I've been thinking about families, a thought (or several of them) sparked by Peter Davey's hilarious blog about the past year, much of which involved events with delightful, if ageing, relatives. It called to mind an evening I spent explaining my own rather multi-tentacled family to a dear (now departed) friend, who told me with some awe that he never knew I had such a complicated, and odd, background.
The thing is I'm the youngest of four siblings, each of whom has their own oddities - not surprisingly given our shared eccentric background of growing up in a crumbling country house in Dorset surrounded by totally off-the-wall parents and a range of surprisingly canny animals (see my novel on the subject for further fictionalised details). Added to this, although I've not had many relationships in my life, those that I've had have brought me a whole set of new and rather interestingly connected relatives.
This is roughly how it goes: my eldest daughter was the issue of a partnership that didn't last simply because the partner in question had issues with partnerships in general. The problem was he didn't realise this himself and went on to have another (short-lived) partnership after breaking ours which resulted in another daughter I didn't know about until a few years ago when my daughter made contact with him and learnt she had a half-sister. Got it?
Right. Now I then got married to a man who had two sons, so my daughter had two legal step-brothers before I had my second daughter who was then half-sister to daughter one and half-sister to daughter one's step-brothers who were also my official stepsons. Bear in mind now that the other half-sister (remember her?) was as yet unknown to us.
Twenty years down the line, my marriage broke up (we won't go there) and I then got together with Koos who has two sons. But because we aren't officially married, these two boys are my unofficial stepsons while my former husband's two sons are now my official ex-stepsons.
There, I'm sure you've all followed that easily, haven't you? So in sum, I have two daughters who are half-sisters; they are both half-sisters to others, but separately, and one is step-sister to my official stepsons while they are both step-sisters to my unofficial stepsons.
Now try explaining that to someone else without reading this again.
And that's not all.
I have a brother (a complete one, not half or stepped or anything else) who is very religious and a fervent Christian. Don't get me wrong, I am not anti religion and I'm not an atheist. I'm far too worried about dying and ending up in front of a crinkly mouthed creator who will banish me to an eternity without books for my lack of faith, so I definitely have my beliefs; they just don't involve sharing them with other like-minded people, and doing the church or evangelist thing is not for me. Nevertheless, I respect my brother for his commitment as he cruises around the UK on his narrowboat attending Christian boaters' fellowship events. That's what he does and all power to him.
What makes this more than just a by-the-way piece of not very interesting information is that Koos's brother, who was actually born into the boating world as the son of a commercial barge skipper, is also an evangelical Christian. Coincidence? I wonder. That said, you wouldn't necessarily know this from meeting him except that he comes out with his message at rather surprising and slightly inconvenient moments.
I've never forgotten a visit he made to us in the Oude Haven several years ago. We'd been chatting amiably on board about this and that and we were all heading out for a walk when half way across the gangplank, he turned to me and told me I needed to be saved and I should embrace the Lord. Well, I had a moment of panic I can tell you. There I was suspended on a strip of wood over the water and he decides to tell me this. The Lord wasn't there to embrace or to save me - I didn't even have a handrail to hold on to. Luckily, Koos was behind me so substituted for Himself by guiding me carefully to the quay, but it was a nerve-wracking moment to say the least.
As for the rest of our immediate families, they have nothing in common at all, which is probably a good thing or I'd be really confused about where the lines are drawn.
Sadly, I am unlikely to see any of my extended family on Christmas day as we haven't quite got round to solving the problem of who goes where and when or even who is really related at all, but no doubt I'll see them all at some time over the festive season.
Wishing you all a very pleasant run-up to the holidays!