Thursday, 11 March 2010
Bye then, Nat. It was fun.
Things I’ve learned from my brother.
Charles Nathan Arnison 1971 - 2009.
The waah game. This is where you ask someone a question to which the answer is blindingly obvious. If they take your question seriously then you say “waaah”, and basically you win. If, however, you spot a question designed to trap you then you can deflect the “waah” by putting your hands on your head making a triangle. It kept us all entertained one thoroughly lovely camping weekend on Arran and still appears when you least expect it.
Everything can change in an instant. On July 31, 2009, I chatted to my brother on the phone. He had the habit of ringing when he was bored, or drunk, or both. He and his family were coming to visit in a couple of weeks we were all looking forward to it. On August 1, 2009, I was tidying the spare room for them staying and his wife rang and said: “It’s Nathan, he’s in a bad way.”
Siblings aren’t really beastly. He was four years younger than me and, therefore, pretty tedious for the first ten or so years. I remember mum crossly ticking me off when I’d wailed: “I wish he was dead.” That night I had a dream about him being eaten by a shark. It was my first nightmare.
Glasgow is an amazing city. When Nathan went to Strathclyde University I was living in Edinburgh. I hadn’t had much time for the place – grey and full of Weegies. But with him and his friends we ate a lot of curry, drank a fair amount and I learned to love the place. I still look at the Beresford Building and that flat about Mother India that at one time was missing a wall and smile.
If you push it hard enough, eventually your luck runs out. Flat-lined after a car crash that wrote off the vehicle (he was a pedestrian at the time), mysteriously at the bottom of a lift shaft, avoiding the Pamplona bulls, defusing bombs and drinking too much: Nathan had got away with it all. So much that deep down I’d started to believe that he would last forever.
We are Cumbrian. When Dad was dying, Super Sister, Nathan and I sat at the top of Penrith Beacon on a beautiful spring evening. Then, shortly, there were hundreds of people – from all over Cumbria – there to say goodbye to the old fellow. Nathan and his wife decided soon after that it was nearly time to come home. I envied them their plans as that feeling grew in me.
The British Army is a magnificent institution. As silence fell over the parade ground at Sandhurst a swan flapped, swooping over the ranks. Later, dancing at, what is still, one of the best-organised parties I’ve ever attended. (Don’t let anyone tell you that the military can’t organise the proverbial – they’re very good at it.) Then more recently seeing how that same machine organises a funeral and looks after the family.
Any fool can have sore feet. One of Nathan’s strongest-held beliefs was that if you simply issued every fighting force in the world with an appropriately fitted pair of Crocs or Birkenstocks, war would cease. A view I came to share. He used to send me info about new and more comfortable footwear, then we’d laugh that it was this sister who really liked comfy shoes.
Giant cell myocarditis. It’s a rare heart disease that typically affects the young and healthy. On the off chance, it’s discovered in time, the only cure is a transplant. And even then it doesn’t always work. Mostly it just kills people.
Fireworks are the best fun. He liked a big bang. Any occasion was big enough for fireworks. On Boxing Day it fell to Super Sister and me to set off a few in his name. Annoyed that he wasn’t there to ask about setting them up we did hope he’d be laughing like a drain at the sight of his two sisters lighting the blue touch paper and retiring at great speed across a field of snow while his nephew yelled: “Run, mummy, run.”
Don’t hold a recently fed baby above your head with his weight squashing his stomach. What happens is the baby unloads a whole bellyful of milk over your head and everyone around you becomes incapacitated by mirth.
Planning is everything. For one who had an aura of chaos, he almost always had it all organised. Whipping chilled champagne and glasses out of his backpack during a walk the morning of my wedding was a masterstroke. And, in a weird way, so was charging a committee of your friends with the responsibility of spending a legacy on a “good send-off”. I wonder if this weekend is what he had in mind.
If there’s a day, then it is inevitably worth seizing. My brother never let a chance pass him by – whether it was to meet a friend, help someone, get a job, learn something, eat something, play a prank or dress up in drag. Life is to be consumed, until you feel slightly sick. Before last August, I had a vague idea that this is how his life went, but after listening to his friends and colleagues, I knew for certain. He only had 38 years, but he packed more in than most of do in a full three score and ten.