Monday, 11 January 2010

An Open Letter to My Brother, on His 39th Birthday

Dear Big Brother,
Congratulations on not quite being 40!

To celebrate, I hear you are going to tour the Margaret River wine country. An excellent choice for someone as interested in fancy booze as yourself.

I also hear that you will be joined on this sojourn by our esteemed parents.

A brave choice.

It’s not often that this flighty, dependant, head-in-the-smog baby sister is able to offer her steady, dependable, even-tempered elder brother advice. However, having met our parents this past July in London, then travelled with them to New York, then reverse-Titanic-ed the Atlantic with them by cruise ship, then toured southern England with them, I feel uniquely qualified to pass on some words of advice.

To prepare you, some might say.

To warn you, some others might say.

#1 The Mother is Not a Quiet Woman
The Mother is a generous, warm, caring woman. The Mother, however, is not without un-generous, un-warm and un-caring thoughts. Such thoughts are regularly articulated at the top of the Mother’s voice.

The condition of being a guest in another’s country does not remedy this behaviour.

For example:
"Are all English people this ugly?" Paddington Station, London
"Americans are fat, aren’t they?" Times Square, New York
I did not join the Parents on their trip to Paris, but I imagine she broadcast “Gee, the French smell funny!” from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

#2 The Father is Not a Stranger to Vanity
The Father is a very masculine man. We know this because he has a large moustache and (it is whispered reverently, if rather vaguely) once played rugby at Quite a High Level.

The Father is also a bit of a girl.

For instance, the only thing the Father loves more than clothes is shoes. In London, the Father spent many happy hours wandering through the menswear sections of Harrods, Marks and Spencers, Liberty, Selfridges, a different branch of M&S… He would lovingly caress the brogues, nuzzle the knitwear and throw out phrases such as "that’s rather dapper, isn’t it?"

In New York, we almost missed the boat because the Father was having A Moment of Perfect Happiness in Brooks Brothers.

To style his beloved sartorial purchases correctly, the Father will also spend BLOODY HOURS dressing and grooming himself. Our 6 night journey on the Queen Mary included 3 Formal Dinners, 2 Cocktail Events and 1 Casual Night (jacket and tie still required, of course). This gave the Father more opportunity than he ever dreamt possible to fuss over his appearance, and explore the answers to some of life’s most challenging formalwear questions, including, “is my new houndstooth tuxedo scarf too short?”

Yes, Brother, I seriously had to try and formulate an answer to that question. Start practising now.

#3 The Parents are Spoiled Brats
Obviously, the Parents spoiled we Children during the 80s and 90s. Our lower-middle class domestic splendour was sprinkled with such luxuries as recycling-only wheelie bins, televisions in both the lounge room and kitchen, and a dinner choice of mince meat served three different ways (Dinner Winner, spag bol, and because we were always taught to embrace multiculturalism, tacos).

Whilst spoiling us, the Parents were careful to continually remind us that they had no such luxuries in their childhoods, and that they worked very hard to be able to give them to we Children (these reminders were particularly loud after the Father returned from a “Ski-Conference” at Thredbo, and when the Mother won especially big as part of the horse gambling ring she ran with the couriers at her florist shop).

As such, I approached the sections of our trip that I was in charge of booking with a degree of financial caution. I’m a hostel/kebab style traveller myself, and whilst I knew shoving the Father onto the top bunk of an 8 bed dorm room wouldn’t be wise, I googled hard to find good deals at solid four star establishments.

For instance, I was delighted with the hotel I booked in London. It was in the City, an ancient yet thriving section of London. It had an elevator, air conditioning, and our room even had self-catering facilities. I checked in the night before they arrived, and to my sleeping bag/lice infected pillow eyes, the place was actually pretty plush.

The Parents did not share this opinion. The room was too small (the room was a good 5 x 5 metres, bigger than your average flat in London). There wasn’t a spa (the Mother once famously slipped in a hotel spa, and spent months in physiotherapy afterwards repairing the damage). There wasn’t a mini-bar (there was a fridge, and a 24 hour supermarket 100 metres down the road). There wasn’t enough hanging space in the wardrobe (there was, if certain Fathers had not brought their entire wardrobes with them). There weren’t enough mirrors (and after all, who are the fairest Senior’s Card holders of them all?).

