Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September, September

35209, NEW YORK, NEW YORK - Tuesday October 27 2009. Michelle Williams and daughter Matilda brave the wet weather in New York. Matilda, who's father is the late Heath Ledger, was dressed for the rain in her pink Hunter wellies, bright yellow raincoat and pirate umbrella. Photograph: PacificCoastNews.com

Sorry, sorry, I've been remiss in the blogging department lately. Primarily because I'm very, very busy. Officially, I'm on holidays but I'm a teacher/lecturer, so much of the last two weeks has been spent sorting out exams, finding and ordering books for this year's classes, preparing this year's classes and getting my worksheets and handouts ready for the new school year. Theoretically, much of this work could be done in my jammies as it's done at home ... but the time for lounging around in jammies is well and truly over: it's cold. That's right, cold. There's a nip in the air and that smell. Yes, you know that smell, that back-to-school smell: wet leaves, damp air and dufflecoats (why don't people wear them any more? And, more peculiarly, why does September still smell of dufflecoats twenty years after people stopped wearing them? Good question).

Last weekend my in-laws came to visit. They're a vigorous and active couple in their early sixties, and they occasionally come by to poke us out of our apathy. They know that, left to our own devices, we'd much sooner be at home in front of the sofa, admiring the view out the window. When they're around, they ensure we get a ruddy good dose of culture and more fresh air than you can shake a stick at:

What perplexes me about my husband's family (and you already know the Gingerbreads, so let's call the in-laws 'the Hubbys') is the level of noise. They're a chocolate box family: mother, father, son (my Mr Gingerbread) and daughter. Yet, together their collective volume would drown out all of us Gingerbreads together (and there are three times as many of us - without spouses and offspring.) When a story is being recounted by a Hubby, they all get very loud: details matter. Conversations with the Hubbys go like this:
"... and the next day she went back to the store and returned the broken toaster. That was on the 19th July."
"It wasn't the 19th July because on the 16th July grandmother went to the doctor in Munich to have her varicose veins seen to. Th 19th July would've been a Sunday and - "
"You're thinking of 1983! We're talking about 1985 here!"
"The toaster broke on the 19th July ..."
"It WASN'T the 19th! NO ONE is listening to me! I was the EIGHTEENTH!"
"WHY do you keep insisting that it was 1983? I'm telling you, that was the year that cousin Ralf had a clown at his birthday party and that was his tenth birthday so it was 1985. We have the photos. I'll GET the photos. There's a photo of him WITH THE CLOWN, and the birthday cake clearly says ..."
"Why would he have had a clown on his tenth birthday? He'd outgrown clowns by then, he didn't have a clown. He had a clown on his EIGHTH birthday in nineteen eighty-THREE!"

And on it goes. People get excited; faces get red, hands move wildly, dates are checked and verified, and a consensus must be reached before the story can finally be told: was the toaster returned on the 18th or 19th July and was it 1983 or 1985? Was there a clown at cousin Ralf's birthday party or did a cowboy turn up to make animals from balloons? Dear heart, I don't know whether to be scared or envious of this attention to detail. In the Gingerbread household, we have a looser relationship to dates: there are a lot of us. Many things happened in our childhood. At best, we can try to figure out which children were not yet born at the time of the event and that narrows the time period down to about five years. If one of us were to say authoratively, "Oh, the time Johnny fell off a hay bale and broke his leg? That was June 5th, 1991," the rest of the Gingerbread siblings would probably concur, impressed. Otherwise, we have to guess that Johnny's somersault from Uncle Cecil's hay bale occured somewhere between the summer of 1988 ... and early spring 2008 (he's a bit accident-prone, our John.)

As it is, I sit amongst the Hubbys and watch the action, my head bobbing back and forth like a spectator at a tennis match. It's very demanding: you have to keep your wits about you or you might miss a crucial clue and not figure out When Exactly Something Happened. Does it matter? Why yes, it seems, it does.


Quinn said...

I want to see the photo of Ralf WITH THE CLOWN. Supporting evidence is CRUCIAL in these discussions! ;)

Gracey is not my name.... said...

So funny! I know people like that and just HOW many Gingerbreads are there??