One of the nicest things about being back home is the chance to catch up with all my cousins. We grew up on a property of 5400 hectares in northwest NSW, which meant there was always someone to play with, and one was never unpopular at one’s birthday party because one could always guarantee that there would be eight other kiddies there. When our mums and dads went off for their booze-ups at country parties, we stayed at grandma’s and raided the dress-up box and played charades on the front lawn in the evenings, and the cool grass pricked our feet. If it was winter, we played indoors, while grandma’s old daschund lay before the fire and farted. Making a modest workforce of nine, we were recruited to round up sheep at shearing season, which often involved chasing the buggers down the creek when there was a breakaway, or catching lambs at marking time to have their tails docked and to pick the grass seeds out of their eyes to stop them getting cataracts. We spent the summers in each others’ pools and played Marco Polo, a game I hated because I could never hear where the voices were coming from and thus could never win.
We caught the same bus to school, and with nine Whites aboard, it was cacophonous. The boys played cat’s cradle, CousinG picked on her sister CousinV, CousinAl coerced Sister into sawing through the plastic headrest with a nailfile while the boy who lived down the road showed me his penis behind the back seat. The rest of the time I turned off my hearing aid and read my book.
As we grew up we gradually dispersed, so it’s always tremendously exciting when we get together again. Christmas last year was the first time in about six years, since Sister’s wedding, that we were all in one room. A vast amount of alcohol was imbibed, rude presents were distributed, and crackers were pulled, releasing their plastic hair twisties and magnets and poor jokes. When the kiddies ran amok and fought over toys, we put them to bed and CousinA pulled out his guitar and BrotherH played some chords on the untuned piano and we sang songs from Les Mis, then played charades again. To my immense satisfaction I was able to call out most of the answers before anyone else.
When I returned from England, CousinA kindly picked me up from the airport and I was astonished by his resemblance to my father. I stayed with him for a night, but was then promptly evicted as he was expecting female company, which was fine (at least someone was getting some). Heintroduced me to female wrestling on payTV and some awful cop show (in fact I don’t know why I’m discriminating, it was all mildly horrifying) where a cop tasered a woman who’d been speeding and she curled up on the road like an insect sprayed with Mortein. However I also got to watch tons of video clips, which was excellent jetlag recovery material.
Two weeks later (after I’d holed up with a friend), CousinA drove me and 2ndCousinD to Bathurst for CousinC’s wedding celebrations, whereupon 2ndCousinD thought it would be amusing to release noxious fumes into the car. I will never understand men and their basic humour.
The party was lovely, despite a tooth abscess which meant I was living off painkillers, and I wore my black and white frock from FCUK which was beautiful when I twirled, and drank six glasses of champagne which was four times my limit. Cousin Al inexplicably lifted her skirt to show her pantihose, my godmother saw me talking to 2ndCousinD and promptly interrogated him to see if he was marriage material (never mind the fact that I’ve published a novel and have a doctorate), then 2ndCousinD bought me a rum and Coke which I knew would make me spew if I drank it. So CousinE, who is training to be a doctor, put his arm around me and said I didn’t have to drink it if I didn’t want to, and gently took it from me and drank it himself. We then stumbled down the street to the local nightclub, where a girl with curly hair danced for an hour by herself until CousinA approached her and CousinE told me she was in love with a transgender person on the other side of the world and what did I think CousinA’s chances were, CousinC and his new wife had a spectacular dance-off, and CousinE turned around and called his girlfriend a skank and she promptly left. When CousinA enquired of his brother as to why he had done this, CousinE replied that he had no idea. We staggered back to the hotel at 3am, pausing by the greasy food stall to buy hot salty chips which tasted positively gourmet at that hour.
On the Queen's Birthday weekend we all met up again for Grandma’s 90th. This involved a 19 hour return journey for Sister and I, and two kids and two dogs. We were almost running on empty on the freeway and I, hyperventilating at visions of breaking down and waiting for assistance by the road with said kids and dogs, urged Sister to find the nearest exit. We found a very rustic service station, and Niece urgently needed to wee so I had to approach the woman manning the counter who was heavily accented, but on the third go I figured she was saying ‘Eet eez an outseede one.’ ‘Oh, that’s fine,’ I said, relieved that I’d finally got it. Niece wrinkled her nose in the toilet and said it smelled funny and I felt like saying, ‘Get over it, girl,’ but I held my tongue as she hadn’t grown up on a farm, then I cooed appropriately over the chooks she saw in the garden.
Grandma’s party started at 11.30am. By 12.30am someone had already asked me if I was married and I replied that no, I wasn’t rushing into that. UncleRi approached me as I was dishing out punch and told me that his brother (the youngest) had arrived and he had been very good, he hadn’t even said anything nasty about UncleRi's hair loss yet. I couldn’t hear most of the old biddies so I drank too much champagne again and when that ran out I gasped, ‘My coping mechanism!’ But Sister kindly went to the bottle shop and got more. Everyone asked after parental unit and I said I had no idea where they were; in Eastern Europe somewhere and I hoped they weren’t dead. There was more singing, but alas no drunken dancing, and I stayed up late talking to CousinA and CousinG.
The next day the others played tennis and I went back to bed on account of the champagne, then we drove to AuntM and UncleRo’s farm, where they had a neurotic kelpie that chased its tale until it tired and a boisterous Labrador that jumped on the kiddies so he was whacked with a rolled-up newspaper. CousinAl asked UncleR if he’d take the kiddies for a ride on the tractor and he made a face and CousinAl said, ‘You’d rather stick pins in your eyes, wouldn’t you UncleR?’ However CousinA got out the Case tractor which made Nephew wild with joy, and BabyA was taken for a spin on the quadrunner, and we climbed into the back of the ute and unrolled the hay for the cows, just like when we were kids. In the afternoon CousinA whipped out his guitar and there was much singing and dancing with cousins and kiddies, and Nephew crawled under the coffee table and curled up. When his mother enquired as to what he was doing there, he said he was a bit tired and was just having a rest. When this was relayed to me I said I wouldn't mind finding a table to crawl under myself.
Is it any surprise, then, that our partners are often unable to cope with our shenanigans, or that we are more like brothers and sisters than cousins?