Throughout their long and painful marriage Kurt and Amelia Schwartzkopf never really got on with each other. They didn’t even like each other that much on their wedding day, but they felt that they should go through with the ceremony rather than let the few friends and relatives they had down by cancelling the biggest party any of them would ever likely to have in their entire lives. There was one other reason why they decided to tie the knot and that was because they were both old-fashioned with old-fashioned values (apart from the old-fashioned value that stated that people shouldn’t have sex before they got married) and consequently, Geraldine (who eventually became known as Gerry) was already growing in Amelia’s womb when she and Kurt walked down the aisle.
They got on with each other when they first met, of course, but as their relationship developed they began to dislike each other, not intensely at first – that would come later after they had been married a few years – but just a little bit at a time.
Kurt and Amelia’s relationship was described by Gerry in her terrible autobiography, published earlier this year, A Child Called Blackhead as being “like falling in love, only in reverse”.
A Child Called Blackhead was so bad that it became an international bestseller, filling the remainder bins of airports worldwide. Not only that, it was entered into an annual competition that is held every six months to find a book worse than Fifty Shades of Grey. Unfortunately A Child Called Blackhead was up against a book so impressively bad that it made scholars of English Literature throw themselves off tall buildings in protest against its lack of any plot or story, its scant regard to logic of any kind, its (barely) one-dimensional characters and its relentless use of adjectives. The top prize was of course awarded to Dan Brown’s thinly disguised travelogue for idiots Inferno. Spurred on by her failure Gerry continued to write badly and just six months later her lack of any literary merit paid off when she walked away with the coveted annual award with her highly controversial autobiographical biography My Parents And Other Fuckwits (A Dan Brown book was not entered as the computer program used to recycle and rearrange the events, characters and plots of his previous books had crashed).
In My Parents And Other Fuckwits Gerry describes when she foolishly decided to spend Christmas at home during her first year at university. What follows is an extract from the first chapter of her book (obviously the punctuation in the original has had to be edited for clarity and whole passages have had to be rewritten – it seems that during the six months she spent writing her book she also attended a creative writing course run by Dan Brown and as a result her pages were littered with unnecessary adjectives – which I’m glad to inform you have all been removed).
I didn’t want to go home at Christmas but I decided to go for two reasons. The first was that all my friends had gone home and the second was to sponge off my parents for two weeks.
My father was a second generation Ukrainian whose father had been forced to fight for the German army during the Second World War and had surrendered to the British at the earliest opportunity. My grandfather, whose name was Sven Schwartzkopf (he was a second generation German), was shipped off to England where he was held in a Prisoner of War camp in Norfolk and it was there that he met my grandmother, Doris, a local land girl. After the war Sven explained to Doris that if he was sent back to Kiev he would most likely be shot for being an enemy of the people or at the very least incarcerated for the rest of his life in a gulag somewhere in Northern Siberia. Doris agreed to marry him and in 1946 they had their only child, Kurt, my father.
Sven was faithful to my grandmother to the end of his days because she had, quite literally, saved his life. He died in 1989, just two months short of the Berlin Wall coming down and it was a few months after that that Doris received a large envelope postmarked from Kiev. Inside the envelope were two letters, one from Werner Schwarzkopf and the other from his son Ivan, and a slightly creased, dog-eared black-and white photograph. When Doris looked at the photograph she was shocked to see a younger version of her dead husband looking back at her with what appeared to be a carbon copy of him by his side. It turned out that Sven had a twin brother called Werner that he had not told anyone about. Werner (who was still very much alive) had been a member of the Secret Police in Kiev and had kept Sven’s existence a secret from the Secret Police for fear that he might be taken out and shot or at the very least shipped off to a gulag in Northern Siberia.
During his time in the Secret Police he had taken courses in English under the guise that if ever they needed to use him as an undercover agent in the West then he would be an asset. In reality it was so that he could talk fluently to his brother and the family he had as he felt sure that one day they would be reunited. Werner’s wife had died recently and now that the spirit of Glasnost had reached Ukraine, he thought it would be a rather good idea if the family all got together once a year at Christmas.
