Dot writes: when I was in Leeds last month I went over to York for the day and visited a good friend from my time as a PhD student there. He was a mature student also studying for a PhD back then, and now works for a living history museum employing his skills as a historian and (talented) amateur actor by impersonating Vikings, Romans and Elizabethans. He has lived his whole life in York, and indeed I think he’s lived his whole life in the same street, though that might be his wife. His wife and their extended family and network of friends have remained in York for decades. They are stalwarts of their local church (where Ken and I got married) and also of the local drama scene. There are sacrifices associated with this kind of stability, mostly to do with career flexibility and income: I don’t know whether my friend would have wanted an academic career, but he certainly hasn’t been in a position to pursue that course in the way some of the rest of our cohort did (e.g. me). On the other hand, I rather envy how wonderfully settled and connected he is. He has deep friendships that go back years with people he sees constantly. He belongs intimately and utterly to the place where he is, knowing it inside out, at ease everywhere. Although money has always been a bit tight, support from family and community have never been lacking.
This past week we’ve had a little taste of the connected life, or at least of being surrounded by extended family. My mother and also my sister, her husband and her small daughter all came to stay. Now they’ve gone, well, it does feel a bit quiet and lonely. So what have we learnt about the alternative world in which we live cheek by jowl with our family?
– in this version of the family unit most of the cooking is done by my brother-in-law, and he’s jolly good at it.
– I am perfectly capable of doing constructive things like reading practice with Hugh every day, and also not so bad at discipline when I have the energy for it.
– on the other hand, I don’t think there is any bifurcation of the trousers of time in which I end up being conscientious about housework.
– the boys like their little cousin and she seems to like them.
– however, combining a seventeen-month-old, a three-going-on-four-year-old and a five-and-a-half-year-old in one house involves an awful lot of shushing while naps and complicated bedtime routines take place.
– being very quiet is not among the talents of two small boys. Though they did make some quite creditable attempts.
– the more people there are, the more combinations of two people there are that can get in a little huddle to complain about the others.
– the more people there are, the longer it takes to leave the house.
– grandmas make the world go round.
– there are some things that are much, much better if I can do them with my sister. In this case, shopping and going to the theatre.
Admittedly, all this happy stuff is part of a brief and rare effort and doubtless we’d all get on each other’s nerves if we had to be together all the time. Nor, going back to my York friend, would I want to rub out the experience I’ve had of living in several different places, most of which I’ve liked and all of which I’ve learnt from. But I do wish my family didn’t all live quite so far apart. I need to persuade my parents to retire to Wales – I like Wales, and it’s a nice easy journey on the ferry – only they’d want to take their church, mum’s choir, my aunt and quite a lot of pubs along with them. (They’re blow-ins by Norfolk standards, but nonetheless they’ve been there over forty years and they are actually quite settled now.) Then we just need to get Ken’s brother, mother and father to move over from New Zealand and we’ll be sorted.