Friday, 28 January 2011

Oh Brother!

Growing up with a brother 3 years older than myself provided me with the opportunity to get into all sorts of youthful hijinks, safe in the knowledge that should anything ever go wrong, I would have the perfect fall guy to take the hit should shit get real.  I used this advantage whenever I really could and think it is a testament to his hard to kill attitude that he is still around and going strong to this day.

There comes a certain understanding and acceptance between 2 brothers when you have known each other as long as we have.  Yes, we have had our arguments and have tried to murder each other on several occasions, but there has always been a certain amount of respect between combatants in the 32 odd years that we have been brothers.  

Sometimes however things tend to go wrong, or go too far, or go REALLY wrong.  These are the times that the fates align to remind us that we shouldn’t really be so stupid and that human life is a fragile, delicate thing and that the love and connection between siblings should be cherished.  

But then if we did that, this would be a pretty boring blog. 

I love fire.  I love the way it looks, the way it crackles, the way it dances in the air!  That’s why it’s usually a good idea to keep me away from matches or lighters of any kind, cause I will happily play with that stuff all day.  Growing up in a non-smoking household, matches and lighters were pretty hard to come by.  That is unless a visiting aunt who happens to smoke, leaves her lighter lying on the coffee table, just mere inches away from a young firebug.   

Not wanting to pass up this wonderful opportunity, I instantly grabbed the lighter and made it my own.  I cradled its cheap plastic body in my hands, tipping it side to side, watching the lighter fluid inside slosh around the little box of magic.  Now I just had to find something to do with it?

Things don't catch fire as easily as you might think.
It was too cold to go camping and there was nothing I could really burn in the garden.  Just as I was beginning to lose interest in my new favourite toy, I came across my brother, sitting alone, reading a newspaper…

“AH!” I thought.  “Here’s a golden opportunity to have a laugh”.  Now in my mind, this entire joke was supposed to last around 3 seconds.  However, fire and time frames rarely go hand in hand.  I nonchalantly sat next to my brother. 

He was deep in concentration, reading today’s news.  This was going to be so much fun!  I slipped the lighter out of my pocket and flicked the ignition button.  A small yellow flame danced in my hand as my eyes scanned my brother to see if he had cottoned on to my hilarious prank yet!  

No sign of movement.  He was too engrossed in the day’s news to pay me any attention.
I slowly moved my hand across to the bottom of the newspaper and let the flame lick at the dry, thin and highly flammable paper.  

A small ember instantly took hold, giving birth to its own flame almost instantly.  The flame quickly started to spread across the front page of the newspaper.  

I looked at my brother, expecting him start freaking out in shock and envious wonder!  Nothing….  He say there motionless, his eyes scanning the articles in front of him.  I looked back at the flame; it has started to grow and had giving flight to several adjacent pages.  I looked back at my brother.  Still nothing.

It was at this point I began to panic a little.  The flames were getting higher and angrier.  My brother was holding a ticking time bomb of fiery death and was completely unaware.  I started to realised maybe things had gone too far.  I had two options.  I could either run away, wait for the inevitable to happen or I could try and warn him.

He gave me a brief look of disbelief, shortly followed by the quite real burning realisation that he was actually on fire.  

I can’t really repeat what he said to me, but surface to say it was quite strongly worded and not very polite.  Personally I thought the joke had a lot of potential.

Hide and Seek
There are some childhood games that just kick ass.  Hide and seek being at the very top of that list.  Despite having to share a 10’x10’ bedroom with my brother, we never tired of finding new and bizarre places to hide.  The best games were when we had a few friends join in.  Since there were only 3 or so hiding spaces in the bedroom, you could always guarantee that at least one person would be forced to “hide” by standing against the wall in plain sight. 

To combat this handicap we devised a variation to the game by turning all the lights off and playing in the dark.  We felt this added an element of the unknown to our little play time, almost an element of danger if you will.   

I can't even tell you how much I enjoyed making this frame!
This worked very well for a while and resulted in some of the most imaginative and sinister hiding techniques ever seen by man.  The “Spiderman” hiding technique popularised by our cousin Ryan is still spoken of in awed whispers even today.  

All done without Spidey powers.
 During one particularly rowdy game of hide and seek, my father decided that he had had enough of these noisy punk kids and decided to storm upstairs and throw us all out.   

This would have been totally fine, had he not decided to do this right in the middle of a game.  I happened to be the seeker at this point, so myself and the two friends that had chosen sensible hiding spots managed to extract ourselves from the situation with minimal fuss. 

However my brother wasn’t so lucky.  Taking his hiding duties very seriously, he had used the Anne Frank method of evasion and was nowhere to be seen.  But just like a Nazi stormtropper, my father wasn’t one to give up without a fight when he knew that there was someone still hiding in the room.  He searched everywhere for him as me and my friends waited downstairs for the inevitable.  

Their eyes met almost at once.  A brief second of disbelief, maybe even coupled with a hint of awestruck respect flashed over my father’s face as he saw the cowering head of my brother looking down at him from on top of the closet.  



We never hid, nor seeked again.

Death Race 1995!
During most of the 90’s my brother and myself had a fierce competition and rivalry on Formula One racing games.  These simulations took up most of our spare time as we competed to be the fastest racing driver in the family.  Now while I have always kept my love of speed confined to the track, my brother was never quite so sensible. This day was just another regular day as we generally did our thing and stayed out of trouble.  That was until we received a phone call from our cousin asking us if we were able to come pick him up from college.  

"Duhh, sure, i'll be right over!"
Always happy to make use of his newly acquired drivers licence, my brother quickly agreed and off we went to pick him up in our father’s car.   

