I love to close my eyes and see our living room full of people when I was the tender age of seven. Had I been able to film it, I would have captured an assortment of events to rival anything offered as ‘home entertainment’ at the DVD store today.
Thin Uncle Dave has just opened his box of golden snuff. He gazes at the familiar contents for a moment or two before his bony fingers take a full two-nostril priming snuff. Head held back, an intense look on his twisted little face, he delicately takes two quick sniffs. The ‘charge set’ message is delivered to his brain, then his hand descends to rest on his lap. And he waits, quietly, his eyes taking in whatever is happening around him.
An air of tension builds up in the room, and looking over at Uncle Dave I detect the first hint of a sneeze. I can tell by the way he looks at me that he likes this part of the process especially. It’s a secret I share with him, and I give a little grin as small, convulsive shudders make his body shake as if he’s shivering. He’s not, of course. His eyes glaze a little and his breathing quickens as he pretends in his addicted bliss that everything is quite in order, but rather hoping that it’s not.
We both begin a mental countdown; I’m sure everyone else in the room does too. The signal has been received. A sneeze attack is primed and ready. A small cough-sneeze erupts in a splutter from his mouth, you know the kind. The one that introduces the next one which is now on its way. It rumbles up from just about his knees, pauses in the vestibule of his air-bloated little stomach, mixes with the refuse of waiting leftovers from his previous meal, then on and up into his chest region, gathering a conglomerate of unmentionables from his wheezing pipes. Both cheeks fill to absolute busting. It’s hard to tell what is happening but there also seems to be a backwards and forwards movement of his body in the mix.
The room empties, quickly. I remain with Uncle Dave and watch in amazement as from his mouth and nostrils an explodying spray is neatly caught in a hankerchief of tablecloth proportions. “By gum, that were great,” smiles a slightly thinner Uncle Dave, eyes watering and mouth quivering, as his face receives a thorough wiping.
I, cheeky lad that I am, grin widely as I think, Just as well that Aunt Ada hasn’t taken to snuff. Our Aunt Ada is something else. She’s a BIG lady with an appetite to match, and deceivingly quick off the mark for a woman of her size. Always first at the table, her large hands with a long reach and a grip of steel threatens everything within eating range. A stick of celery, dipped into salt, disappears in a few loud crunches. There’s a cold pork pie, the small kind with lovely thin jelly on top and the crust crisp and tasty, just as I like it. Oh, but it’s too close to Aunt Ada, and before I ask for it, it’s gone.
I won’t mention Uncle Percy with his watery eye, or Aunt Sarah who pops her ginger nuts between the roof of her mouth and her top set of false teeth. “It makes them last longer,” she once told me.
Mum’s just come back into the living room. “We haven’t many vices in our family,” she murmurs looking at me. “But with your Uncle Dave, Aunt Ada, Uncle Percy and Aunt Sarah, we’ve got quite enough to deal with.”
Dennis Crompton © 1997