On Boxing Day, I risked getting into Newcastle-upon-Tyne - through hordes of sales shoppers and the great amassing ranks of 53,000 football supporters to entreat mother, father, brother and his new girlfriend, to the spectacle of Newcastle United's 1-3 defeat to Manchester City. I say it was a risk, as mother 'doesn't like crowds', but having thoroughly researched a smart route to the match, I thought this small extension of (unwanted) cultural experience would be good for her. From within, the sight alone of the packed out stadium is something special. And with so many bodies about us, and generous roofs overhanging all four stands, I was confident that it wouldn't couldn't shouldn't feel quite as cold as the minus two degrees celsius that it actually was.
It went well - all of it. They were all glad to have gone along - for mother it was 'good, something a bit different'. For Dad, it was a starkly different experience to the trips to the stadium that we took twenty years ago, back in the days of open terracing, a capacity of 36,000, and the approach to the toilets as likely to have the unsuspecting pisser overhear regular spectators ask, 'How deep is it today?' (There was a time, during some extended building works when the toilets were some combination of not draining and, thus, getting deeper). Returned to the parental home, I sighed a big sigh of relief at my unwell Sister Doubter, who'd questioned the sense in the Newcastle trip - imagining the whole escapade to be as much of a freezing hassle to the parents, as a novel gift.
Shane: It went well! Phew, phew and phew again!
Sister: I don't know why you do it. Y' know, they're just as happy chillin' out - maybe give them a year off next year, eh?
Shane: Mm, maybe. I was feeling a bit of pressure beforehand, myself - didn't know whether using the Metro from Heworth would be such a good idea, but it worked like a dream.
Sister: The Metro on match day - full of chavs, and stinkin' of piss... Happy Christmas!
Shane: No, it wasn't bad - enough space on the way there, and not smelly at all. Bit cosy on the way back, though.
Sister: You got lucky. What was Jayne (brother's new girlfriend) like?
Shane: She was good - bit shy, maybe a bit scared of me, but I like her. I imagine she's heard lots about me.
Sister: Aye, 'Ignore Shane, he's obnoxious with everyone - it's just his way'.
Sister: I am funnier than you, though. And better-lookin'.
Shane: Though I am adopted.
Sister: No. I'm the adopted one!
Mother: (from the kitchen) Eh! I can hear that!
Sister: (to me) Me Dad's 60 in a fortnight - any thoughts about a present?
Shane: (I must have twitched an eyebrow or some such)
Sister: Oh, god. What have you done?
Shane: Before I tell, you have to understand where I'm coming from.
Sister: This is gonna be really bad, isn't it.
Shane: I don't think it has to be. What I'm fairly sure that my Dad enjoys is just having us all together - me, mother and brother.
Sister: Funny. What have you done?
Shane: I thought we could all go out for the evening.
Shane: Not exactly round here, but not really very far away.
Shane: Near Pickering.
Shane: There's a... I saw an advert for some... There's a music thing that I thought we could go to.
Sister: Like, what?
Shane: (feeling a few notes of self-doubt about the several hundred pounds that I'd lashed out on tickets) Hmm.
Sister: A gig?
Shane: Mm. In a forest. In June.
Sister: A festival?
Shane: No, a gig - part of a short tour. But it's not really about who it is, it's about the all being together, so it doesn't really matter who it is.
Sister: It's just someone who you like and who we'll all think are shit, isn't it.
Sister: Who then?
Sister: (expressions of (in order): 'did I hear that right', 'that could be quite good', 'but hold on - Erasure for a belated birthday trip out for Dad - that's utterly ridiculous')
There followed some uncontrolled laughter from sister, during which moments my straight man act considered the cultural scale of what I'd committed us to.
Shane: What do you think, really?
Sister: (stands from her curled up on the sofa location, holds out a clenched fist - which I automatically bounce my fist down on) A little respect, brother, a little respect.