Not pictured: Responsibility.
Our father’s car, which we had neglected to ask if we could borrow…

Things went fairly well for the first few miles up the mountain, until we started to get to the part where we had to go down the other side.  The thing about our father’s car is that it was a cheap, standard family hatchback and not (as my brother thought) a high performance supercar with £10,000 brakes.  

After managing to take a few corners at a fairly brisk pace, my brother approached a rather tricky 180 degree bend, or as it is known now “Stephen’s Folly”.  He approached the corner at around 60mph as I fiddled with the radio, but when it came time to brake, instead of finding carbon meeting steel, he found sponge meeting fruit cake. 

"The brakes, they do nothing!"
In his haste over the mountain he had overheated the brakes and had reduced them to molten lumps of squidgy nothingness.  He instantly started to panic as we approached the corner with alarming speed.  I looked up just in time to hear him scream in panic as we headed towards a wall.  

"This is going to end badly"

We smacked the wall side on, my side on that is.  The rear view mirror broke off and whacked me in the face. 

The right hand side of the car was fine, maybe the damage wasn't that bad.  Maybe he could get away with it!

but when he went to the left hand side…

The left hand side of the car crumpled upon impact and since the front wheel was at its full right turning circle, it took the initial impact, ripping the wheel from its axle, sending us bouncing back onto the road.  He stared at the wheel in terror.  In a feat of sheer panic he tried to push the wheel straight again in the vain hope that he would somehow be able to fix the smashed axle, wheel and steering arm with nothing more than 30 lbs of hand shoving.  As surprising as it was to us, this did not work and the wheel remained in it’s bonk position.  

Deciding that he needed time to think of a way out of the current situation, he sent me down to the town to make the phone call to my father.  It went as well as you might expect.

First he threatened to call the police on us.  Then he accused me of being the driver.  Then he told us that we would be paying for the repairs.  Then he threatened to kill us.  Finally, he asked if we were hurt in the crash. 

By the time I got back up to the car, my father had already arrived.  That is one conversation I’m glad I missed.  

As a funny add on to this story, my father did actually set my brother’s car on fire 2 years later.  He said it was an accident…

The Ghosts of Christmas Past
Christmas has always been a fun time in my household.  Full of good food, presents, happiness and joy.  However sometimes things can go a little wrong.  For example, there was a two year period where my brother was either studying or between jobs.  This resulted in a brief moment in history that shall forever be remembered as the most imaginative and cheap period of his life.

With Christmas looming and no cash to speak of, my brother started to panic when it came to buying presents for the family.  Most of us were old enough to understand the situation and not be overly concerned with material possession.  But we also had a younger sister who, it turned out, really liked material possessions.  So my brother did what any normal person would do when confronted with this dilemma. 

The first year he decided to play it safe when it came to buying our sister a cheap present.  Since he only had 50p, then 50p is what he would spend.  Now it’s pretty obvious that you can’t buy much for 50p and you’re probably thinking that he got super creative and spend the money on craft paper or something and wrote her a poem detailing his affection for his little sister at this special time of year.  Well, you would be wrong. 

He went out and bought a 50p bar of chocolate for her, wrapped it in Christmas paper and lovingly placed it under the tree.  The look on my sister’s face that magical Christmas morn’ was something I’ll never forget.  Maybe she thought it was just a joke and that the real present was inside the wrapper or something?  Nope, fraid not sis!   

She did what any young girl would do when presented with a bar of chocolate for Christmas; she tossed it aside and moved on to the £100 Barbie set next to it.

Crushed by this failure my brother vowed never to make the same mistake again.  True to his word, the following Christmas he didn’t do anything as foolish as spend 50p on his sister’s Christmas present.  Nope, the following year he spent 0p.  That isn’t a typo by the way.  He literary spent nothing.  Again, this wasn’t a case of writing a poem or creating something special and from the heart.  

How to explain the thought process in his Christmas present?  Well I guess in essence it is a classic Disney fairy-tale.

Once upon a time, a dashing young wood chopper was out the garden, taking in the crisp winter air.  His mind pondered on the upcoming festive season and what present he should get his young sister.  For he was but a simple wood chopper and as such earned only a meagre pittance for his labour. 

It was then he saw a bright shining star in the heavens. 

The star came down from the sky and spoke to him;

The star fell to the earth and vanished, leaving only a glittering shimmer in the grass.   

Stephen rushed over to the shimmering object and peered closely at what lay before him.  There in the grass was a necklace.

A necklace that would make a perfect gift for his sister.  The young wood chopper took the necklace inside his hut and cleaned all the mud and rust away until it sparkled like a diamond.  

Truly he had been blessed by the angels on this day.  Finding an old jewellery box, he took his newly clean garden necklace and placed it inside, then wrapped it and put it under the tree.  

Eager to get to her presents this Christmas morning, the young sister of the wood chopper opened up her present.  She was relieved to find that at least this year her present hadn’t suffered melting damage.  Opening up the (somewhat familiar) jewellery box, she hoped for some earrings or a bright shiny bracelet.

But found instead a dull, steel necklace that smelled faintly of grass and cheap polish?  

Maybe if there was a large golden cross or some other trinket attached to the necklace, she could still make use of it, but alas it was just a plain, simple, thin steel necklace.  When word got out about where the necklace came from, the young wood chopper would never again be able to live down the shame of his spectacularly bad Christmas presents.  

Even to this day, parents tell their children wicked stories of how if they are naughty, Stephen the Krampus will come to the house and give them naught but cheap chocolate and garden jewellery as presents for their behaviour.

Pictured: Evil
Oh, the following year, he gave our sister a £200 mountain bike.  Though for some reason no one really remembers that story.