It’s fair to say that my earliest memories of you are rather unpleasant, bordering on the downright traumatic. I was around six years old and on Greta’s farm in Ireland and you kept pretending to ring the ‘stuffing company’, you see, you had found a teddy bear whose stuffing needed to be removed as a matter of urgency. The teddy bear in question was my most treasured possession; a brown, slightly disheveled bear with a red bow called Gravy. He would go on to survive being dangled over the edge of Granny Ann’s stream in the jaws of Lucy the Rottweiler and forgotten in a café after a Christmas Showing of the Nutcracker in London, but at that moment in time; I thought my precious Gravy’s days were numbered. I lay on my Mum’s bed; inconsolable about the impending demise of the bear- you had said men would come in white coats and huge ‘destuffing’ equipment to rid my bear of his stuffing and his life. I remember feeling the first cold stabs of injustice; why was it that my bear had to suffer when many others remained intact? And why was it that my own aunt was the orchestrator of his unwarranted execution?
My next memory of you takes place near the wolf enclosure of London Zoo. It was just me and you on a day outing and everything was going pretty routinely until there seemed to be a high pitched voice coming from the encircling pen of wolves. It said that I was looking really tasty, like a hummus sandwich with tomato, and that if got too close I’d get eaten- my teddy too. The voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite put my finger on where I had heard it before; but it was menacing in its squeakiness and intent. I glanced over at you and you wore the same perplexed expression as I: the wolves were clearly fighting back against their human oppressors. But fortunately, they were rightly using this opportunity to teach a young lady about the cruelty of animal enslavement.
After an initially shaky start in my younger years I started to grow rather fond of you as an aunt. For a year eight English project I had to write about an interesting member of my family; of course I could not imagine another relation who was more synonymous with the word ‘interesting.’ And that’s a hard feat considering Granny Ann was the Pied Piper of dogs across most of the British Isles- they came from far and wide as they always knew there was a chicken or tripe being roasted in the oven on standby. I remember writing rather vividly about every Christmas and birthday being presented with a huge assortment of exotic and colourful goodies from your adventures to far flung corners of the globe. It was exciting because you never knew what you were going to get- perhaps a lime green alpaca jumper from the Himalayas, a black jewelled bracelet from Iraq or a gift voucher for a girl’s education in a developing country. For my eighteenth birthday, perhaps as a rite of passage, you gave me a little pink book entitled: The guide to a better Orgasm. I imagine you thought that the path to adulthood and better orgasms were inexplicably linked.
You were never a run-of-the-mill aunt like most of my friends would describe when speaking of theirs. You were a Vegan ten years before it became trendy and people started standing on soapboxes about it. You took in a Political asylum seeker from the Congo and helped a man who otherwise may not have survived in his own country. You decided to go and help in Afghanistan when you were nearly fifty; the only struggle being the fitness test for required sit ups per minute. Because I suppose what I love most about you and the women in my family is you’ve given me such strong female role models to grow up against. Not only are they all incredibly compassionate, caring and kind but they are bright, intelligent and want to bring change to the world in whatever small ways they can. And you more than anyone, Jan, have taught me the importance of the path left untrodden. Where societal rules and conventions can sometimes restrict and govern the majority; you’ve politely declined to tick the ballot box of banality. Without sounding like a Miss England sound bite, you’ve been such an inspiration for me: culturally, philosophically…morally. You’ve taken me to watch versions of Hamlet set in psychiatric wards and circus artists dangling on boxes of eggs. We’ve sat in many a Vegan-friendly restaurant and discussed the meaning of life and what we know so far using napkins as diagrams. We’ve also sat through a few of Rob’s many slideshows; drinking a bottle of wine we conveniently found in the vegetable drawer. You’ve met all my boyfriends, and let’s be fair there’s been rather a few, even asking thoughtful and intelligent questions about why they decided to wear a onesie.
To quote the great Frida, who today is on my dress cradling a monkey: “Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are a bourbon biscuit.” Jan, Rob, I can’t imagine two people that are two better suited to be each other’s bourbon biscuits- naturally ones with an alternative buttercream filling. Because if I was to quantify your love in relation to desserts, as I firmly believe everyone should, I would say that you were each other’s vegan Black Forest Gateau Torte in a sepia sea of malt loaf and toasted tea cake. You both co-exist in a world that is iridescently vibrant, bizarre and fabulous; filled with love, photos and scenic strolls along coastlines. The energy and evident happiness you radiant around each other is just infectious- I can’t help but smile whenever I think of you both, all of the adventures you’ve shared and all those left to come.
I don’t think there is ever a definitive definition or time limit for love, but you’ve shown me what it means to transcend all expectations and realities when it comes to pledging an unfaltering devotion to another human being. I cherish every day I get to spend with you both; whether we are in a poorly ventilated attic watching comedians who are painfully unfunny or recording avante-garde video messages at an Edinburgh bus stop. You are both unquestionably two of my most favourite people in the world, and there’s no-one I can think of that should take that plunge into the warming cup of tea that is marriage. Not that it’s ever a necessity or the only thing to inspire to; I am your niece after all. I’ve tried to avoid cliques such as ‘the first day of the rest of your lives’ and ‘living happily ever after’ as I’m pretty sure that kind of jargon isn’t applicable to you. One day isn’t going to magically transform or deepen the poignancy of the previous 12 years; but it gives all the people that love and adore you, and by looking around the room there seems to be rather a few, the chance to celebrate and share the kaleidoscopic oasis that is the interwoven branches of your past, present and future. And I’m so proud to say that I can now officially call Rob, Uncle Rob- although to be honest I’ve been doing it ironically and affectionately for years. You’ve been a surrogate father figure to me on countless occasions, offering me and Pikachu counselling sessions in cafes and, when I had an account, you would always the be first to like my photos on Facebook. And in this day and age; that’s the sign of a real, lasting friendship. So on behalf of us all I wish to welcome you to the family; I hope you like dogs and vegetarian food. And if Jan does start taking calls from ‘The stuffing company’ or animals begin to talk to you I’m 95% percent sure she playing a joke on you; the problem is that there is always that niggling 5% that makes you think it could, in fact, be true.
My advice to the both of you, like every good biscuit, is to be durable under pressure, complimentary in a balanced diet and not to go stale in old age. Life is about seeing how far your Wagon Wheels will take you, but recognising it’s not always a packet of Jammie Dodgers. Sometimes you have to walk a winding, endless road of malted milks before you reach a glorious, metropolis of Viennese whirls. And it’s never too late to say that you are fed up of Hobnobs and from now on you are only going to eat Indian Chai macaroons. Because life is too short to eat bland biscuits; but on the other hand can also be too long if you have no-one to share them with. So it’s my honour to raise a glass to the both of you, may your pantry be ever plentiful; your elevensies limitless and your next chapter be just as happy and beautiful as the one before it.