Heavy doses of neurosis

31 Jul

King of worry

Worrying runs in my family. It’s a sad fact (and something that I fear will make me sound as if I’m into gender stereotypes) but the females in my family worry the most.

Where we worry, the men grumble. Last week we went to Centre Parcs with my parents. It was a gamble, but the weather was positively Mediterranean and everybody seemed to have fun. My father worried that he looked like he was having fun. He often complained – roll-up dangling from his lips as he cycled his grandchildren around in a trailer – about the rules. “It’s just like a prison and the other guests are as miserable as inmates. I need to get out of the complex.” “Don’t worry Dad.” I said. “It’s only for a couple more days, and then you’re free to go back to Ireland. We know you don’t miss England much.”

I wanted the holiday to be fun for everyone. En route I turned to my husband: “I’m worried that the cheap cool box I bought from Brixton Market is not keeping our meat cold enough.” He looked at me with disgust and pity. “You need to get a life. Have you heard what’s happening in Syria? Could you worry about that a bit more please, rather than the state of our bacon?”

For the rest of the holiday, I left the fretting to my mother, who has almost made a career out of her concern for other people’s problems. From the sun-drenched patio of our holiday bungalow, we drank wine and watched the youngest children fashion beds for Lego figures out of old cigarette packets. I imagined we were sitting somewhere on the Amalfi coast.

“I’m worried about your brother. He hasn’t been answering his phone.” My sister and I hear this a lot, and feel it should be etched onto our mother’s headstone when she dies. Although we have three brothers, we always know that it’s the youngest she’s talking about. Most of the time he’s left his mobile in the pub, mistaken it for the remote control or simply not paid his bill.

Soon after we returned from our holiday I received a harried call from my mother who was back in Ireland. This time she had good reason to worry. My brother had broken his leg and was in hospital.

After watching the Olympics opening ceremony at the pub last week, he returned home and decided to inspect his fresh paintwork on the external window frames. He climbed a ladder and it didn’t quite reach the ledge of the second floor, so he decided that he would hoist himself up by his arms to have a closer look.

Quite what he could see in the dark well after midnight is questionable, but seconds later the ladder wobbled and he fell several feet.

What happened after that is complicated and changes with every telling of the story, but it took almost 20 hours from the fall (no phone nearby, a broken leg and concussion) for an ambulance to arrive.

My sister was forced to summon it after my mother had called her. “I’m worried about your brother. He’s just called me, having crawled to his phone on his hands and knees, to tell me that he’s in agony and is dehydrated after a fall, but doesn’t want an ambulance.” As my mother lives overseas it seems strange that my brother, in London, contacted her first. “For fuck’s sake mum. He’s mad. I’m calling an ambulance.”

My brother has always been mad. Everyone likes to think they have a mad person in their family, and they probably do. Madness is as common as normalness. You either fall into the category of the person who takes cough medicine when they have a cough, or drinks it when they’re bored or too poor to buy a bottle of wine. My brother would do the latter. If you want proof of more madness, he dressed as a vicar for a whole year when he was 10, and insisted on wearing a dog-collar to school everyday. He’s resolutely atheist now.

When he progressed to Secondary he became infatuated with the film Evita, and in the role of Antonio Banderas, danced with an imaginary Eva Peron for a couple of years after dinner every night. In between all of this he became obsessed with orthodontic rubber gloves (every time I went to have my traintracks tightened, he begged my orthodontist to give him some fresh pairs to see him through until the next visit). I may be painting a cruel picture of my brother, but it’s fine. He’s incredibly cruel to me sometimes. He once threw a baked potato at my head, when I had dared to dish him up the same amount of food as everyone else in the family at dinner. “I AM A GROWING MAN. I WORKED FOR FIVE HOURS TODAY CLEANING OUT MUM’S KILNER JARS.” Boy, he’s nuts, but he doesn’t worry, because he leaves that to everyone else.

I’ve just been to visit him in hospital. He was dosed up on Morphine, his legs bandaged and painted with iodine, and his visible flesh a shocking canvas of scabby graffiti. “Alright darl?” I visited my brother because, although I don’t particularly like him a lot of the time I will always love him for calling me darl.

After filling me in with stories of doctors “They’re bloody serious here. One asked me if I’d opened my bowels recently. I asked him why he didn’t say something a little bit more casual like have you done a number two? Then I told him no, because if he’d tried the food in this hospital, he wouldn’t be eating and therefore wouldn’t need a shit.” He told me off for bringing him the wrong type of facial wash. “I don’t have combination skin, but thanks.”

I left the hospital because I didn’t like it. I realise I have to get over my baseless fear because if I’m ever sick, I’ll need it more than it needs me. “Bye darl. I’ll probably be out of action for a good few months so mum’s taking me back to Ireland to rest.” My poor parents.

“This will be a wake up call for him. Then I can stop worrying,” my mother said to me on the phone last night, trying to see the positive side of the accident. I’m not so sure. My mother could do with worrying a bit less and my brother could do with worrying some more.


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