I always wanted a brother.
And not just any old brother. An older brother, one who would beat up the big lads that picked on me in the park. One who would wear a leather jacket and repair motorcycles in the garage at home, teaching me the life skills that my father wouldn't. How to get drunk, how to smoke a cig, how to chat up the chicks, how to climb a tree and how to build a campfire. The important stuff.
In my mind, an older brother was a hero. Some of my friends had them. They were the prototypes, the ones that had been around the block a few times, had made all the mistakes already and were able to pass down the secrets of a successful childhood. A blueprint detailing what not to do in the form of a taller, more handsome, overly protective version of one's self.
But, alas, it wasn't to be.
I wasn't only the first born son, I was the first born grandson too. I didn't even have an older cousin. It was me that was the prototype, the one whose duty it was to make the mistakes that any younger siblings fortunate enough to follow in my wake would learn by. It was a daunting prospect.
Even more disappointing than the realisation that I was never to have a big brother was the realisation that my little brother had no penis. My little brother, the one that was supposed to look up to me and learn how to service a two-stroke engine under my tutelage had been born with lady-bits. He was no better than a bloody girl and I was damned if I was taking him under my arm.
Eventually, though, I came to terms with the situation. My brother, as much as I longed for him to be so, wasn't my brother at all. My feckless, useless, half-arsed parents had made a terrible mistake and opted for a girl instead of a boy. A bloody sister. Just what every small boy wants.
At some point, before I reached school age in the early 1970s, my father acquired a shit load of louver doors from a bloke named Chalky and embarked upon a mission to replace every door in our house with them. My father didn't have a younger brother, he was lucky enough to have been born second, so he had no younger sibling to learn from his mistake, that being that doors with gaps in, whilst giving your home that Scandinavian look that was all the rage in those heady days of test cards on the telly and white dog shit on the streets, make for very draughty houses.
Once every door had been replaced, dad still had more louver doors in the shed than you could shake a stick at. Never a man to see good timber go to waste, he used the left overs to construct fitted wardrobes in all three bedrooms. This meant, for a month or so, I had to share a room with my dickless brother, Victoria, whilst my room was completed.
Victoria cried a lot, especially at bedtimes. She was coming toward the end of that period in her life when bedtime meant imprisonment. She'd be lowered into her cot by my mother as my father tucked me into the squeaky, creaky camp bed he'd borrowed, screaming and screeching and demanding she not be left behind those wooden bars that made up her comfy, warm cell.
We were all well used to her caterwauling, it had been an almost constant soundtrack since we'd brought her home, and we'd become mainly deaf to it but, now having to sleep within a few feet of where she lay, I found myself unable to locate the land of Nod.
I loved drawing as a child. I'd draw a picture of a cowboy or a pirate, a monster or a happy house with smoke curling from the chimney before being tucked in every night, and the pencils, crayons and drawing book I'd used would be placed upon the top the chest of drawers that stood between my camp bed and her cot by my father before he and my mother retreated downstairs and turned the television up. One night, in frustration, I took two crayons from their packet and screwed them into my ears. It worked! All was silent. I looked across at my sister, expecting to see her standing with cheeks of scarlet, grasping the bars of her cage whilst her mouth opened and closed, silently screaming.
She wasn't. She was laughing at me.
I took the crayons from my lugholes and smiled back, but her bottom lip started to wobble and so I rammed them back in. Upping my game, I took a pencil and inserted it into a nostril. More hilarity. I pulled the little rubber from the metal collar of another pencil, placing it in my vacant nostril and tilting my head back. I snorted, sending the rubber shooting across the room and bouncing off her forehead. She turned, rummaging around in the bedclothes, found the rubber and held it out through the bars.
"Again." Her vocabulary wasn't all it could be at that point.
Again and again and again and again she returned the rubber for me to fire at her, each time with heavier eyes and a dreamier smile, until, eventually, she fell asleep with her face against the bars.
Each night I'd repeat the procedure, becoming quite the crackshot in the process, until one night I sucked when I should've blown. Coughing and spluttering and making an odd whistling noise as I sobbed, I managed to raise the alarm. My father pinned me to the camp bed and, as carefully as he could, used the penknife he always carried to remove the little, cylindrical bung from my nose, a lengthy process made lengthier by the bollocking he administered during the surgery for doing nothing worse than making a stupid mistake. A stupid mistake that left me with a sore nose and that taught my little sister not to stick stuff up her own nostrils.
The bollocking was probably warranted, as was the swollen nose that kept bleeding for days after and the rather macabre descriptions of what might have happened furnished by my mother the following morning. Warranted and necessary, a lesson learnt by mistake. Three lessons, in fact. The lesson I learnt, "don't stick stuff up your nose", the lesson my parents learnt, "don't leave stuff around that your kids could stick up their nose" and my sister's lesson, "if you don't want your father to pin you down and stick a blade clumsily up one of your nostrils resulting in your favourite Manchester City pillowcase being spattered in blood and stained for evermore then don't stick stuff up your nose, no matter how annoying your younger sibling is".
Mistakes are a handy thing to encounter. The reason the big brother knows how to drink, to smoke, to kiss and to fight is because he tried, failed and tried again. Older brothers make our mistakes so that you don't have too, but we cant fuck everything up for you. If you never make any mistakes of your own you've scant chance of ever learning anything. Everyone makes mistakes...
...that why they put rubbers on pencils.