Monday, 4 November 2013

My Family Values

Last week my take on the US sitcom Modern Family drew over a thousand readers and I managed to enrage most of them, or so it felt, by being WRONG about their favourite programme.

This makes me not a little apprehensive as I publish the second chapter of my memoir, exploring the family ties I had left behind in Italy to start a new life in the UK in 1989.  This time only a tiny minority of readers (three in all) are in any position to tell me I have got it wrong – but, believe me, they are articulate and vocal.

This chapter offers just a first glimpse into my family's dynamics. We were a small, ferociously matriarchal unit run with Stasi-like efficiency by mother. It was a busy, loud, demonstrative place in which my dad, the gentle slightly deaf professor, was always a little lost.

In subsequent chapters we learn why it is essential to ring the doorbell even if you have got keys, we find out why dad and I can never get served in an Italian shop, (which will in turn explain my love of queuing), see my sister get married, meet my nephew, the Mouse, and get all sorts of glimpses into my parents' childhood memories (father’s are rigorously historical, mother’s are a riot of magic realism). There will be more, much more, on family lore and prophetic dreams.

Loving, suffocating, maddening – isn’t what most families are like, the happy ones? Perhaps there is nothing unique about mine except that I always felt I’d have to leave them to become myself, a proper human, only to then spend two decades and counting missing them.

Towards the end of the book there will be a whole chapter imagining how wonderful it would be if I hadn’t left, if I had done what was expected of me and I could now see my sister every day and argue with mother about something as banal as the best way of getting a stain out of a towel.

The trick is not knowing any better. Not being able to imagine a different life, in a different place. But there you are, and here I am. And now, dear reader, meet the family.

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