Sunday, 12 October 2008
WE were off, at the crack of dawn, before the traffic built up and before anything decent was on the radio - "this artist had many hits in the Sixties: that was not one of them" and a trio of Cliff Richard songs later, and the radio was switched in favour of the soothing tones of Classic FM (not typically my station of choice, but an enjoyable sensation nonetheless).
I was in the car with Rachel, kindly chauffeured by her father, Peter, heading to Harrogate for the christening of the very cute Baby J, the newest addition to their family. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, just in time to meet up with all of the siblings and partners who had accidentally fallen into the queue of Bettys tea shop. Foolishly, we fell in line as well, and caught up over proper tea, elderflower bubbly, pancakes, treacle tart and brown bread ice cream. It was a very enjoyable time - not least for me because it was the first time that I have ever been there as the boyfriend of one of the four sisters, with (nearly) all other sisters in attendance. Until then I had only ever met one sister at a time, and not always with Rachel, but here were all of the couples (some married, some not), and it was just effortlessly easy. I didn't feel like I needed to present myself in any way other than to be myself. I felt like I was in.
Plus, I also got to see Julia and Alex for the first time since returning from my brief jaunt around the world, and, frankly, I was well excited.
In the evening we sauntered over to the Old Swan Hotel, where Agatha Christie stayed during her famous ten-day disappearance, which sparked one of the biggest manhunts in history. Here we were to wine and dine with Rachel's parents and grandparents in really rather lavish style. For me though, it was another moment to feel accepted, as I became privy to family stories, in-jokes and exclusive language*. There was talk of real tennis and my job, and then things got a little strange.
Somehow, and I'm not entirely sure how, we started talking about the kakapo. The kakapo, or owl parrot, is a beautiful green, flightless parrot that lives only in New Zealand. It is critcally endangered, and consequently the only living kakapo have been relocated to four uninhabited islands and are subject to a focused conservation project. According to Wikipedia, there are only 91 left, although I seem to recall reading in Te Papa museum, Wellington, that there were (and perhaps still are) significantly fewer. Kakapo breed only every two to five years, the males exhibit lekking behaviour, and everything depends on the fruit of the rimu plant. Males and females are fussy, lazy and extremely hard to please. And thus, we began to talk about breeding programmes and efforts to - how do I put this - enforce the extraction of necessary components to bring forth the miracle of life and secure the future of the species. There was mention of bubble wrap and puppets.
This talk went on for some time, but it didn't take long for the following inner monologue to drown out any words actually being said:
"OH GOOD GRIEF, I'M TALKING TO RACHEL'S MOTHER ABOUT KAKAPO SPERM!"
To make things worse, Rachel herself then started talking about a story in a James Herriot book about similar such practices in bulls. Conveniently, it was Rachel's mother, Joanna, who rescued us and changed the subject.
The next day we were off to a nearby village for J's christening. The songs were a little old (circa 1696), and therefore I wasn't the only one trying to hum a plausible melody (Diana's boyfriend Gary could be seen hiding behind his hymn book), but it was a nice service, and the christening itself was lovely - especially when J appeared to want to get into the font and have a bath.
Then we were all off to the next village's Village Hall, for drinks, nibbles and being introduced as "Rachel's friend". J (well, his daddy) got to open all of his presents, including our hand-crafted wooden train from Estonia, which went down a treat and was 'borrowed' by many children in the room before we had to leave.
And then we were off, back to the South, via pick and mix, Tibshelf and Birmingham, once again to the soothing sounds of Classic FM. By coincidence, we were joined at Tibshelf by Joanna, Granny and John (step-grandad; to all intents and purposes, Grandad). It was here that John introduced us to the phrase "most adjacent!", a term to express great satisfaction with something, used by a batty ex-pat relation of his (and others) in India at the time of the Raj. We had a good chuckle.