Keeping It In The Family

Sidey is back, and her Weekend Theme is “family heirlooms”… 

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There is a saying that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.

And there is another saying, which is that if it’s the length of a jumbo jet and has the same number of wings as a jumbo jet, then it’s probably Daniel’s aunt & uncle’s house in the country.

Daniel was seven, and this was his first visit to Aunt Jocelyn and Uncle Mervyn’s house, since they had been abroad for number of years (an old family euphemism for “in jail for tax fraud”) . He and his parents arrived via the half-mile-long driveway which ended in a vast gravelled circle, in the centre of which was a fountain. This was kept filled by a naked cherub standing on one leg, with a seemingly endless supply of spit.

They were greeted by a blizzard of hugs, manly handshakes (Aunt Jocelyn rode out a lot, she had a grip like the jaws of a crocodile) and remarks about how much Daniel had grown. They went through the great front door and found themselves in a huge hallway with a massive chandelier, twinkling-tinkling from the front door’s breeze, and a gigantic central staircase that quite possibly led nowhere, just for show.

Daniel was shown to a bedroom in the East Wing, with the grandeur of a four-poster bed, the warm glow of an open fire, and the hint of a ghost. There was no ghost and never had been, but his aunt and uncle, though childless themselves, knew exactly what a seven-year old boy wanted to hear.

Daniel spent that week in heaven. In the grounds were a folly, a ha-ha and a gazebo. Daniel had no idea what any of those things were, perhaps someone was laughing at the folly of having a gazebo. But he knew what a maze was, and literally lost himself in play there, having eventually to be led out by his Dad.

There was a small lake with a hut set on a tiny island, with a boat that you could row out to it, if by rowing you meant carrying the boat around your waist like a child’s paddling ring.

The house itself had over fifty rooms to explore. There was a banqueting room, for banquets, a smoking room, for smokers, and a ballroom, where they played billiards.

And then there the family heirlooms, or stuff that no-one had ever bothered to throw out.  There were paintings of long-dead family members, passed down through the generations like their brown eyes and their fondness for port. Amid the vast tapestries of spider-webs were vast tapestries. There was a commode, essentially an outdoor toilet indoors. There was an ear-trumpet, surely the most unsubtle way of dealing with a disability ever.

And there were suits of armour, because no old great house is complete without them. Daniel was forbidden to try to climb into them, but one evening, while the adults were playing bridge in the other wing, he got into one and clanked around, like the villains in Scooby Doo.

He’d have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t been for that pesky flight of stairs.

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