Monday, March 29, 2010

Obscure Relatives Hour

I don't have a lot of contact with my family these days, what with the living multiple plane trips away and all. Newcastle airport is not so much a proper commercial airport as a tin shed where planes go sometimes. Maybe. If they feel like it. There's only one or two gates, plus a Hungry Jack's and a gift shop. There's none of the hassle of getting lost because it's all one big room, really. And yet, there's still more than one bar.

I was thinking about my family the other day. I have an assortment of relatives all over the globe, which is nice for if I'm ever overseas and in a bind for a place to stay. I remember when I was a kid and my dad's cousin was marrying someone from Uruguay, my parents got to go to a traditional South American wedding where everyone got given maraccas. Needless to say, I was extremely jealous.

Often when I was growing up, visiting relatives would stay in my grandparents' house, which was walking distance from the house I grew up in. As a result, some of my most fondly remembered relatives were people I only met once.

The first favourite I can remember picking was a woman who came to stay for a week or so when I was quite young, maybe ten or eleven. Technically speaking she was my great aunt by marriage so although not related to me by blood, she was still family. She was from Switzerland and was the biggest stereotype I have ever met in my life. Her name was either Helga or Hilda and she was large and jolly with a laugh that sounded like yodeling. In fact, her accent made it sound like pretty much everything she said was yodeling. I thought she was the greatest. The beach was about 100 metres from my grandparents' back fence, with a little path that wound it's way down to the sand. You can imagine how exciting this was for a Swiss caricature who wasn't used to being able to step outside with less than three layers on. This was a long time ago and I don't remember many of the details, but I can remember her splashing around in the water in an old-fashioned swimsuit, laughing like it was the craziest thing. I decided then and there that I was going to ditch Australia for a while and go hang out in the alps with Helga. Or Hilda. Obviously I never did or I might be able to remember her name.

The next favourite relative I had is one I do plan on spending some time with as soon as I have the money. Aunty Susie was a woman who was hyped up through my entire childhood. I didn't meet her until I was fourteen because she lived in England, but everyone told me that she and I were peas in a pod. This is the aunt I mentioned that knows Baldrick from Blackadder and spends her spare time digging up ancient Roman skeletons. She also lives in a village called Cheddar. At first I assumed that surely the cheese had come before the town, but then I remembered that it was England. Sure enough, that's where they started making it. I actually witnessed a live, unintentional re-enaction of the Monty Python cheese shop sketch there. It was only a small village, but there was a cheese shop. My dad went in and asked for every kind of cheese he felt like, not realising that a cheese shop in Cheddar only really sells Cheddar. Maybe some runny camembert, if you're lucky.

My aunt took us roaming across the countryside, seeing as many sites as we could fit into our trip. We even spent some time floating around on a houseboat in Norfolk, which I would gladly do for the rest of my life. She was great, and I am overdue for racing around the country with her again.

There were a few other characters I can remember meeting at family reunions, birthdays or funerals. I particular enjoyed my Canadian cousin Gwen, who I bet will give me accommodation when I eventually manage to get my arse to Canada. She made me laugh at my grandfather's funeral and I remember appreciating it a lot. But there was one who was actually Australian that I remember meeting only once. He was my Uncle Mick and I think he lived in Queensland or something. He must have been crazy rich because he collected classic cars. I met him at a big extended family picnic, where he arrived in a red MG convertible. When he asked me if I wanted to come for a ride, I nearly had a spasm. I was even wearing a scarf in my hair. 

He sped me around the streets, telling me I was his lookout for police cars. We passed another MG whose driver waved at us.

"It's like being in a club," he explained with a sly smile, waving back.

I have never felt so 1950s style cool in my life.

-Smackie Onassis

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