Werner and Ivan were two of the reasons why I never wanted to go home at Christmas. They were like peas in a pod. Whenever either of them went to the toilet they would always come back into the room with the dot of shame, a two inch diameter circle of piss due to insufficient shaking that had soaked through their underpants and into the denim of their matching jeans. There it would remain for an hour or so before it disappeared, by which time it was time for them to go for another piss.
They were disgusting.
I had used what money I had to buy presents for the family and I packed them in a suitcase, together with some warm clothes and caught a train to Norwich.
Werner and Ivan had already arrived when I turned up at the house on Christmas Eve and they were already drunk, as were my parents. Mum and Dad had also been arguing with each other. Arguments were a tradition in our house at Christmas and they would sometimes go on for days. This would be followed by a period known as The Silent Treatment, where my parents would spend days (sometimes weeks) not talking to each other and they would relay messages to each other via a third party, usually me (but not necessarily) until one of them cracked and broke the silence. I would have said that things returned to normal but in reality arguments and The Silent Treatment were usually the norm.
Another tradition on Christmas Eve was to open one present each. When I was small this was carried out before I went to bed, but since I’ve grown up this is now done before Dad, Werner and Ivan went to the pub. Mum never went to the pub because by Christmas Eve she was giving Dad The Silent Treatment.
I noticed under the tree that there was only one present for me, so if I opened it I would have nothing to open the next day. I was about to say that I would rather wait until the morning when Mum said, “Pass us Gerry’s game will you, Ivan.”
Right so that was it. I’d got a game for Christmas. I unwrapped the present and held the game (Monopoly) up and gave my relatives a forced smile. “Thanks,” I said morosely.
“Right,” said Mum, “I’m off to bed. Werner, Ivan – goodnight.” She gave Dad The Silent Treatment and then went upstairs.
Werner, Ivan and Dad waited for a few minutes and then went to the pub, where they stayed until Betty the Landlady forcibly threw them out at the end of the evening.
I was left on my own on Christmas Eve. Brilliant. I made up the bed settee (Werner and Ivan were in my old room and the spare room), but before I went to sleep I thought I’d get my parents back for every miserable Christmas I’d spent with them down the years.
I took a black marker pen from my handbag and on the wrapping paper I wrote exactly what each present was that I had bought them. Then I carefully opened all the other presents and wrote what they were before sealing them back up again.
You have no idea how good it made me feel. I undressed and put on my nightie and crawled into the lumpy bed settee. Sleep came easy but it was short lived and I was woken by Dad, Werner and Ivan crashing into the house. They were trying to be quiet and, like all drunks, were making a really bad job of it. I could hear them shushing each other louder than normal people held a conversation with each other and they began giggling uncontrollably when they realised what they were doing and then they began shushing each other again, etc.
Dad broke the cycle of shushing and giggling by ordering Werner and Ivan upstairs to bed and to use the toilet now rather than wander around naked in the middle of the night searching for the toilet door as they had done in previous years.
Mum had not been impressed.
I could see Dad in the kitchen from where I was lying on the bed settee. He was stood on his tip-toes hunched over the sink and at first I wondered what he was doing. And then I realised – he was having a piss in the kitchen in the kitchen sink, although he had thoughtfully taken the washing up bowl out of the sink before he started.
“Da-ad!” I said in disgust.
It was what he said in reply that made me forgive him and provided the highlight of an otherwise awful Christmas. He turned in mid-piss, and with his head doing the drunken nod, he looked at me and treated me to a broad smile.
“Don’t tell your mum,” he said.
It was priceless. And besides, seeing Dad pissing in the sink on Christmas Eve Night was just another tradition I had to look forward to each year.
Merry Christmas to all the people who have read and supported my blog over the last year – you know who you are.
Have a Happy New Year – I know I will – my first book, a novella entitled Permanent Moments was published on Friday 13th December, just in time for Christmas and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Good Reads as a paperback. It will be released as a Kindle book in two or three weeks.
Thank you and have a nice day.
Travels with my Rodent will return in mid-January.