I come from a family of smart people. Who did proper degrees with practical applications, and got proper jobs in the real world, and got married and had families and houses and mortages. And I’m not planning any of that. And that’s fine.
My grandfather went to Oxford to study Maths. He applied after his two years of National Service in the army, where he taught illiterate prisoners to read in Scotland and helped with the repairs in Germany after WWII. Originally, he asked to study Natural Sciences, because he thought he wouldn’t be smart enough to study Maths — but he got in, and he graduated and got a job and fell in love. He met my grandmother at a Roman pageant. She was dressed as an archer, he as a centurion; he gave her a lift home on the back of his motorbike, which he’d bought off a South African pole-vaulter at the 1948 Olympics who needed to pay his way back home. She fell in love with him, even though he started losing his hair at 25.
Gran grew up in a poor household; apparently her father or grandfather gambled away all the family fortunes. She got a scholarship to a snooty school, and wanted to study History at university. But her little sister was a musical prodigy, her parents couldn’t afford to put both of them through higher education, so she trained as a teacher at Homerton College. I’m pretty sure she got an honourary degree from Cambridge before she died. I’m glad. My grandfather would write software programmes, and she would write the manuals so people could comprehend them, but she had no interest in technology herself. She preferred people.
My mother was less academic than her brother, who studied as a vet in Edinburgh and married a civil servant, then a travel agent. Instead, she trained as a nurse and medical secretary, and stopped working to have a family and live in suburbia. In an attempt to prove the theory that women fall in love with men like their fathers, she married my dad: a software engineer, with an Oxbridge education (but rather more hair. And no motorbike).
Even my cousins are scientific. Gus has a PhD in something to do with birds, and his wife is a doctor of spiders. Cat and her husband both studied chemistry, before being forced to drop out of university.
But really, it seems a bit like I exist only to be a contrast to my brother. He is skinny and athletic, all muscle and bone with not a molecule of fat on him. He worked hard at school and is in the third year of a Physics MA. He’ll be spending the summer in Didcot, where his girlfriend works in a chemical engineering company. He’s going to be working on nuclear fusion, which is a pretty big task for an undergrad. He doesn’t really have plans for the future, but it’s a fair guess he’ll get a steady job, because physics graduates are always in demand. I’d like him to to marry his girlfriend and move to Coventry and have babies as geeky as they are, and a wilted lawn with toys strewn across it, and a lazy lapcat called Molly.
And then there’s me. I am not skinny, nor athletic, instead exquisitely endomorphic with a fascinating topography. I spend all my time procrastinating, complaining when things don’t go my way while simultaneously telling everyone to CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE!!! My plan for the summer is to travel around Asia for five and a half weeks before starting my degree in English and Philosophy. Then things get a bit hazy, but I’m almost sure I’ll never get a proper job. And it certainly won’t involve trying to solve a major energy problem. I’m more likely to move to New York, sink thousands of dollars into a post-graduate degree, and barely scrape a living as a freelance writer always dreaming of something more. I’m going to make a point of being every ‘starving artist’ cliche I can. Maybe I’ll make a check list, so I can tick them off as I go.
I have nothing in common with my brother, but we get on pretty well.
But I always feel like a bit of the un-favourite in my family, like my parents prefer my brother because he’s predictable and conventional and going to be a success. I’m more of a roulette. I honestly can’t imagine ever living in the real world, full of bills and deadlines and social expectations. Maybe that’s what appeals so much about writing: I can ensconce myself in a little bubble, where other people can only come if I invite them in. My family doesn’t understand, but I don’t understand how anyone could live working in an office from 9 till 5, so I guess we’re even. Let me be a flake; just don’t make me get a proper job.
But I wouldn’t change them for the world – because I know my sensible, stable family will always be there to help me out. They’ll give me a sofa to crash on, so I can figure out my life while they get on with theirs.