Tuesday, 11 January 2011
Sunday December 26th – The Naughty List.
I think it was probably at the end of August when we were originally invited to spend Boxing Day with Hoobiz parents. Yet it was only about a week ago when we agreed that I was to drive. Oh help! I do not wish to appear as a mindless in-law-basher, but I was rather dreading today.
The good news is that Christmas is the one occasion where Helmut and Bridget like to dress up.Yes, luckily clothes are all part of the festive package. Also, cold meats and salads are on the festive menu, which means that Helmut will not be terrifying the neighbours with the Barbie.
The bad news is, well, we are going. I can’t have anything to drink and all of the salads contain meat. Call me old fashioned, but I do love a few greens or vegetables in my salads. For me, coleslaw with corned beef instead of carrots, baked beans in place of cabbage and kidneys rather than onion, is not in the purest sense still coleslaw. But hey, I know I’m a bit fussy.
In fairness, Hoobiz’s parents are smitten with The Little Perfect One and are delighted to see him. Bridget must love packing, but her other main passions are birth and death. Perhaps the bit in the middle is all just a bit messy. Still, babies are a good thing and TLPO still fits those dungarees. They present a bouncing TLPO with a blue stocking and a large box.
Hoobiz and I are both given envelopes with tokens, as of course, actual presents are only really ‘for the children’. Not that they objected to opening their TLPO calendar, single malt, glasses or perfume. No they’re quite accommodating like that.
The Little Perfect One is now an expert gift-wrap ripper. He was delighted to discover that the large box contained chunky plastic animals in an open-topped train. Hoobiz and I are not so thrilled to learn that the on-button is stuck. This means that the shrill Californian woman will keep singing about the joy of learning about elephants until we tear out the batteries.
Still, everyone was in a good mood and we were all having a nice time. The Little Perfect One was happily playing ‘safari the musical’ with Bridget, but he got a bit upset when Helmut tried to join in. TLPO is just not sure of his Grandpa, which is not really that surprising.
Helmut is tall and thin, with a little pot belly. He’s actually closer to 7 feet than he is to 6 feet and often needs to stoop just to clear the door frame. However, when allocated clear headroom he stands perfectly to attention. Perhaps this is as a result of his military background, but it reminds me of a pointer spotting a rabbit. If you are not used to it, it’s all a bit startling.
Hoobiz’s Dad has decided that it’s not his gruff manor or awkward posture that unnerves TLPO . No, ‘he doesn’t like the beard.’ Well I wanted to say that TLPO was perfectly at ease with Father Christmas at the Garden Centre, but then I remember that it is the season to be jolly after all.
All too quickly it’s time for The Little Perfect One’s nap. This is where it gets a bit tricky, as the conversation slows to comments about the food.
’There’s loads of beef and turkey and salads left. Please help yourselves,’ says Bridget.
The problem is that Hoobiz and I have managed just about all the freaky buffet that we can stomach and there’s not really much more to be said. This is the ‘danger’ time, as Helmut is seemingly terrified of silence. Any gap in noise levels must be filled and he has a very limited selection of stuffing.
‘Marcella,’ he begins, tapping the side of his skinny thigh, ‘Do you know why they say I have lucky legs?’ I smile weakly and twitch rather than shake my head. ‘They’re lucky’, booms Helmut, ‘lucky they don’t break.’
I can feel Hoobiz wilting into the back of the sofa. I’m not sure there is a number big enough to count the amount of times Hoobiz has been told about ‘lucky legs’, but I would guess that I have shared this joke on over 800 occasions. Still, it’s Christmas! Crappy old jokes are part of the package.
‘You know Marcella, I’m getting a bit fat in my old age though’, continues Helmut, ’yes, I look like a straw that swallowed a pea!’ he announces, proudly patting his paunch.
Oh dear! I can’t take much more of this... think...think...think of something, anything to say and do it now.