For you reference, Brother, they also don’t like:

  • To wait for anything
  • To sit too near the toilets on the EuroStar
  • To sit too far from the toilets on the EuroStar
  • To travel anything less than Business Class
  • To walk more than 30 metres at a time
  • Hire cars that are not Mercedes (“A Saab? Is that really Luxury?”)
  • To go more than an hour between coffee breaks. And We don’t do Starbucks, apparently

#4 The Parents Are Obsessed with The Grandchildren
As you are probably aware, Brother, the (Elder to me, Younger to you) Sister has reproduced twice over the last half decade. The Parents, whilst never overly fond of we Children (eg, the infamous case of the electric guitar, balcony, and the Menopausal Mother), think their Grandsons are ace.

To the point where they never stop talking about them. Ever.

Scene: The Contemporary Art section of New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The Parents and the Baby Daughter (actual age: 28) are confronted by Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living . This piece takes the form of a dead shark swimming in formaldehyde. The Baby Daughter is a little nervous about the Parents’ reaction. Whilst the Parents would probably class themselves as Arty Types (the Father, after all, had a fine collection of dogs playing snooker hanging in the Billiards Room), they’re not really Taxidermy Types.

The Mother (decidedly): Well, Toby wouldn’t like this. He hasn’t been fond of sharks since Finding Nemo.

The Father (chuckling): Little Rory would love it, though! He’s got a killer instinct, that one!

Baby Daughter (trying desperately to draw attention to herself): You know, a skull covered in diamonds by the same artist recently sold for $80 million.


The Father: So we can’t buy one to take home for Little Rory, then?

#5 The Parents Love the Father’s Oxygen Generator More Than You
Yes, even you, oh their blessed Boy Child. To be fair, whilst we Children have proved a bit useless so far, the Oxygen Generator allows the Father to breathe.

With every movement, the location of the Oxygen Generator will be questioned, confirmed, reassured, discussed and regretted. The Oxygen Generator has feelings too, you see. Or, at least, it has a five figure price tag and isn’t covered on Travel Insurance.

#6 The Father Has This Weird Thing About Buying the Music Being Played in Museums
Plus, the museums actually have the CDs available for sale. Who knew?

Do not make fun of this habit of the Father’s. You will be forced to listen, and critically respond to Museum Muzak.

#7 The Parents Might Be Gambling Addicts. Both of Them.
Ah, the Queen Mary. A ship created to let the Middle Class die as they imagine the Upper Class live. There is a morgue on board that slowly fills with sequin-clad passenger corpses, as inheritance-spenders give in one-by-one to the temptation of a private tango lesson too many.

Not for the Parents, however, the attractions of cabaret nights or Othello (abridged) productions or How to Write Your Memoirs workshops. They didn’t even fall for the charms of the onboard “Nite” Club, where the margaritas were always blue and the DJ would play Daft Punk’s One More Time one more time if you asked nicely (the DJ and I shared the same not-very-ironic sense of irony).

No, every night, without fail, the Parents could be found in the Casino.

And not for them, the thrills of the Blackjack Table or Roulette Wheel. No, night after night the Parents could be found sitting happily in front of a Garfield poker machine. They somehow managed to turn inserting money and pressing a button into a two-person operation, and would stay happily occupied for hours on end, hoping to see five Odies in a line, or even nab a Lasagne Bonus Feature.

The Mother also developed a secondary addiction to Bingo. As I share this addiction, no fun will be made of it.

#8 The Parents Are Ridiculously Generous. Take Advantage!
Aside from paying for my planes and hotels whilst I was with them, the Parents would insist on buying me anything that I expressed even the slightest interest in. Because of this impulse, I now own a pen shaped like a lipstick. To be fair, I also acquired some Very Nice Things.

I entreat you, Big Brother, to alleviate some of my sibling guilt by letting the Parents buy you something expensive. My sincere gratitude, etc, etc.

Please, Big Brother, feel free to contact me for clarification on any of the above points, or any questions. Please also feel free to have a fabulous birthday, great trip and amazing 2010. Thank you (along, of course, with the Big Sister) for keeping the Parents safe and occupied with Lotto syndicates and clean skin wine. I’m only able to be irresponsible and carefree in the Northern Hemisphere because my amazing siblings are all responsible and care-laden in the Southern.

With all my love,