For most of my life I’ve been described as ‘laid back’ in a passive sort of way and on occasions, even “calm and collected.” In the past, sometimes these rather endearing descriptions of me were wilfully misconstrued as a sort of shorthand for complacent, verging on the extremely dull and vaguely tedious.
This personality front that I supposedly present to the world, is disappearing fast as I get older and less inclined to suffer anyone, or anything that might irritate me. Recently I have been accused of ‘winding up’ people and seeking verbal confrontation with folk that get on-my-wick. Indeed, as we have been away for a few days in Devon with my sister and her husband, she has been pointing out to me how annoying I have become.
One of the advantages of holidaying with a sibling is that you don’t have to be pleasant if you don’t feel like it - and if a brother or sister is talking rubbish, you just tell them, don’t you? That’s surely the best bit about being in the company of family i.e. you don’t have to dress anything up.
My sister has just had her hair cut very short in that spiky modern fashion that suits gamine young women with big eyes and high cheekbones. Just because I said that she looked a bit like a lesbian, doesn’t mean to say that I didn’t admire her pluck in wearing her hair that way, now does it?
So I don’t see why she got so stroppy about my innocent remark.
It’s the same with her - as I got ready to go out for dinner at the local pub the other evening, accidentally making everyone in our party wait a while; was there really any need for her to say - “All that effort - and for what?” Perhaps that’s what so unexpectedly liberating about being with siblings, they know everything about you and some! Plus, they are guaranteed to give you the unexpurgated version of yourself you fear most.
My sister as a retired Senior Probation Officer specialising in combating drug addiction amongst her charming clientele - is not, and never has been a woman to hide her opinions from anyone, let alone her brother(s). I love and admire her tremendously, but occasionally would like her to stop treating me as if I were 8 years old and constantly telling me what to do.
By-the-way, the woman in my life finds our constant filial bickering hugely entertaining and can often be heard encouraging my sister to go for my jugular - as in, “Go on, you tell him Barbara.” So perhaps it comes as no particular surprise that it was indeed my own sister who pointed out to all and sundry that I had become “self-obsessed, grumpy, and more than a little pompous” in my autumn years and hinted that Julie should take me off to an old persons… “specialist unit” if I didn’t improve any time soon.
This was all because of an unfortunate incident at the Northbound M5 Junction at Exeter where I got into an undignified and rather rude hand-signalling competition with one of those motorists who will not queue at a busy junction like everyone else and just barges in - when you’ve been waiting for at least 25 minutes.
Mostly though, we have both noticed that as we’ve got older our once charming and all too human foibles, now get on each others nerves in a major way. It is often said that your basic personality is mostly set in stone - but, over time and with life’s experiences, these traits are magnified - for either good or ill.
Take politics. As I have got older, I have made the traditional and expected path from the left of politics to a comfortable, and some would say complacent - centre, to centre right position on the political spectrum. My sister in turn has not budged an inch from her place on the radical wing on the left of Labour.
However, I am happy to confirm that she thinks that Sir Keir Starmer is much too right-wing and a waste of space, but dare not ask who she would see in Downing Street as I would be bound to be horrified - whist annoying her greatly by praising Sir Keir’s moderate, almost ‘Blairite’ approach to opposition politics.
If this isn’t bad enough, I can’t say anything vaguely political, as I can see her curling he top lip dismissively - and once, when she caught me reading the Daily Mail she went bonkers. This was enough for me to go out the very next day and buy - The Sun - Daily Express and Daily Telegraph as well - so as to annoy even more. Mostly though, she seems curious as to why I am so bad tempered on occasions. I don’t really know - apart that is - because she’s constantly winding me up consciously or unconsciously. To be serious for a moment, I don’t think that we become bad tempered per-se as we get older, do we? - It doesn’t work like that.
I put it down to a lack of patience, a virtue that is supposed to come with the ageing process but doesn’t. I was much more patient when I was younger, both in work and with my young family I reckon. Nowadays, I always find myself breathing deeply and counting to ten about something or another at least twice a day - I’m told it comes with the territory.
As for my sister? Well, she told me last week that she quite liked me - but, not as much as our two other brothers. Oh… and she also said I was very much like our late father. But with her, I really didn’t know if this was a compliment or not.