‘The Little Perfect One is doing ever so well with his food.’ I say, trying not to clutch at any straws that might have peas in them.
‘Oh, that’s nice,’ says Bridget. It’s not like birth, death or packing, but food is at least of some interest to Bridget.
‘Does he eat ice-cream and chocolate yet?’ asks Bridget. Silly me, I had thought she want to know if he’d tried Kangaroo Nicoise, but of course children must eat sweets.
‘We’re not really in any rush to give him that sort of thing’, says Hoobiz, ‘I mean, we try to give him as much fresh organic fruit and veg as possible.’
‘No!’ roars Helmut, ‘No that’s a scam that organic rubbish. I saw it on Watchdog.’
‘Actually Dad,’ replies Hoobiz, ‘we happen to believe that it’s just better for you. It’s not really a scam. Wherever you are and whatever you do, sometimes people will try and rip you off. You know there are a load of dodgy sites on the internet, but it doesn’t mean that the whole thing is a scam.’
‘Most of the internet is a scam, my boy, and most of these farmers are in on a scam’ concludes Helmut with an air of triumph.
Okay, so I’m going to give it another go... think... think... something TLPO related is best, but ideally with a limited potential for scams.
‘I just can’t believe how quickly it’s all going,’ I say as cheerfully as I possibly can,’ I think we might just blink and TLPO will be in school.’
‘Yes, it just flies by,’ Bridget laughs, ’Do you know I hated school? Those Nuns were just so mean.’
Perfect! I’ve managed to open up a conversation which is short on both vegetables and scams. Bridget continues to tell us how her and her friends shortened their skirts and sneaked out of games lessons to smoke cigarettes and hang out with the local boys. If I wasn’t sitting down, I might have fallen over. This was juicy stuff coming from the famously forgetful Bridget. Wow! I was actually having a laugh with my in-laws!
‘Yes, I was so naughty,’ confesses Bridget, ‘I didn’t even turn up for my exams. What was the point? I hadn’t been to hardly any lessons.’
‘Yes I was a properly naughty little shit,’ declares Helmut, unable to stay quiet for too long, ‘you know I thought I could buck the system, until I learnt differently. That’s what all stupid young people think, they think they can buck the system.’
I can’t help but think how unlike Hoobiz they are. Hoobiz liked school and he did well academically. This can’t have been easy when he only spent a few months at a time in the same place. I am sure he would be a bit annoyed if I said he was a swot, but he was certainly a good boy. He was a Prefect, for goodness sake!
With this in mind, I playfully ask who of their three children was the naughtiest.
As suspected, they both reply in unison, ‘Hoobiz’. Of course, I’m laughing heartily. This is a good game...except I look up and stony faces are staring at me. I’m struggling with the idea that they could actually be serious. Oh well, perhaps Helmut has remembered a new story today and I’ll find out about the time that Hoobiz hid his shoes or put the salt in the sugar bowl.
‘No’, says Helmut sternly,’ you caused me a lot of problems, boy. You thought you could try and play mind games.’
‘Mind games?’, queries Hoobiz, ‘You’ve said that before. What exactly do you mean?’
It turns out that there were two notable exploits in Hoobiz’s long, naughty career. The first happened when he was about 8 years old and refused to touch a cow’s heart. The teacher tried to force his hand into the slashed offal and Hoobiz ran out of the classroom. The second must have been an episode of serious teenage heartbreak, as Hoobiz has mentioned it before. 17 year old Hoobiz caught his girlfriend and his best mate snogging outside a drama rehearsal and as a consequence refused to learn his lines for the school play. Interestingly, the one thing these two acts of outrageous behaviour have in common is that Hoobiz’s parents were called into the school.
‘No,’ barks Helmut, ‘you used to push and push. You just wouldn’t let go of something.’
‘What? So you mean like any normal teenager?’, asks a slightly irritated Hoobiz.
