Sunday, December 13, 2015

Family fantastic

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!


  1. Val, this is the most amazing and fascinating story which makes my family seem positively simple. I'm amazed by how similar your childhood in Dorset was to mine in Oxfordshire, which may be why we see eye to eye on so many things. And I'm glad that after all your emotional and geographical wanderings, you've finally found Koos, who seems such a lovely and talented chap and almost as handsome as me. It may be presumptuous but maybe, given your nautical connections, the image of a ship finally coming into port is not inappropriate? XX

    1. Ah yes, Pedro, I think I've reached my safe haven now. I'm glad you followed my convoluted connections and bless you for having the patience to plough through it! Even I get mixed up with who belongs or comes from who at times ;) xx

  2. I always envied people with complicated families. Mine is really normal and boring. Even my in-laws are all married, still to the same people, with children all born in wedlock.

    No wonder I write about the stuff I do...!

    1. Haha, TT, I might have liked a bit more normality in my childhood, I think! Still, it gave me plenty of writing material! xx

  3. As one who also has a very complicated family - I think that what matters is not how we label these relationships, but the way people care about each other. So when my first husband married for the third time, he included my stepdaughters in the invitation list. They are family, he explained. (We were rubbish at being married, but make good friends!)

    1. You are so right, Jo. And in fact all of us who are either here or in the UK get on well and all the step sisters/brothers and otherwise are good buddies. It was just complicated explaining it to someone else, and after a glass of wine, or two, it was hilarious too.

  4. Aye' Val family dynamics can be very different these days, the same for my Grandson and his three sets of Grandparents.

  5. Hi Val - mine wasn't that complicated .. but there are complications - I just need to find my Koos ... but time will tell - still the grass sod is getting nearer! Wonderful mixture of peoples though - it's bad enough trying to work out who Emily Hobhouse is - and she's not actually a relative, but is Jenny's great aunt on her father's side. Also not having children in the family ... I work my life backwards and bring the history to life ...

    Happy Christmas anyway! Well preparing for it ... enjoy the Watery Ways journey towards the festive season - without too many gangplank episodes ... I'd have been in the drink!! Cheers Hilary


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