They say that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. That, of course, also applies to family that you accumulate via your partner.
I’ve been married three times. Well, twice, actually; the first time around it was what was euphemistically known at the time as a ‘common law’ marriage. Which basically meant a long-term relationship without the marrying stuff.
When you marry, or live long-term with someone, there inevitably comes a point where you have to interact with the parents, or parent of that person, because they really want to know just exactly who is screwing their daughter, and why. Which is fair enough. I have two adult daughters myself, so I can empathise there.
The parents of your lover can fall into a number of different categories. There are the ‘You’re not good enough for my daughter’ types, which usually include the ‘You drink and smoke too much and I don’t like the clothes you wear or the length of your hair’ subsection. And there are the ‘You’d better do right by her or else I’ll knock yer fuckin’ block off’ types. Naturally, there are also the ones who despise you on sight, and refuse to even admit to your existence. But there are also the friendly ones who want to include you in the family, and do their best to make you feel welcome. I think that category tend to be a bit thin on the ground, though. So it’s basically a lottery what type of person you end up with as an in-law. And of course, you have no choice in the matter. It is thrust upon you.
My first (common-law) wife had parents who were divorced, and her father had remarried and moved to Australia. Her mum was actually very nice, if a bit dim. A Londoner through and through, she lived in a council flat in Kilburn with pots of geraniums outside the front door and crocheted doilies on the back of the couch; she also always had a cigarette dangling from her mouth and a pot of tea on the go. Yes, she was ok. Visiting wasn’t too much of a trial. Just a bit boring. I made a habit of smoking a big spliff before we visited, and then just sat and let my thoughts wander while the women nattered about I-know-not-what. The cups of tea kept coming, though, so it wasn’t so bad.
About six months into the relationship, we decided to go to Australia, partly because it was somewhere I wanted to see, and partly so she (my common-law wife) could see her father, who she hadn’t seen for some years. I wanted to go overland, she didn’t. So we compromised, as one does, and she went by air, and I travelled overland through the Middle East and Asia, which took me six months. By the time I got to the final leg, I’d just about run out of money, and had barely enough to buy a plane ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Perth, even using my forged student card I’d had the forethought to buy in Istanbul, which in those days conferred cheaper tickets to bona fide students. My (common-law) wife was already in Melbourne with her father, but I didn’t have enough for a ticket there, so it was Perth or nothing, and hitch-hike the rest of the way.
When you look at a map of Australia, Perth and Melbourne don’t really look that far apart. Just a couple of inches. So I landed in Perth and sent a postcard (no mobile phones in those days – even landlines were relatively rare) to say I’d be there in a day or two. Ha! Little did I realise that the distance was akin to travelling overland from London to Ankara in central Turkey – about 3,000 Km. Australia is quite surprisingly large. In fact it is so large that unless you have actually experienced that sort of largeness, it’s difficult to comprehend. It took me a while to get my head round the vast distances that the Aussies take for granted.
I was lucky, and got a few lifts on my first day which got me nearly to Coolgardie, and the following day, got a lift to Norseman. I then got picked up by a guy who was going all the way to Melbourne. Yay! Jackpot! As soon as we cleared the town. The guy stopped, went to the back of the car and got out his self-made mobile bar which hooked over the front bench seat, so we could avail ourselves of liquor without the inconvenience of having to stop. It was a well-stocked bar, too, if somewhat limited in selection. “Do you want a Bundy (Bundaberg Rum, from Queensland – a pretty decent dark rum, in fact), a Bundy, or a Bundy? Or I’ve got some warm (hot) beer in the boot if you prefer.” I’m not actually wild about hot lager, so I demurred on the beer. “Oh, I think I’ll have a Bundy, thanks”.
Two bottles of Bundy later, we were well into the Nullarbor Plain, a desiccated desert area (dirt road back then) which stretched for more than 1000 Km before you hit the beginnings of civilisation again. It was real Wild West. Not long after we’d polished off the second bottle, he slewed to a halt and declared “I can’t drive anymore – you take over”. I was starting to see double by this time, but with the unshakeable confidence of youth, I readily agreed. After all, all I had to do was keep one eye closed and all would be fine and in single vision. The road was straight for hundreds of miles, so no inconvenient bends to negotiate. No problem. By the time we were half way down the third bottle of Bundy, I was flagging a bit, and even driving with one eye closed was becoming less effective as a panacea for my double vision, particularly given that it was now dark and I was having trouble discerning what was road and what was desert (they were the same colour), so I suggested we stop for a rest. My erstwhile saviour grunted, farted and snored a bit in reply, and I pulled up, got out with my sleeping bag, and collapsed in a drunken stupor next to the car.
Which, when I woke in the morning, I discovered to my horror was parked almost in the middle of the road. Rather fortunately, in those days there wasn’t much traffic crossing the Nullarbor. Not that I would have noticed, even if a twenty-two wheeler had rumbled past two inches from my ear. I was in a stupor.
The rest of the journey took nearly a week, as my benefactor took a couple of diversions to indulge his hobby of fossicking for gems, which took a day or so. All done in a Bundy induced alcoholic haze. Christ only knows how many bottles of the stuff he had in the boot, must have been a couple of cases. When one bottle was empty, he just pulled out another.
He was a service engineer in the Australian Air Force, so I shudder to think what state their fighter jets were in. I’m amazed they even got off the ground, if he was typical. However, permanent state of drunkenness notwithstanding, our travels went without a hitch.
So we eventually arrived in Melbourne, and I got to meet the ‘other’ in-laws. Father was a fat, self-important slob who thought he was God’s gift to the world. Step-mother was as thick as two short planks, pug ugly, and devoid of any personality whatsoever. And they had two of the most revolting, psychotic kids it has ever been my misfortune to meet. It was so depressing that the first night there I drank the best part of two litres of some local plonk I’d picked up (it purported to be red wine, but I have my doubts), and soon after I’d gone to bed, felt distinctly queasy (I think it must have been the food…), so got up and headed for the bog.
Alas, a tad too late.
Displaying my inimitable good manners as a guest in someone’s house, I gracefully sprayed claret coloured vomit over all the currently fashionable and quite expensive pale cream Regency style wallpaper and the (also expensive, and new) beige fitted carpet. All the way from the bedroom to the bathroom, and then some. It really was rather spectacular.
This is generally not considered the best way to make a good impression with the in-laws, and so (unsurprisingly) it turned out to be. However, that little incident was in fact a blessing in disguise, as our mandatory familial visits were kept to a minimum as a result. Fortuitously, a year or so later, father-in-law got a job in Adelaide, which at 500 miles away was far enough to provide a good reason to avoid the mandatory visits altogether.
Still, I was adapting very well to the local culture…
I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder…..
That relationship lasted about eight years all in all, and produced two sons, both of whom are Australian citizens.
And so began my participation in the game that is played all over the world – ‘How to survive the in-laws’. I’m getting to be quite an experienced player…