Who Gave You That Thing?

Sitting on the couch this afternoon, taking such pleasure in quietly reading my book, I had two thoughts, one arriving fast upon the heels of the other.

The first went something like this;

“How lucky am I? That Mum and Dad gave me this gift of loving to read.”

The second was considerably sterner;

“What are you on about, fool? Your Mum and Dad hardly read a single book in their lives.”

I’d forgotten that but it’s true. Dad liked his ‘True Detective’ magazines and Mum would splash out on a 'Woman’s Way' now and again but neither of them were committed book readers. There was no great shelve of literary tomes waiting for me to discover. There were many other great things but not that, never that.

So where did it come from, this reading fascination? Was it something I just fell upon myself, out of the blue? No, it wasn’t that. It was given to me. It was handed down.

It was my two older brothers, that’s who it was. 

The elder of the two (let’s not do names – they’d kill me) was always a voracious reader. He would devour books, tossing them over his shoulder as he went and I would catch them and read them because reading was obviously cool ‘cos Big Bro did it. He gave me reading, no doubt. 

The second eldest gave me music. He was the devourer of all things musical. Coming home from school with borrowed LP’s and singles. Cozy Powell, Cat Stevens, Mountain and the omnipresent Bob Dylan. This brother assembled a stereo system in our bedroom with huge speakers and cables that ran all over the place and which could clearly pick up Radio Moscow even though there was no radio tuner in the setup.

They both gave me movies, I reckon, although my Mum and Dad loved the movies too. I remember going fishing with the Bros and listening to them talking about the flick they had seen the evening before in the Gaiety. I particularly remember one film being described which I only identified years later as Polanski’s ‘Dance of the Vampires’.

The great thing was how they shared all this stuff generously, without quibble. They never seemed to get upset with the stumbling little fellow who was following behind, hoovering up all the stuff they left along the way.

Maybe we tend to forget what we get from our older brothers and sisters, in among the moments of dominance and the occasional Chinese burn, there are things we might not have if they hadn’t been around.

I see the very same spirit of generosity these days in another set of brothers. My own sons. I can note the openness with which the eldest shares his experiences with the younger. No request seems too much of an imposition. Nothing is too much trouble.

And I can see shades of myself in the younger boy. Old and wise beyond his years, thanks to his elder sibling. Following along trustingly. Soaking it all in. Reaping all the advantages from the one who had to do it all first.

It’s great to see.

So thanks, bros, for teaching me about all of the cool stuff. 

It’s taken me a while but, now, finally, I appreciate it. 


Jim Murdoch said...

My parents never read fiction and they never listened to music although they both sang all the time—Dad thought he sounded like Bing Crosby and Mum actually did sound like Gracie Fields—and so how I became the biblio-cum- musicophile that I am today I have no idea. William McIlvanney (whose parents were working class like mine) read poetry to their kids of an evening. Can you imagine such a thing? I was never deprived of books and I have recorded evidence of my dad reading to us—The Beano of all things—but he had no passion for reading. You’ll have noted the dedications to my first two novels. That makes me sad. Now my daughter had a hundred books bought for her before she was born. There was NO WAY she was going to grow up without a love of books. Fortunately her mother was one of those ravenous readers—even if she didn’t always read quality literature she fairly hoovered the stuff up—and our daughter’s the same.

I’ve never been able to pass on my love of classical music to her and she’s not the slightest bit musical—I actually couldn’t tell you if she’s ever tried to play a musical instrument (ah, the problems that come from only seeing your kid once a fortnight or less for most of her life)—but she’s still fond of music. Tori Amos is a favourite and I make sure she gets every new CD as soon as it’s out.

I have to say I made no efforts with either of my siblings. I’m afraid as a kid I was completely wrapped up in my own wee world (nothing’s changed there then) and basically didn’t even notice either of them until I’d left the house. Two instances jump to mind there: firstly, the day my brother drove his motorbike over to see me in East Kilbride—I assumed someone’d died (why else would he be there?)—and secondly, the day Mum and Dad dumped my sister on me for a week to give them a break—she was fourteen at the time and somehow had grown boobs and legs (what the hell was my sister doing with boobs and legs?)—but we muddled on which is what families do.

When I look around the house and the enormous number of CDs, cassette tapes (over 1000 of them) and books I do wonder where they’ll end up. I pretty much know exactly where they’ll end up—some charity shop—but it saddens me that very little of the good stuff will end up with people who’ll love it like I love it. I have a shelf and a half of books on Beckett. I would’ve wet myself if someone’d handed me a box with that lot in it when I was nineteen. There’s got to be someone out there with a full bladder just ripe to do that to.

Ken Armstrong said...

I have sympathy with that 'where will my stuff go' consideration. Some the posts I write these are done with a side-eye towards the fact that they may outlive me in some shape-or-form. My brothers won't see this post but they might someday... that kind of thing.

I think you should stick it in your will or something - Beckett books to go to the library to be donated to some interested party or group. It's a bit morbid, perhaps, but then we are morbid feckers, you and I, and it is nice to take care of business satisfactorily.