Years ago, before my twenty sixth birthday, I was on a small boat with an outboard motor passing down the west coast of Colombia. We passed an inlet and we were told that big whales came here every year. Now in this area I now find this picture on Google earth. I have lived those twenty six years one and a half times again, but I will never forget those four months in the jungle and the long trip getting there.
My brother Gareth visited us for one afternoon last Tuesday. I thought I would write a bit about my older brother, my only sibling until I was eight.Sometimes he would make me cry with verbal attacks and often I would wish that I could catch up with him in his accomplishments and mental ability. He loved to argue and put his opponent down, making them feel stupid if possible,but he was also protective of me and my best friend. It seems he would often involve me in one of his schemes. We built an elaborate swing at the bottom of our garden. To launch myself, I would stand on a fence on top of a small hill and swing out over the garden. The swing itself was suspended from a rope strung between two trees. Gareth had designed all this, but, as I remember it, I was much more foolhardy in swinging high above the garden and eventually stopping myself again on top of the fence. Another time, Gareth dug a great hole in that same hill and we stole a huge slab of paving stone from the builders who were installing some garden steps for my mother. We transported the slab and laid it at the bottom of the hole. Then we built another wooden floor inside the hole and a roof over the top. We could just crawl into our little house with two floors. When I was quite young we had a house cat called Brum who was mainly attached to Ned, my brother's Irish god father who lived with us in the house. Ned had only one working lung, as he had been shot through the other one during the troubles, a my Irish mother called them. Ned used to go to the pub every night for one pint of beer and Brum, the cat, would wait for his return at the end of the driveway up to the house. One night Ned stood up to leave the pub and fell forward stone dead from a heart attack. Brum waited and waited for Ned to return and soon died himself. We buried him in the garden and my mother bought a wooden plaque and carving tools for Gareth and I to make a little marker for the grave. In time the grass where we had buried him sank down in a little dip and the wooden plaque hung around the garage, a testament to our lack of skill and willingness to teach ourselves to carve the wood. My father's youngest brother lived out in the country and, when we visited him, he made us long bows, supposedly just like the long bows used by the English army in the fourteenth century. I think we bought some arrows. Back in our garden in Hampstead, we fired the arrows straight up into the air and watched their trajectory carefully so that we would not be under them when they fell back into our garden. This game was cut short very quickly when an arrow I had fired landed in our neighbour's garden, where two little girls often played. Fortunately they were not in their garden and I had to climb over the fence, run into the centre of their lawn and retrieve the awfully incriminating arrow planted straight up in their grass. When I was eight, a new little brother came along. By then we were at school in Paris and Gareth and I grew apart, each with our own friends appropriate to our ages. I stayed on in France a little longer than Gareth and when I got back to England we were in different schools for a while. By the time I joined him at the same boarding school, he was a scholar in a different house from mine. At home he had turned to arguing with our mother and I was somewhat disturbed by them both appealing to me to be on one side or the other. Our father had left us by then and I came to think that all families were as unhappy as ours was. I never did catch up with Gareth.