was the isolation of his mother. The complete annihilation of her reasons for moving to Leamington in the first place.
     How perfect! A job well done!


{ TO DO – John’s ambition to be in the Clergy. Dad’s allegation that John had forged Grandpa’s signature on the will. John to be ordained as a vicar by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Dad writing to the Bishop with this allegation, trying to thwart John’s ambition. His outrage that the Bishop “didn’t take a blind bit of notice”}

2 thoughts on “Dad’s Family

    1. Thanks Louise! It’s on ongoing project, even though I don’t often have sufficient time to get on with it.

      I hope you and your family are safe and well.


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