My mother came to stay this week, having cozened her way in with the feeble excuse that she needed to recuperate after an eye operation. When I grumbled that she could recover just as well in her boat, or indeed in Timbuktu, my grandmother just gave me a warning glance.
So that was that.
The old bag should have gone after the weekend but lingered on like a bad smell for a few days more. She spent most of the time complaining about her health and general incapacity but I noticed she had no problem swilling copious amounts of gin.
The second best gin.
She has spent thirty years frittering away the family's money on exotic holidays, substances and men and now, utterly unemployable, faces the bleak prospect of an impecunious old age. Thus she is on the hunt for someone, anyone, who might throw her a financial lifeline. She is desperately afraid my grandmother will live to be 90 and that she will never get her grubby mitts on the cash.
I was six when we made our twelfth move. My mother had decided that married life and honesty were not for her: she wanted her old life of parties, drugs and casual sex, though not a job.
We walked out, or I was dragged out, on my father, or the man I thought was my father; I still remember the sadness when we said goodbye: a good man.
After a brief sojourn in a caravan in a farmer's field, we landed at Lower Lodge in Binfield Heath, near Henley-on-Thames. This is now Millionaires' Row but then was still a pleasant place.
We lodged at the Lodge with Yoni, the local midwife, who had been one of my 'father's' girlfriends. What jolly japes the girls had there! Every night one or the other could stay out, returning shagged in the morn, and then the Lodge was filled with redolent fumes of herb.
I do not remember how I got the Kite. Perhaps my Grandpa, may he rest in peace, gave it to me. I do remember how beautiful it was, red, with a dragon's face and a sinuous tail.
I lodged with the Brasses once, and the paterfamilias was Mike. He had only two, inexhaustible topics of conversation: where to find food and whores and the genius of his family. I saw few examples of genius, but I did hear a lot of flatulence, most of it from Mike himself, who was as prolific that end as the other.
One morning the Brass was enjoying his breakfast: 4 sausages, 2 duck eggs, six thick rashers of bacon, a chunk of foie gras, mushrooms, toast and coffee.
“I could have been a concert pianist as well as a mathematical genius, you know. I wonder what it is about my family.”
“What do you mean?” I said, sipping my coffee and avoiding looking at his hairy belly as it gurgled and shook.
“Well, genes like ours don’t come from nowhere. I’m sure before my grandfather came from Russia we must have been musicians, artists, scientists. What do you think?”
“I’m sure you’re right: symphonies from all the Mighty Handful must have accompanied your family’s exit from Mother Russia.”