under my skin / in my blood

My brother has aced everything: education, career and domestic life.  I have, comparatively achieved in a decidedly more average fashion.  He is an insufferable snob and we would be unlikely to have anything to do with each other if we weren’t related and just happened to bump into each other at a party.  He wouldn’t consider me anywhere near important or interesting enough to engage him.  I would likely consider him a jumped-up tosser.

Growing up he seemed keen to disassociate from our family, electing to spend long evenings in his bedroom, working on one of his first novels – of which he’s written several, all as yet unpublished.  He would rarely join us in the lounge in front of the television until later in the evening.  That is, if he wasn’t out doing extracurricular activities.

It was almost like he wanted to prove that he wasn’t of us, that he was different.  And that still holds now.  But he still respects family ties as much as you’d expect, visits and stays as close as is comfortable.

Yet also still takes every available opportunity to patronise, judge and sneer.  Probably at all of us: my mother, my father and I.  He was a boisterous, confident and imposing child – as his first born is now.  I was the opposite.  His confidence grew with education, teachers and grades agreeing he was exceptional; with Oxford University; with a steady first girlfriend who stuck and became his wife, the mother to his children; with a well aligned career trajectory and an impressive television job.

Today he still judges and sneers and desperately wants to be one step ahead of the world.  Perhaps my parents and I were just the first, we merely happened to be there: the first people he wanted to rise effortlessly above.  He reads ravenously, large historical tomes, is excellent at his job and a good, if nauseatingly smarmy, tiringly over-protective father.

This weekend he wanted me to visit and help with childcare.  Mainly though, to bring my car so he could have wheels and freedom, his wife having taken their car on a girls’ weekend.  I have played chauffeur and playmate to the children, which hasn’t been without pleasure.

After dinner and the children were packed off to bed it was clear there were no evening plans.  We pored over images of the day.  I was disappointed with and mildly sulky about my efforts.  He attempted to sneer and reprimand me for my sulkiness, how silly and pointless it seemed to be like that.  I asked him to give me a break.  His angsty dramas such as forgetting to buy pasta or losing things – of which there are many, are all justified; my grouchy complaints are all ridiculous overexaggerated nonsense.

We put on a DVD I’d brought with me.  He expressed no great interest, positive or negative, but it was better than Scrabble or the console games he’d half alluded to.  Games don’t often tend to end well between us.  I start losing, sulk and spoil them, sometimes intentionally.

We sat watching his television screen while he played with laptops and his iPhone.  He asked what it was called again, in order to check reviews and synopses, see how it ended and prematurely sneer about it, although we weren’t even halfway in.  What he read empowered his prejudgements, and defended against being surprised one way or the other.  It also prevented his precious time being stolen.

We’d shared three quarters of a bottle of wine, though I suspected he didn’t want to continue it after dinner.  I offered to share out the final splash and he declined.  He was so much better than me in every way.  But he didn’t say ‘you go ahead.’  I had to ask if I could finish it.

Reaching the film’s climax, my brother announced he was going to have a bath, “before the sick bit.”  It was then I realised he’d only asked for a reminder of the film’s title so he could get ahead of the game, find out what happened, if it was any good or not.  The “sick bit” happened; it was slightly sick (although from the way my squeamish brother said it, you might have thought it would be utterly revolting), but sad, convincing and enjoyable.  I liked the film.

My brother is genuinely offended by all farts, even from his children – who get told off for doing them.  He was the same as a child at home.  Farting seems tantamount to a suggested act of paedophilia.

The final flares of a near midsummer sunset still streaming, I decided to go for a walk in the nearby park.  I tapped at the bathroom door, which opened to present his sunken Lord Of The Manor face, half lathered in shaving foam.  When I said I was going for a walk, he cast me his patronisingly questioning look, as if it were midnight, pitch black and pissing down with rain.  I paused and tossed my eyebrows, exhausted and aggravated by his unwavering need to judge me, then went on to ask if it was quicker and quieter going out the back way.

He could never accept anything I did straightaway, be positive and accommodating.  Sometimes I’m surprised he doesn’t closely scrutinise the way I inhale.

I went for a walk and took a few pictures of the pink sunset, angry he could upset me like this in a look.  How his way was the correct and only way, ever.  I walked fast and ranted inside my head.  The rant of a man who’d had a few glasses of wine and been riled by his superior older brother, but it still felt entirely justified.

The other thing which struck me this weekend was how utterly bereft he seems of basic human sympathy.  While he’s caring and tender to a stomach-churning fault with his wife and offspring, he almost appears to go out of his way to be patronising, and almost callous in the face of basic grievances.  My face exploded with hayfever after returning from playing on a hill.  I scrambled around the car for tissues as he settled the infants in the back seat.  His reaction on seeing and hearing me was like I’d gone out of my way to offend him.  We called our mother for a chat.  She was suffering from some cold-type bug and sounded ill as much as she spoke about it.  It’s true that she might exaggerate a little from time to time, but there was no disputing she was unwell.

After the call my brother’s reaction suggested she was entirely putting it on and worthy of no sympathy whatsoever.  “Ah, you know what she’s like..”

THE WOMAN WAS CLEARLY ILL!  And she’s not so young anymore!  Have a fucking heart, you wanker.

Exasperated, I sighed, shook my head and appealed “oh, come on…” in halfhearted fashion before walking away.

I’ve written at length about him here and elsewhere, yet it still holds that his attitude and behaviour towards us suggest we are as much his own personal character constructs or figurines, rather than other fully independent human beings with fully developed consciousnesses.  We exist to be patronised and mocked.

When he’s raised in conversation by people I don’t know brilliantly, and they cue me up to talk about him and what he does, I have mixed feelings.  “Oh yes, I saw your brother the other night!  He’s doing very well, isn’t he?  Do you know what his brother does, Mavis?”

On the one hand I’m proud, because he is my brother and he is doing very well, as he knows.  But on the other hand, if ever I was asked, is he a nice bloke?  I think I’d struggle to say yes.  This is why it makes me a little uncomfortable.  He’s very admirable in one way, and also a good, loving husband and father: yes, without doubt.  But a nice bloke?  I really don’t know.

He was asleep on the sofa when I returned from my twilight walk.  I didn’t know why he’d seen fit to wait up for me.  We had a stunted, faintly awkward conversation, both remembering our supressed exchange in the bathroom doorway, where we both opted for loaded looks over words – did I know where everything was?  Bedding, towels and such?  Yes, I did.  Ok, good night then.  He went to bed.


4 Responses to under my skin / in my blood

  1. Mya says:

    Yeah, but you are clearly more thoughtful and considerate and a better writer than him. You don’t know much about cars, though. Even I know a Punto isn’t a Renault.

    Mya x

  2. swashbuckled says:

    I’d like to agree on the first points, probably not a better writer but do know a little more about cars than that gaffe would suggest. Though still not too much mechanical stuff. Edited the post to spare my foolish blushes..

  3. Redbookish says:

    Oh dear, unpublished novels … not a good look.

    Is he older or younger than you? I am expert in sibling rivalry — I have 4 sibs — but it does get better. Really.

  4. swashbuckled says:

    Not a good look? I have one and a half unpublished novels under my own belt, but am the King of not very good looks, as this blog probably testifies.

    Stumbled across one of his manuscripts by virtue of morally suspect web browsing habits several years ago. Have a copy somewhere – some thrillery, murder / mystery thing – but barely read any of it. Wasn’t wildly impressed. Being a well connected “hitter” of sorts, he has some publishing contacts but didn’t get it anywhere.

    Oh and he’s older, just two and a half years but might as well be ten.

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