It's not easy being an uncle. You're expected to be cool, fun and yet responsible. Max, uncle of two, shares his insights
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It’s Sunday morning. I’m cruising the Med on my enormous 105-foot Sunseeker; the Saucy Shadbolt. I stroll to the back of the yacht where my beautiful girlfriend, Emma Watson, is sunbathing, sipping a large martini. She looks at me lovingly and asks if I'd like one.
I summon the barkeep, being careful to step around Hugh Laurie, Jamie Oliver and Prince Harry, who are playing a round of cards at the table. “Come and join us Shadders,” calls Salman Rushdie, shuffling his hand. “We’re coming into Monaco soon, and what with the huge ball this evening with the Grimaldis we won’t get a chance to have a quick game.” I thank Salman dearly for his kind invitation, take my martini from the barman and settle down for a chat with Angelina Jolie, whilst the Rolling Stones are on their third set of the day.
Then, there is a piercing scream. The sound of running footsteps, and the opening strains of “Peppa Pig” blaring through the yacht. I turn to my darling Emma to see what's going on, to find that she has turned into Spider-Man. Salman and the boys have become Barbies, stuffed dogs and a toy guitar which won’t turn off.
It is then I realise I am not on the Saucy Shadbolt in Monaco harbour, but rather I am in bed, in Essex…and the niece and nephew are awake.
Bang! The door flies open and I barely have time to groan with sadness at the wondrous dream that has been interrupted, when my boisterous nephew Leo decides that it will be a great start to the day for Uncle Bubs to have his knackers crushed. By a DVD of Ice Age 4 – Continental Drift being brought smashing down on my sensitive parts.
Whilst all this is going on, and I’m in the process of coughing up blood, my niece, Elodie, is chattering away about how I should be awake and doing things as it’s “very late Bubs and you shouldn’t be sleeping you silly billy!”. By this point, Emma and the rest of my celestial party are mere memories. My sister, whom I adore incidentally, is leaning on my door frame with the kind of smile that says “Welcome to my world, Bubs”.
Leaning across the now child-strewn bed, I check the clock. Leo has the clock and is in the process of trying to find out what goes on inside. A scuffle ensues, where tears and cries of “MY CLOCK BUBS!” and “Bugger off Leo” are bandied around. Eventually I win, which leads to tears and my nephew, whom I also adore, running from the room. First high point of the day.
5:14 in the morning.
It is now that the hangover decides to kick in.
“Time for breakfast, Bubs!” says my niece, who is also up there on my adoration chart. I groan, try to roll over to rejoin Mick and the boys, but Loddy has taken my pillow to use as a bed for her doggies.
As is the life of an uncle I suppose. It's a position that I hold incredibly dear to me. I love having these two little scamps in my life. Scamps that one day will turn to me when they have been out drinking all night and they don’t want mummy and daddy to know, and need somewhere to sober up.
I’ll be there, aged 40 (dear God) at Elodie’s 21st party, making middle-aged advances on her friends. I’ll be the one whom they ask to tell mummy and daddy that the bag of 'oregano' that they bought had been discovered not to be the delicious accompaniment to a salad that they first thought.
Whenever I hear that my sister, her wonderful husband and their lovely brood are incoming, I prepare myself. Not for the re-enactment of the Battle of the Somme that is the breakfast table when they come over, but for the responsibilities that come with the Sacred Office of Uncle.
Well, actually, there aren’t any. Uncles don’t really have a role in the greater scheme of things. Mine certainly didn’t! We're there for when the kiddies want them – I have learnt to my detriment that trying to involve myself with the core nucleus of the family can end badly. “Not Bubs do it, daddy do it!” is something I hear a lot. But I also hear: “Bubs, can you come and watch Ice Age with me?” and when I hear that my spirits soar. They like me! They really like me! I, Uncle Bubs, will be the uncle who forges a role for uncles everywhere.
“Bubs, can I have some more chocolate?” My moment has arrived! I can now be the responsible uncle as well as the hilarious, charming, generous and spectacularly fun uncle. (Modesty isn’t one of my strong points.)
“No darling, you’ve already had four bags today.” That’s when the kids lose their sh*t. Bubs is now relegated to Evil Uncle Bubs, Bubs the Nay-Sayer, Bubs-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And that sucks. What do I do? I’ve been reported to mummy now for being mean…I must do something to regain their adoration…but what? I know, I’ll explain why I said no! They’re reasonable, they’ll understand.
Two minutes later, the screaming is unbearable. In child terms I'm now on the same level as Hitler. Oh gawd, I need a drink. Bugger, I can’t - it’s still frigging 8am. My body is reacting to the family-induced stress.
But once I’ve settled, the tea is brewing and I’ve managed to grab three minutes of television without Mr Tumble, I reflect. I think back to the days before the kids came along. I was a brother, and that's great, but I was the youngest brother. I’m the youngest by quite a few years, and the role of youngest brother in a family such as ours is that one tends to get pigeonholed as eternally 13, eternally to be indulged, but not perhaps taken 100% seriously.
I am now 24. I have a job I enjoy, I have wonderful friends, I’m still looking for Miss Right (except for when Miss Watson’s around) but that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as some people assume it does. And now I am an uncle, to two sweet little children who, despite the occasional Chernobyl-style meltdown, are lovely and I wouldn’t change for the world. But it’s tough.
I do worry that Loddy and Leo won’t end up playing with their cousins Humphrey and Tywin (I never said I was normal). I see my sister and her wonderful husband and I want all that - but then I look at Leo, who has decided that it’s far too hot in November so has decided to strip off, do a wee-wee in the kitchen, then run into the freezing cold. And I realise that I really don’t want that.
Having a sibling with children is a perfect balance. It's the world’s greatest incentive to get out there, find the partner of one's dreams, get down to some skoodlipooping and make some babies - but it also serves as the greatest contraceptive known to man.
Until Emma Watson and I finally get together and make Max Jr and Emma Jr, after a beautiful wedding in the south of France, I am incredibly happy and proud to be Bubs for as long as Ellie and Leo will put up with their grumpy, hungover, slightly crotchety uncle. Here’s hoping it will be quite a while yet.