I was at home in Devon for the month of December. My sister was also there and her tyrannical, wildly fluctuating moods set the weather inside the house. She sleeps badly and usually appeared in the kitchen at 10 or 11 o’clock in a hagridden state, insane with anger at we know not what, daring anybody to wish her a good morning. I timidly observed one morning that the weather was quite mild for the time of year. She vehemently denied it and flew into a rage, presumably at Nature’s rivalry for supremacy over the climate.
She has no culture or accomplishments and doesn’t work. Her only interest outside her competing appetites is in celebrity gossip. As she has grown older, her voice has become more upper class and manual tasks have fallen further beneath her dignity. It is out of the question, for example, for her to sweep the grate in the morning, or lay a fire or even stoop to light it. She doesn’t know how to plug in the television. She doesn’t know how to access her email account from someone else’s device or dial 1471 to trace a missed call from a landline. It’s a wonder she can still dress herself.
She has two long-standing girlfriends, both of whom she fell out with badly in the summer. Her new boyfriend is already feeling the sharp edge of her tongue and she has fallen out with the bloke who manages his hotel. The first time she went to the village stores she fell out with the woman behind the counter. She and her boyfriend went to a hotel in Cornwall for New Year’s Eve. The manager took an instant dislike to her, made it plain, and they drank champagne in their room instead of with the other guests, whom she also heartily despised. The manager was a Greek Cypriot, she said, as if there was your explanation. She hates some people enough to kill them, she says, so the poor guy was lucky to see in the New Year.
Throughout her visit she smoked roll-ups in her bedroom, leaving the sash window open to dissipate the fug. The window faces the sea. Day after day Storm Frank sent one howling gale after another across the Atlantic Ocean, across the sheep field at the top of the cliff, in under the sash window, across her rubbish tip of a bedroom, under the two-inch gap between her bedroom door and the stair carpet, and down into the hall, where it made an eerie whistling noise and froze the rest of the occupants of the house half to death. Anybody who made an objection to her leaving her bedroom window open all day was out of their tiny mind. For Storm Frank’s duration, the outside front-door catch required a small extra exertion of the fingers to fasten it securely. The extra effort required to accomplish this was beneath her. Whenever she went out, she left it to slam repeatedly, like the wheelhouse door of a Brixham trawler.
She deigned to cook three meals. Cooking makes her furious. Two were horrible, the curry was OK. Washing up is beneath her; loading the dishwasher or emptying it is beneath her; changing the liner of the food waste bin and the rubbish bin is beneath her. Parking the car without blocking in as many other cars as possible is beneath her. She does nothing, yet the general theme of her utterances is how hard she works, how she is expected to do everything, how she is treated like a ‘skivvy’, and how unfair everything is.
But one expects my sister to be like that. Nothing new or surprising there. What was surprising, however, was that my grandson Oscar, light of my life, also went off his head as Storm Frank raged about the house. His mother gave him for Christmas a hand-held computer game of Grand Theft Auto, certificate 18. He is six. Whether this is what disturbed his mind no one can say with any certainty, but disturbed he was. ‘Look at my eyes,’ he said to me during a game of chess. He brought them to within an inch of mine and pulled an evil face. ‘What about them?’ I said. ‘I’m different, aren’t I?’ he said. Then he stopped drinking. His father told him he ought to drink more liquids ‘or you’ll die’. So Oscar pretended to take this literally and during Christmas week screamed for drink after drink, 20 or 30 a day, in between demanding to see a doctor or pretending to have convulsions. When my boy complained to Oscar’s mother about giving him Grand Theft Auto for Christmas, she said blandly, ‘Oh chuck it in the bin then. It was only a quid.’
So no, I didn’t have a very good Christmas, thanks. Or New Year. You?