As occasions go, I can’t let it go by without remark. Granted, there are others who are equally if not more qualified than I to say something but believe me when I say there are sound reasons as to why it should fall to me. I’m sure my father has plenty of thoughts on the matter, but this column is only half a page long and the risk of a voluminous outpouring that is unlikely to remain on topic is simply too great – as anyone who saw my father give a speech at my sister’s wedding would doubtless attest (ideally, wedding speeches should be about the wedding in question, and not about the time you and your best friend used dynamite to launch a tree stump into space). My brother, Cameron, has turned fifty.
I’d describe myself as his older brother but, traditionally, that has been a disputed statement. That’s because we’re the same age, he and I, for four days every year. As kids, these were the most fractious days of the year – I’m surprised our parents didn’t drive us out into the wilderness and leave us there, so incessant was out bickering. Our conflict was rooted in a mathematically-challenged assertion that we were, for those four days, ‘the same age’ and, as a consequence, I was ‘no longer the boss’ of him.
As someone who, most of the year, was an undisputed older sibling, the news that I had ever been the ‘boss’ of my slightly younger brother, came as something as a shock. Had I been aware, I would have made more of it. But once I overcame the initial shock, I quickly despaired at his cavalier attitude to maths. Granted, we’d accumulated the same number of years, but there were still nearly twelve months separating us and I was, without doubt, still the older brother. Cam wasn’t having it. He rejected my appeals to reason outright. Not because he can’t count (he can) but because he knew that to do so would wind me up like watch. Which it did.
But as difficult as these four days were, there have been many advantages to having a sibling who is (practically) the same age. It means that there are many things you don’t have to experience alone. This is particularly true of social events, where my natural inclination would have led me to avoid them completely. But with my brother, I always had the option of tagging along. Were it not for him, I’d have seen, heard and done a lot less than I have. Mostly, that’s a good thing. Through my brother, I have lived an almost unparalleled vicarious life.
Because of him, I never have to wonder what would happen if I tried to make wine out of blackberries. Cam launched himself into the business of wine making in the same way he does everything else – with extraordinary gusto. This enthusiasm resulted in him generating litres of the stuff, poured into old sherry jugs and left to ferment on the back step. Then, without warning, the jugs began exploding, sending blackberry wine in all directions and the dog off the bush from where it refused to return for several days.
He was passionate, too, about break dancing for a time, even going so far as to sign up for lessons. Although he only studied for a little while, he’s still known to break out the odd cardboard box for a few backspins now and again. There was a mercifully brief flirtation with motorbike riding, a short stint learning karate and a moment during which he was deeply committed to scuba diving. There was phase in which he curated bonsai plants and the time he decided to build a greenhouse and constructed something so elaborate and beautiful that it could easily have been upgraded to ‘primary residence’ status.
Somewhere along the line, he no longer fought with me for four days a year. Either he was confident that I was not the boss of him for the rest of the year (which I wasn’t) or he no longer considered being the same age as me to be a desirable outcome. He may even have been in denial. As late as last week, he insisted he was ‘mid-forties’. For my part, I took to labelling pictures of him in family calendars as ‘late 40s’ and, for several weeks before his actual birthday, sent ‘gifs’ wishing him a happy fiftieth. It was, so I claimed, to get him used to the idea. I may have gone slightly too far when I gave him a card that read ‘ninety years today’ and suggested I was ‘getting in early’.
Landmark birthdays are funny. Often, they’re an opportunity to remind that person how lucky they are. But I’m the lucky one. To have a brother who’s practically the same age has been a gift (not ‘gif’). I don’t mind the fact that we used for fight for four days every year as he challenged my authority.
I don’t care that, for years, his favourite trick whenever we went anywhere was to park so that the passenger door was right up against a tree and I couldn’t get out. I’m fine with the fact that when he used to ask how I’d done in any kind of athletic event, he’d let me answer and then claimed he’d done ever so slightly better. I’m just thankful he’s here. Happy birthday, Cam.