In which a surprise visit brings forward my first encounter with the newest member of my family
Writing this blog has been nothing if not educational.
There’s a certain dizzy freedom when I sit down to peck at my keyboard in not knowing if I’ll even be able to articulate the thoughts in my head, let alone if they’ll connect with an audience.
Occasionally, a post appears on the screen exactly as it was in my head, and is embraced by readers (such as last month’s realisation that Doha really is my home now).
There’s also been collateral damage: some lovingly hand-crafted posts have landed with all the finesse of a freshly defenestrated watermelon.
And then there are those posts which, as your own harshest critic, you feel are maybe overly sentimental, maybe a tad on the self-indulgent side, but which you publish and be damned anyway, only for them to take off with the reading public like they’ve got a rocket strapped to their arse.
None more so than September’s There’s Always Someone Newer Than You.
It was about the first time the penny dropped that I’d left my family thousands of miles away: when, just a week or so after arriving in Doha, our extended family back in the UK extended even further with the arrival of my latest niece.
(I say latest; howmanynieceshaveigot.com currently says seven, but I haven’t refreshed it in a day or two.)
Anyway, the post contrasted the rollercoaster of emotions my own two, Kid A and Amnesiac, were going through as they started a new school in a new country, with the even bigger journey that my then-unnamed niece had in front of her.
Despite my reservations, it was a big enough hit that, were this Hollywood, a sequel would have been greenlit immediately. (There’s Still Someone Newer Than You? There’s Someone Newer Than You, Too? The possibilities are endless…)
Well, now the niece has an actual name – I’ll call her Seven – and for a long time it didn’t look like I was going to actually meet her until she was nearly one.
But that encounter was fast forwarded to last week when my sister-in-law arranged a surprise weekend visit for her and my brother.
He genuinely had no idea he was coming to Doha, which is certainly one way to arrive – quite possibly the only way. (It gave me an idea for a campaign which I’m pitching to the Qatar Tourist Authority next week. I’m going with “Doha: It’s better if you don’t know” as my slogan. I’ll let you know how I get on.)
Surprise visits, especially ones involving international travel, are basically brilliant.
Mrs LC and I may have only managed to get to Oz once to see our friends (more here: Up in the Air; N64) but we made it count, turning up as surprise special guests for our friend Katie’s surprise 30th party. Having basically travelled halfway round the world in order to get drunk on a boat, her priceless wtf? reaction turned an impulsive decision into one of my favourite memories.
So whilst I’m always thrilled to see her parents, meeting Seven was a particular treat, mainly because I’ve got a hard-earned reputation as the Funny Uncle to maintain, and you can never start too early.
Of course it makes no difference to her whether we met at seven hours or seven months, but as reminders of how quickly time passes, she’s pretty hard to ignore.
All the time in the world
Meeting Seven was a useful reminder that the days of taking half an hour just to get out the front door are ones I don’t miss at all (although the 27-theories-about-time-travel-before-7am stage that I currently find myself in has its downsides as well.)
Kid A loved playing with her “new” cousin, who currently lacks her younger brother’s AnswerBack function, while Amnesiac himself spent all weekend challenging his uncle (a Wii ninja) to too much Mario Kart (if there can be such a thing).
And over the course of the weekend, I found my mind drifting back to when I became an uncle for the first time. Mentally, I don’t feel like much time has passed since then. But oh, how it has: niece #1 will be sitting her first big set of exams next month. From 0-16 in the blink of an eye – it’s truly terrifying.
And it seems I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines.
At one of the quieter moments last weekend I found Kid A tucked away in a corner of the house.
Much like me, she’s happiest curled up somewhere quietly reading (sending her to her room is no punishment at all. “Spend time on my own with 200 books for company? If I must…”)
Only this time, her head was buried in one of our old photo albums. All the talk of new babies had sent her off on her own trip down memory lane; she was busy scanning the pictures from when she was a baby.
She looked up at me as my eyes flicked from the pages to her face and back again.
And I thought: I remember you.
You were tiny and scrunched up about five minutes ago. And now you’re nine going on nineteen and you’re all hair clips and attitude and vulnerability and so tall.
Where did the time go?
There are days when time seems to pass so slowly in Qatar.
Whether it’s standing in queues, sitting at traffic lights, or waiting for a decision to be made or a paper to be signed, feeling like you’re swimming in molasses is as much part of daily life here as the dust.
But one day soon, we will talk about Doha in the past tense, our time here reduced to a collection of memories and anecdotes – one of which will be my brother’s surprise visit and meeting my niece for the first time.
And we’ll pause for a second, and smile as we remember and wonder again: where the hell did the time go?