Last week I received the sad news that my Uncle David had died. He was 85 years old and my last surviving uncle.
I was born when both my parents were 40 years old, so I was second youngest of my generation, second only to my cousin Sarah, David’s daughter. He was the youngest of my mum’s siblings; mum and dad both came from families of six children.
I remember going to stay with my Uncle David and Auntie Daphne when I was young boy, 11 years old- for some reason I can’t remember, my mumand needed somebody to look after me for a short time.
It involved a long journey from our house on the outskirts of Greater London to Stanford-in-the-Vale, a small village in Oxfordshire. It’s where the poet Pam Ayres comes from.
It was the start of my training to become a rural spaceman – proper countryside, with cows and sheep and the heady fragrance of shit. In fact, now that I live in the country, I often remember those early experiences. In fact, it was where I started to discern the differences between the smell of horse shit (not too unpleasant), cow shit (acidic and unpleasant) and pig shit (unpleasant). Also, discovering that country folk have an alternative approach to wildlife, in that most of the time they want to kill it – foxes, rabbits, birds, badgers and hedgehogs. Actually, I’m fibbing about the hedgehogs.
My mum always took great pleasure in telling my children that I cried for her every day, which for the sake of entertainment, I always denied.
David and Daphne were lovely. I helped with baby Sarah at mealtimes and bathtime and shared a bedroom with my older cousin Peter. It was he who introduced me to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and let me use his soldering iron and played the sort of tricks an older brother might play on me.
“I think this battery is dead,” he said, handing me a square battery with terminals on the ty op.
“Would you test it for me?” he asked sweetly.
“What do I have to do?” I asked.
“Just lick the top of the battery,” he explained.
I did. Have you ever done this? I don’t think I could talk for the next 10 minutes as I recovered from the massive electrical jolt that surged along my tongue.
I remember trips to see Stonehenge and The Uffington Horse, an amazing prehistoric chalk drawing in Oxfordshire; trying the water on an excursion to Bath. It wasn’t nice. The water, I mean. Bath was alright.
Eventually mum and dad came to collect me and I returned home with the intention of watching Monty Python and wearing the trendy nylon shirts handed down from cousin Peter over a stylish string vest.
“Did you have a nice time?” asked mum in the car on the long journey home.
“Ooo arr,” I replied.