When I was a child, every Christmas or New Year we would pack up our car with presents and set off on the 3 hour drive to Bolton to stay with my dad’s cousin – the only remaining family he had.
My dad’s cousin M had married Errol, a slightly round, slightly short man with a beard who had a raucous laugh. They had two children, S, who was older than us and off and married before I was old enough to really play with her, and P, mid-way between my two brothers in age.
I remember the Christmas where we tied strong across the doorhandles, locking our parents into the lounge – and incidentally away from the booze – so that they had to climb out of the window and run round to the back door to get into the house again. We would booby trap the stairs with rope and party poppers, whilst Errol and my dad would mount an assault and attempt to reach the landing.
I remember when ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc’ was on TV. My mum said I was too young to watch the end as it was scary, so P woke me up early in the morning to watch a recording of the last few minutes. P, unlike my own brothers, also liked to read. I would spend hours in his room working my way through his collection of Terry Pratchett while the boys went off to do whatever boys did without annoying little girls following them around.
Each New Year P, as the tallest male with dark hair in the house, would get thrown out of the back door and sent to knock on the front, carrying a lump of coal to bring the house luck for the coming year.
Sometimes the cousins would come to our house for Christmas. The boys would have to sleep downstairs in sleeping bags. I was never allowed to join them though. They came to stay one summer, I don’t know why, but I recall Errol challenging my mother to drink whiskey with him. My mum likes a glass of whiskey at night, but she is not a heavy drinker. I believe between them they finished a bottle and my older brother brought my mum up to bed. I was 18 at the time, as I had to work the next day and came home to find my mother suffering in the garden with her shades on. Errol is, I think, the only person I have ever seen manage to get my mum to drink that much.
I don’t remember much more about Errol, except that he was always smiling, always happy and ready to have a joke. He seemed to find great joy and a reason to laugh in everything we did. He liked to smoke and have a drink. Of course, he had a northern accent that we southerners found hilarious and my brother would mimic all the way home after a visit. But I didn’t take too much notice of him – he was just another adult.
At my wedding last year the cousins were of course all invited. It was a family occasion, the first time we had all been together in some time but also the first time Errol had had his whole family, all the way down to the grandchildren, around him in some months, now that they were scattered across the world as our generation tend to be now, following the work. I like to think he had a fun time. I remember catching glimpses of him with cigarette in one hand and beer in another watching us all party and laughing.
Some time during the night of my wedding Errol had a heart attack. He fought it valiently, but he passed away two weeks later, the day Mr G and I returned from our honeymoon. Two days and one year ago today.
I am glad that his last full day with us all was spent partying, cuddling his grandchildren and surrounded by happy, laughing family. One year on, I remember a cheerful, happy, joking man who was well loved by family, masses of friend, and is missed.