We were in the car when I found out that my Aunt Sandra had been having an affair.
“Really?” I wasn’t sure exactly how my mother had found out because she was universally disliked on my father’s side. It was probably Uncle Steve. It was usually Uncle Steve.
“He rears wild fowl.” She sniggered. Specifically, pheasants and guinea fowl. I’m not sure of the appeal of someone who rears the type of birds that are born to be shot down for fun. Evidently, my aunt’s affair was the sort that was born to be shot down for fun. At least for my own enjoyment, I suppose.
It was a wet day, and we sped down the country A-road towards my brother. The three of us were the family here; not Aunt Sandra, or Uncle Steve or my father. We existed in those moments of quiet, unadulterated commentary. The trees displayed their late Autumn starkness and the rain beat down on the windscreen. Bruce Springsteen belted out of the speakers.
“It gets better.” My mum gripped the wheel more tightly with the devious smile on her face. “You know the Big Band Weekend?” Of course I remembered the Big Band Weekend. I hadn’t been there, naturally, but it was quite the saga in its own right.
It was Nan’s eightieth birthday. She is not the sort of old woman who is sweet. She is the sort of old woman who lost her voluntary job at the Oxfam charity shop because she used to skim the items she wanted out of donation bags. She is the sort of old woman who managed to re-gift us every single tin and jar from the Christmas hamper we gave her. She is the sort of old woman who hated having us over, and would rather watch The Lion Man on ITV than make eye contact with her grandchildren. It is important to note that Sandra very much took after her mother.
The grand plan for the grand eightieth of the least like grandmother in Great Britain went as such. All of Nan’s four children, including my father, were to contribute financially so that Sandra could take Nan to the Big Band Weekend. All of the children obliged, mostly because none of them could really be bothered to come up with their own gift ideas. That is usually what happens when, like vultures, a group of siblings are simply waiting around to claim their portion of a meagre inheritance.
Aunt Sandra even managed to factor in the cost of petrol to the final sum of seventy pounds per head. Each sibling obliged and the deed was done. I can’t say I now know what a “Big Band Weekend” entails or how it went.
“She took him.” My mother laughed more audibly, her grin breaking widely for just a moment. “She took the pheasant-plucker.”
Well, I wouldn’t say that a weekend away listening to Big Band music with one’s mistress and her octogenarian mother is my idea of romance. “So we paid for…”
“We paid for your dad’s sister to have a dirty weekend away with the pheasant-plucker.” More laughter. I joined in.
We hit a pothole and water flew out onto the grass verge. I kept an eye out for birds of prey; they’re common in the fields near Godstone. Seeing them perched upon fence posts seems like a privilege. They’re a little more majestic than guinea fowl, I suppose.
“And Nan didn’t bloody notice?”