A tender memory given the buffeting ‘skin’ of humour…
So there we were, the four of us – widely-dispersed both geographically and chronologically and, thus, rarely together – keen to meet up for a gossip-ridden wander round Blenheim Palace. Our younger brother was not, for reasons which now escape me, able to make it.
Plans were soon underway. The Palace and the logistics of where we’d meet took ten seconds; the remaining hours on various phones centred around that most important Browning consideration: Who was going to bring what on the food and drink front, and how quickly, post-cultural dash, we could get our respective mandibles round the groaning hamper of provender.
Someone, Next Sister Down, I think, offered to, as we all put it at the time, Spring the Hag, this being a reference to our mother who, sad to say, has Alzheimer’s Disease and has been incarcerated a few miles from Sister 4 since 2008.
And so we were all set for a lovely day. Or were we? Problems reared their repulsive heads almost immediately. Corporately, and individually, we Browning Gals have all the geographical ability of roadkill. None of us can read a map and, back in those days, we didn’t have a Sat Nav between us, though we did all possess a husband (and they were marginally better on the A-Z front than we were – not difficult) – and our attempts to pin down precisely where we were to meet in Woodstock were conducted in typically raucous and vulgar fashion, with Sibling 4 (who lived closest) ending with the immortal words, ‘The pub is in the bum-crack of the town: You can’t miss it!’
So off we all set, with our partners, children and brimming luncheon baskets, for the aforesaid arsehole-nestling tavern. Of course, it didn’t occur to any of us to inquire about make of car or any of that sissy stuff – and this is where the first bout of hilarity started: Unbeknownst to any of us, we had all bought different-coloured versions of the same, vaguely-hearse-like, vehicle.
My branch of this dysfunctional tree arrived first at the Goat and Merkin (not its real name, unfortunately) – and, ten minutes later, an identical car other than its colour, pulled up in the parking spot adjacent and a hoard of screeching Brownings tumbled out. This contingent had brought the Crone with them and soon the air was full of bawdy laughter, ‘How are you?’s – and, in my mother’s case, ‘Who are you?’s.
Another car drove up – a third shade of the same basic model – and, yes, another Browning girl, and her brood, hobbled out.
By this time, we were in loud hysterics – and could, in all probability, have been heard clearly in parts of Oxford (some ten miles away, and the city in which we had all been dragged up!).
Now came the challenging part: We all had to negotiate the problematic drive to Soror 4’s pad, which involved what turned out to be an ill-advised Follow My Leader attempt. My car-full duly took off after a green car just like ours, not realising that some utter bastard, with the same bloody model, was also out on the roads to confound and confuse us.
Long story short: We had taken a nephew with us and he, seeing the green thing in front, had expressed disquiet (which was ignored), convinced, rightly, that the number-plate was not that of his parental car! We blithely followed after the green vehicular lure for some eight miles (on a one mile journey) before Sister 3 phoned me on the mobile and, amidst ear-shattering laughter, told us they were all at the house awaiting us!
We got there eventually, I am glad to say – and irritation was soon forgotten as we took in, and added to (I’d made a bidet full of toothsome Fridge Roll, which is a chocolate based Tiffin lookalike and not a little-known Olympic Sport), the contents of the groaning trough. We got stuck in with typical gusto and were soon all laughing like drains.
Outside, December greyness had given way to drizzle – and, as one, we decided not to bother with Blenheim, our rationale being that we had all seen it as children, it was a knackering walk, we might well lose Mater and, frankly, the food held far greater allure.
And so there we were – four loud and irreverent Cultural Saharas, our spice and offspring and our Maternal Parent (who barely knew what day it was, never mind the niceties of local places of historical interest) – threatening all windows in the road with our aircraft-on-turbo-thrust levels of hilarity, setting the world to rights and ripping open the vast pile of early Christmas pressies we had stashed in the boots of our clone cars!
The general level of noise was quadrupled when our mother developed a passing allergy to the resident dogs and launched one of her splendid Nasal Fusillades upon her unsuspecting tribe. She has the best, and most amusing, sneeze I have ever been temporarily deafened by; in fact, so resonant, ringing and rich is it that, when we all lived in Headington, a maternal nose-bark used to stop traffic and cause neighbourly marital spats to cease immediately – our next-door-neighbours confessing, years later, that they attributed the longevity of their marriage in part to the healing effects of the Female Browning Sneeze!
A memorable day, it has to be said – and the last really happy time spent with my sisters, though I am ever-hopeful that we will, eventually, get together once more.