Saturday 12 June 2010

The apple tree never asks

My uncle, a gifted linguist, drifts in and out of the broadly accepted version of sanity. I’ve mentioned this fact before. I’m forever hopeful he’ll turn into a Blake and thrill me with supernatural flights of wild fancy, but his hands seem firmly rooted to the pound, alas, and his madness is gallingly mundane.

Now that he’s 72 and long since retired from teaching languages - and in between those times that he finds himself involuntarily sectioned - he’s helping Chinese people make sense of Aberdeen. No easy thing, I’m guessing, as Aberdonians themselves have struggled to make sense of the place for years.

He also appears to be having regular sex with a woman he met at his “church”. I place the word “church” in inverted commas, I should say, because there have been so many breakaways and sub-sects formed – each one looking for an ever more ferocious response to the perils of sin and sinners, and each one demanding escalating displays of public piety – that I’m no longer sure if his church is recognised as such by anyone much at all, especially not baby Jesus. (Oh, I’m reminded of one of my favourite sayings, describing Puritanism thusly: the haunting feeling that someone, somewhere, may be happy.)

Anyway, good for him and good for her. I hope they’re biting each other and doing something really dirty up against their walls, employing (one imagines) guilt and shame to optimal effect. And when he’s not doing these things, he’s playing the stock market.

You need to be mad or surpassingly greedy to do such a thing, I feel, so he’s ahead of the game on both counts. He’s simply fantastic at it, however, and has money falling out of his face. All in all, he’s worth millions – if you care to judge a person’s worth this way. I say he’s worth millions, of course, but he’s been hammered (brutalised) by the global financial meltdown and I’d be surprised if he could even cobble together a theoretical million these days. Hmm. I shouldn’t laugh, really, as I’m in a play-off with my three sisters in his will (he has no children of his own), but it’s kind of hard not to.

(The last time he was (involuntarily) sectioned he had to be zapped with electricity as he’d stopped eating to the point of death. His lips were manky, crusted shut – not a good look, unstylish - although he could manage a whispered let me die. That’s a moral dilemma for another day, however.)


Invest, invest, invest. I can’t think of a time he’s not barked this at me, between those biting sermons on gentle Jesus or trying to get me hooked on golf. I’ve always responded in the same way (and not just to the concept of golf): but why, but why, but why?

I want to push him into a corner; I want to make him say the words: “because it means more money”. And I want him to hear himself say these words, I suppose, in the hope that he may suddenly feel as soul-sick as I do. It’s not going well, but then it never really has. A summarised version of these past 20 years:

But why?
Because it’s a sure thing.
The profits will be astronomical.
You can’t just sit on your money, Jamie.
Why not?
Because everyday bank accounts don’t have high interest rates.
Well, you won’t make any profit.
Why would I want to make a profit on money that’s already there?

He’ll usually just stop at this point, however, and look at me as if I’m the crazy one. But I’m not. He is. My way’s better, that’s just a fact (in my head), and besides - what’s the hurry? I love him unequivocally, without complaint, and yet he also entirely disgusts me; a tawdry microcosm of all that’s wrong in these particularly shallow pools of oil-infested water. My way’s better; abide with me.

(And the gentle angels start to sing: change and decay in all around I see; O thou who changest not….tra la la laaaaaaaaa.)

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