My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell

‘Really, Mother, you are impossible!’ exclaimed Larry angrily. ‘I was looking forward to a nice quiet summer’s work, with just a few select friends, and now we’re going to be invaded by that evil old camel, smelling of mothballs and singing hymns in the lavatory.’
‘Really, dear, you do exaggerate. And I don’t know why you have to bring lavatories into it – I’ve never heard her sing hymns anywhere.’
‘She does nothing else but sing hymns … “Lead, Kindly Light”, while everyone queues on the landing.’
‘Well, anyway, we’ve got to think of a good excuse. I can’t write and tell her we don’t want her because she sings hymns.’
‘Why not?’
‘Don’t be unreasonable, dear; after all, she is a relation.’
‘What on earth’s that got to do with it? Why should we have to fawn all over the old hag because she’s a relation, when the really sensible thing to do would be to burn her at the stake.’
‘She’s not as bad as that,’ protested Mother halfheartedly.
‘My dear Mother, of all the foul relatives with which we are cluttered, she is definitely the worst. Why you keep in touch with her I cannot, for the life of me, imagine.’
‘Well, I’ve got to answer her letters, haven’t I?’
‘Why? Just write “Gone Away” across them and send them back.’
‘I couldn’t do that, dear; they’d recognize my handwriting,’ said Mother vaguely; ‘besides, I’ve opened this now.’
‘Can’t one of us write and say you’re ill?’ suggested Margo.
‘Yes, we’ll say the doctors have given up hope,’ said Leslie.
‘I’ll write the letter,’ said Larry with relish. I’ll get one of those lovely black-edged envelopes… that will add an air of verisimilitude to the whole thing.’
‘You’ll do nothing of the sort,’ said Mother firmly. ‘If you did that she’d come straight out to nurse me. You know what she is.’
‘Why keep in touch with them; that’s what I want to know,’ asked Larry despairingly. ‘What satisfaction does it give you? They’re all either fossilized or mental.’
‘Indeed, they’re not mental,’ said Mother indignantly.
‘Nonsense, Mother… . Look at Aunt Bertha, keeping flocks of imaginary cats … and there’s Great Uncle Patrick, who wanders about nude and tells complete strangers how he killed whales with a pen-knife …. they’re all bats.’
‘Well, they’re queer; but they’re all very old, and so they’re bound to be. But they’re not mental,’explained Mother; adding candidly, ‘Anyway, not enough to be put away.’

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