Sounds of Soldiers – You can’t choose your family

Notes Between driving students home from revising in the library all last night I scribbled this and I’ve typed it up today.

I don’t know who’s more nervous, Sally or me. The house is spotless, we’ve borrowed a table and chairs for dining and there’s rabbit and veg ready to roast. We sit in the living room and wait.

“Your family does know about us, don’t they?” Sally asks.

“Yes. Well…. I’ve implied.”

“Implied? Oh great.”

“I haven’t told them about petit Robert yet. I couldn’t work out how to.”

“Bloody hell.”

“I told them there was some stuff that was too complicated for the phone. I think they’re used to me telling them there’s stuff I can’t tell them until I see them.”

“My parents know about your son. I think Dad’s looking for a shotgun. They want to meet you, but they’re even further away than your family.”

The doorbell rings. “And so it begins.” Sally sighs as she heads into the kitchen and I go for the door.

My big brother’s put on some weight and there’s more grey in his hair. And he’s holding a baby. “You have four years of uncling to catch up on. This is Becky.” He passes me his daughter. She stares at me, all serious, then reaches for my nose. I shift her around until I think I’ve got her in a safe hold. “And this is Ivan.” George beckons his son forward. He’s a pale child with hair so blonde it’s almost white- he gets that from his mother’s side. He cocks his head to one side and studies me.

“I’ve seen pictures of you.” Ivan announces.

“And I’ve seen ones of you. It’s nice to meet you at last.”

“Yes.” Ivan looks around. “Have you met my Mummy before?” he asks.

Miranda’s still stick thin, despite two children, and gorgeous. The short hair suits her. I never had an embarrassing crush on her, not even for a moment. “You’re not allowed to leave the country again. Bad things happen. And I get pregnant.”

Sally’s come back from the kitchen and is standing nervously at the foot of the stairs. I carry my niece over to do introductions. Ivan and Miranda come with me whilst George fights to get a stroller over the threshold.

When we’re close enough Becky makes a grab for Sally’s hair. “Hello there.” Sally takes the baby from me. “Your family does make beautiful babies doesn’t it?”

Miranda’s looking at me. “There are a couple of….” I don’t get to finish my explanation because I’m suddenly in one of George’s bear hugs.

“Five years man! We’ve missed you. Why couldn’t you have come back sooner?” Now Miranda’s hugging me and we’re all crying.

After a minute or so we’ve all calmed down again. I’m about to start explaining when a little voice pipes up, “Bonjour Papa! Qu’est-ce qui se passe?”

“I’m an uncle.”

“I’m an uncle too.”

“Yeah. But you already knew you were an uncle. This is…. a bit of a shock.”

“If it’s any consolation, I’ve only known I’m a father for a week and a bit.”

“Long enough to warn me.”


Robert and Ivan, watched over by Miranda, are teaching each other words from a big bi-lingual children’s dictionary. They’re very different cousins. My boy is gregarious and jolly, George’s reserved and serious. I suspect there’ll be character clashes.

“What time are Mum and Dad due?” George asks.

“About half an hour.”

“You haven’t told them either have you?”


“I think I might disown you. You’re trying to make our parents die of shock.”

“You need a drink?”

“Hell, yes.”

George checks on Becky, asleep in her stroller, before we head through to the kitchen. Sally and Marianne are conspiring. At least, that’s the impression I get by the way they stop talking as we enter.

“Drinks, ladies?” I bought a trailer full of beer from one of the local microbreweries and got an interesting selection of ales. They both shake their heads.

We take two random bottles to the bottom of the garden, where there’s a bench under the apple tree. George takes a big swig from his bottle. “Fuck sake Robert. Five fucking years! I know you wrote, but…. Fuck.” He takes another swig. “Are there any more bastard children I’m uncle to?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Five fucking years. Mind, you’re looking good on it. And that picture of the Eiffel was everywhere. You must be minted.”

“If the government ever gives me my money back.”

We drink in silence for a while. He stares up through the branches. “Don’t ever do that again. No more chasing danger.”

“I didn’t chase danger. It found me.”

“Don’t bullshit your big brother. I’m out of beer.”

Marianne has brought consular wine and is plying Sally and Miranda with large glasses. George and I crack open more beers. By the time the parents arrive we’ve all got a happy fuzzy glow going on.

There are family hugs all round, then Mum turns to Marianne, “Sally?”

“I am Marianne. This is Sally.”

“My dear. It is so nice to meet you. Is he being tidy? He never could manage to keep his houses tidy.”


“He’s doing fine.”

“Why don’t you say hello to your grandchildren.” Miranda suggests.

“All three of them.” George stage whispers.

I could punch him. If it wasn’t so great to have all my family together.