Once again we managed to get together, never easy as there are quite a few of us and we all lead busy lives. We had to set the date back in June to be sure of finding one. Some couldn’t make it but 10 of us did. Fortunately no-one behaved quite as outrageously as in the French film (though that would have added an extra ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the occasion).
This time we gathered at my sister’s home in Oxford. I went the evening before and the two of us had an enjoyable evening and early morning preparing and catching up with each other’s lives, and even had plenty of time on Saturday morning for a stroll and a coffee out.
She made a delicious fish pie, the best I’ve ever had (tip: add a few caraway seeds to the sauce – it makes all the difference). Which was accompanied by half my french bean glut (I picked 8 pounds over the previous two days) and some baby carrots (not mine, I’ve never managed to grow carrots – yet). And was followed by assorted cakes and puddings and a cheese board brought by others (including my apple pie). Such a good way to put together a joint meal without over-burdening anyone.
(Ah you see – first we had fish pie, then we had apple pie. So important to be clear which is which).
Which meant there was plenty of time for us to relax together and catch up with family news – who’s doing what, who’s living where, who’s ill, who’s better, who’s well, holidays, work, retirement plans, reflections on life and death. Lots of all of those, particularly when you include updating about elderly parents (one well into his 90s now), our adult children, and now even a few grandchildren in the mix (including a two week old baby – just gorgeous!). Plus us lot, all now edging our way towards or through our 60s.
As ever, lots (and lots and lots) of noisy conversation. Lots of laughs. Lots of politics (big and small ‘p’). My sister gave several (admiring) house tours, as most people hadn’t been here since she moved in. She’s done a lovely job reconfiguring and decorating the house – she’s got a great eye for design and colour and a bargain has my sister.
One thing struck me strongly at this time when we are hearing so much about the plight of refugees and migrants. Almost all of us there yesterday are the children or grandchildren of refugees or migrants, and almost all from working class childhoods. We were two GPs, two psychotherapists, two education professionals, a senior expert in Fair Trade, a counsellor who spends much of her time caring for young and elderly family members, a University health service researcher, and someone who created a company providing expert business management training and support to major companies and in so doing employs many people. None of us could possibly be described as being ‘a drain on the country’ or ‘welfare scroungers’. Yet those were the very fears expressed when our grandparents/parents arrived here.
We have received much. Not least, a good free education and health care; and we have achieved and returned much more – in taxes paid and in the work we’ve done (and do). And all of us are the kind of people who want others to have the opportunities we had, not to pull up the ladder behind us.
I’m not pretending there are any simple solutions, and I struggle as much as anyone with what should be done. But for me the bottom line is that our common humanity gives us all responsibilities to one another, which means we have to do what we can to help. I’m still working out what that means for me personally, but I know it means something.
We ate and drank well, and took our leave with new understandings, new ideas, and a renewal of family continuity. And the pleasure of having spent a good day in good company.
I rested my voice the next day though.
Here’s to the next time.
(Oh, and I managed to leave a large cucumber in my sister’s fridge).