‘No, the other kids would ask and then drop it. They would probably still go and do it anyway behind our backs, but they wouldn’t keep on like you’ growls Helmut.
No, responsibility is not something that sits well with Hoobiz’s parents.
‘No! This was not normal teenage business. You played mind games and you read books.’ says Helmut by way of an explanation.
Hoobiz loves to learn and his parents are fearful of anything new. I wonder if perhaps his ‘book learning’ was taken as a sign of devil worship.
‘What’s wrong with reading? What on earth do you mean by mind games?’, asks Hoobiz clearly.
‘No! I don’t want to talk about it!’ declares Helmut, holding up his hands abruptly.
‘You said it and I’m just asking you to explain what you actually mean. You can’t just say that I played mind games and not be able to back it up’, says Hoobiz, trying his best to stay calm.
‘There you go, you see!’ bellows Helmut,’ you’re doing it now! You’re pushing and you won’t leave it.’
I’m a little bit embarrassed at this point and squirm awkwardly rather than speak. Bridget nods in agreement with Helmut and adds that the Headmaster of the 17 year old Hoobiz had recommended he see a psychologist. However, she does concede that Helmut brought it up and should try to clarify what he means.
Helmut will not be drawn on the specifics of ‘mind games’, but does caution Hoobiz, ‘You should be grateful I got you out of it.’
I know Hoobiz is furious. For nearly 10 years I’ve watched him bend over backwards in an attempt to gain his parents approval. His sister Fizz is quite possibly the most miserable, bitter creature in existence, but asks very few questions and so therefore can do no wrong. Hoobiz brother Axle is a charming individual, but with a very loose understanding of right and wrong. In fact, Axle is very vague on the line between that which is legal and that which is criminal. Yet, Axle buys elaborate gifts and goes to church, so he is beyond reproach. Still, this is not Hoobiz’s siblings’ fault, no this failing lies squarely with his parents.
Naughty Hoobiz is still intent on pushing for answers, ‘Look, if it was that bad, I’m just trying to establish what I did that was so terrible and what these ‘mind games’ were all about?’
‘You can’t help yourself, can you boy?’ says Helmut pointedly, ‘you think you can push and push. That’s all you ever wanted to do, was to see how far you could push people. Well, I’ll tell you this much, I just hope you don’t have such a dreadful time with your children.’
How dare you? I think to myself. I want to say something, anything to help Hoobiz, but am terrified of making it worse. I can feel Hoobiz shaking beside me on the sofa.
Vile Helmut appears to be on a bit of a roll now, ‘Look at Axle, he never gave us no problems and now he has a daughter who is causing him masses of drama.’
‘Oh no, Axle hasn’t ever done anything fraudulent or illegal or even immoral, has he?’ Hoobiz snaps.
‘Axle’s business is his business,’ says Helmut with a dismissive wave.
At this point The Little Perfect One wakes up from his nap and there is a frail attempt at polite conversation before we head back home.
After we’ve put TLPO to bed, Hoobiz starts to cry.
‘I am at the point where I don’t know if I even want much of a relationship with them.’ says Hoobiz.
I wish I could say it was a misunderstanding and that they could clear it up tomorrow, but Bridget and Helmut just don’t talk about things like that. In their world it will be remembered as a lovely Boxing Day spent with their Grandson.
Hoobiz continues, ‘I just want to have parents who love and support me like yours do.’
This makes me cry and all I can do is simply tell him the truth. I tell Hoobiz that he is an amazing father and that I know he’ll always be there for The Little Perfect One.
There are times when I have thought that I have been overly hard on Helmut and Bridget, but right now I know that they are just not very good parents. I knew it six months into our relationship when Hoobiz was critically ill in hospital and it was simply too difficult for them to visit him.
I just wish there was a way to make them stop hurting him. I don’t understand why he still wants their approval. Family is supposed to be a good thing, if it’s not, then why bother with it? Unfortunately I’ve learned that for so many people it’s not like that.