The Comedy Clan

by afatpurplefig


Any holiday to Scotland would not be complete without calling into see my Dad’s brother, Jimmy. On the long-ago holiday to Gretna with my sister in 1985 (when she was 18 to my 13), Jimmy and our granny engraved their names on my self-absorbed little heart, through their love and generosity.

Granny fed us. My sister was a petite fitness enthusiast then (and still is), and I was a rangy, bottomless pit, prepared to consume anything and everything put in front of me (and still am, minus the rangy). The days went something like this:

  • breakfast (toast, eggs, sausages, haggis and beans)
  • visitor who pretended to have no idea we were there
  • snack (tea, cake, biscuits, small packet of chips)
  • visitor who pretended to have no idea we were there
  • lunch (soup, toast)

You get the picture. To me, Granny was pure warmth. And I’m not sure if I actually remember a wooden spoon standing up in her soup, but I believe it to be true.

Jimmy provided the fun. He looked like the epitome of a Scotsman, bearded, ginger and jolly, with a loud, hearty laugh. He took us out to cut down a Christmas tree at night, and made us duck behind some bushes whenever we saw car headlights. I can still remember the thumping of my heart in my chest, and don’t know to this day if we were stealing it, or if he was just making it fun. He played cards with us, and cheated shamelessly. I couldn’t understand how he kept winning, and was shocked when I finally worked it out. “Me?”, he said, with a grin, “Naw.”

Of all the memories of that holiday, though, the image that is clearest is of Granny and Jimmy standing beside the bus as we drove away, and of how much Granny was crying, which made us both cry as well. I never saw her again. Rose died in 1994.

Here we all are, in a poor-quality photo:


Today, it feels as though not much has changed, which is really saying something, given that Uncle Jimmy had become almost mythical in memory. The ginger has faded to white, and the guffaws are now somewhat wheezy, but within five minutes of arriving at his little semi, we were chatting as though I had lived next door for a decade, his sparks of mischief peppered throughout the conversation.

First things first, he slipped his shoes on with a shoe horn and we set off for Morrison’s, the supermarket in Dumfries, where I became suspicious that he wasn’t doing a weekly shop at all, but was buying food especially for me.

‘Do you like salmon?’…in the basket.
‘Do you like chicken?’…in the basket.
Salad, pies, roasting joint, tatties…all in the basket.

Later, when we made lunch together, every time I turned around, he threw another piece of chicken on my already-mountainous plate, whilst he barely ate a thing. Here is Jimmy, having just served my chips for dinner, and laughing because I have accused him of having inherited the role of over-feeding the relatives. My two pieces of salmon are in milk on the stove. He doesn’t even like salmon. Case closed.


Driving is fun with Jimmy, his portly stomach almost touching the wheel of his compact Kia. He stops the car constantly to let people in (which really appeals to my ‘we are genteel motorists’ policy) but, if they don’t immediately recognise the outstretched hand in the form of a flashed headlight, he follows it up with an irritated, ‘fookin’ dozy…’. He rolls his cigarettes as he drives, and we smoke with the windows down and the radio up, and he tells me how to correctly pronounce place names like ‘Brydekirk’.

We have watched a lot of television, which puts me in my natural habitat. I love catching glimpses of Jimmy’s previously-recorded television programmes, as he looks for things he wants to show me. Fishing and gardening feature strongly, but I also see flashes of my father, with his choices revealing someone who likes to know things; politics, history, and nature, with a splash of conspiracy for good measure. I will leave Jimmy’s having learned about Brexit, the Lost Gardens of Heligan, and the Canary Girls, who supplied ammunition to the front line in WWII.


But, most of all, we have joked. Our exchanges all go something like this:

‘How much older is Dad than you, Jimmy?’
‘Well, I’m 71…how old is Dad, 80?’
‘He’s definitely not 80, I think he’s 77…but I’ll tell him you said so.’
‘Well, if you’re telling him, make it 82’.
*hearty chuckle*

He loves my ribald humour. Watching toads spawning on a nature documentary (where a bunch of males clamour over the female all at once), I commented ‘I wish they would take turns’, and thought he may never catch another breath. The day is an endless stream of opportunities for a joke, low-hanging fruit plucked one after the other.

And as the day went on, my place in Jimmy’s world revealed itself. There are pictures of us everywhere, and I learned that the brick wallpaper was being applied for my benefit. In fact, had he not mixed up my arrival date, I have no doubt the fridge would have been filled for me with half-a-dozen meal options at the ready. Jimmy is always trying to give me a snack or an iced lolly or a drink. Today, we are making a roast at home to stay out of the hot weather.

And, for the second time in my life, I am feeling sad about the prospect of leaving my Uncle Jimmy.

It’s going to be shite.