The Second Chapter

Today is my parent’s 49th wedding anniversary. It’s coincidentally also the day my Niece becomes a teenager. It’s also nine years since they held a fortieth anniversary party that left me with some soul searching, and nine years since I wrote a blog post about it called The Family Shame. I reworked that into the second chapter of my (unpublished) book so, with one year to go until their fiftieth anniversary, here’s that chapter of my (rejected by six London literary agents) book.

     In what may sound like the opening to an old Hammer Horror film I was informed that my attendance was requested at a rare gathering of what family I had left. That and how I didn’t actually have a choice in the matter. I had nothing to fear from lumbering butlers or undead elders but did dread the inevitable question from various Aunties and Uncles wondering: “what is it that you actually do?

     I did have a proper job at one point, it was true, because after a science degree from a certain redbrick university I’d found myself bothering the Job Centre for long enough until they’d pulled out an application form from underneath the desk and told me to “ignore the closing date” which, upon inspection, was two years previous and had been scribbled out in crayon.

     I later formed the assumption that the Job Centre liked the local paint company because it seemed that they would take on almost anyone – they weren’t discriminatory, like death in that respect – and with such a high turnover of employees, to the extent of how there’s a myth that everyone in town has worked there at some point1, there were always positions available.

     I stuck that job out for a year before returning to education and after gaining a doctorate from a certain Welsh university I got myself a job in a laboratory and began focussing on my real passion: writing. Each lunchtime I’d go and sit outside the large Manchester University refectory to eat my lunch and scribble notes and, after five years of this, I decided that it was time to give up the day job, savings stashed under my bed, and to swap sitting outside the refectory for somewhere more local, and warmer, and to give it a go as a writer. It was probably both the most ballsy and most stupid thing that I’ve ever done.

     I was forced to explain what my work was about to one of my Aunties and as I described the eight-part comedy-drama series which I’d written, and was trying to hawk around various television companies, I ended up mostly impressing myself into thinking that it actually did sound quite good, as well as a worthwhile social document, which was odd because earlier on I’d described my life to my other Auntie as “still not contributing anything worthwhile to society”.

     The gathering for which we were summoned took place in a local restaurant off the motorway which called itself a “farm” yet turned out to be in the middle of a concrete industrial estate using the slogan: “More than just a restaurant”.

     Whilst I read the menu, with the usual vegetarian dread, I heard my Mother describing the carvery to someone, as a gammon-turkey-lamb-beef combo, and I started getting flashbacks to a pensioner couple I’d sat next to one day in Costa Coffee who’d taken it upon themselves to sell to me – a random stranger, fifty years their junior – the notion of their favourite carvery; a carvery in which I realised I was now sat.

     Paraphrasing the old gent’s pearls of wisdom he said to me: “It’d be a good place to go if I wanted to impress a girl”, before he seemed to check himself, as if quickly lowering his expectations, and instead suggested that it’d be a good place to go if I had any friends. Not being one to leave a pot unstirred I’d told him that I was vegetarian and so the gammon-turkey-lamb-beef combo which he’d just outlined wasn’t as appealing as he thought it might be. He came back with the suggestion that I would do very well in Japan, because they eat a lot of rice there, although what he failed to point out was that Japan was just a little bit further away than the concrete farm on the roundabout just off the motorway.

     Realising I was now in this carvery of such recommendation how could I not immediately get up out of my chair and go along to have a look for myself? I wasn’t very impressed, and when I discovered that the vegeburgers on the menu weren’t even vegetarian I started to believe the place to be less than just a restaurant.

     I was attending this family reunion under duress; shame being the enemy of public gatherings, and it was only whilst there that I discovered that the whole event was in aid of my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary which was literally news to me. You would have thought that they might have mentioned it seeing as I was the one that lived with them. Why am I always the last to know?

     Throughout the meal much was considered about the previous clan gathering, my parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary, which was where I met my now sister-in-law Dawn. At that time, living in Wales, I’d recently just met American Girl No. 01 and forewarned being forearmed I had thought that if my brother was going to be bringing a girl then I would be avant-garde and bring one along too. However it turned out that when I asked her if she wanted to go it sounded less like the gesture of inclusively that I’d hoped for and much more a plea to come home and meet my mother.

     Thus, without even trying, or even meeting her, my family helped hammer the nails into that short-lived coffin.

     It was quite startling to suddenly be presented with ten years of your life on a plate and so, through using American Girl No. 01 as an anchor, I was left in a carvery, surrounded by family, considering everything I’d done and everything I’d achieved in the intervening decade.

     As a so-called writer who was stuck living in his parents’ back bedroom, making no money, it just made me wonder how I had the gumption to ever leave the house at all.

     Something else helpful for judging my success in life was in drawing comparisons with the famous people who I shared my birthday with; this list includes John Lennon, Brian Blessed, and the Prime Minister David Cameron. All the creatives. There’s surely not a fag-paper between our characters and I’d like to think that the group of us, right there, act as living proof for the scientific veracity of astrology.

     Not only was it a shock to discover that David Cameron shared my birthday but even more so when I figured that, to the day, he’s exactly ten years older than me. Ten years, again, and another yardstick for my life because I now knew that if I hadn’t wrestled control of a major political party within a couple of years then, by comparison with Dave, I’d clearly been a failure in life.

     I felt that I was in a tailspin and that it was now downhill all the way having swapped working for a living to being regularly found sitting like Piffy outside the toilet in Costa Coffee, dreaming of success.

     As far as my parents were concerned, though, I had some catching up to do and I knew then that I desperately needed a girlfriend in time for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

     A girlfriend and a wife…

     And some kids…

     And a paying job…

     And not to be still living in their back bedroom…

     I thought I’d probably better start making a list.

1 – I cannot remember if it was me that started this though.


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