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In which I connive to impress a mere child


MY brothers and sisters and I didn't quite have sibling rivalry when we were growing up. We had, what I would call, healthy competition.

We weren't competing for our parents' affection rather for every possible title we could imagine.

Best at sliding down the staircase in a sleeping bag. Best at balancing a pineapple on their head. Best at running to the corner shop ("we'll time you!").

Yes, I later found out the latter was a cunning ruse . . .

We're all grown up now and we are aunts and uncles to the first member of the next generation.

When the first grandchild comes along a family matures into their new roles as moral custodians.

The competitive spirit of your youth is long forgotten as you try to imbue the newest member with a sense of right and wrong.

Or rather that's how it should be.

I can't really say, as for the last three years my brother and I have been locked in a relentless game of oneupmanship.

It's no longer about who's the best pancake thrower or for how long you can hold your breath underwater.

These days there is just one ongoing championship: who does Davy, our three-year-old nephew, love more?

Yes, it's silly and childish and possibly quite sick, but we simply will not rest until we get to the bottom of it.

Sometimes I just want to ask him straight. "Listen, Davy, I'm not looking for anything heavy, but where do you see this relationship going?"


But I know better. We both know better. You can't ask a child to choose favourites.

You can, however, pick up on clues and cues and decide for yourself.

My brother is absolutely certain that the title is his. "You just need to accept that I'm his favourite uncle and move on with your life," he once boasted.

He forgot that there are unwritten rules to this competition.

You can't ingratiate yourself with toys or sweets, and you can't be boastful either.

His arrogance was the justification I needed for a dirty tricks campaign. And it was so much easier than I thought.

"Davy," I said one day, while looking at my nephew and pointing at my brother. "His name is Unc-le Poo-Poo. Yeah? Unc-le Poo-Poo."

It only took a few iterations for him to be officially christened. That's his name now.

Even Davy's grandmother on the other side calls him Uncle Poo-Poo – an unexpected boon that gives me enormous pleasure.

Karma, of course, soon got the better of me.

An envelope was recently sent from Davy's playschool, addressed to one Uncle Poo-Poo.

Inside was a card festooned with a number of dancing elves and the soul-destroying words: "I love you."

Uncle Poo-Poo wasn't boastful this time. If anything he was conciliatory. "You put the time in, you get it back," he shrugged.

A new tack was needed. I had to invest time into the pursuit of his affections.

A favourite aunt is a constant – she doesn't just drift in and out.

So last month I did something out of the ordinary.

I took a morning off work and made my way to his Nativity play.

There he was, tea towel wrapped round his head and light beaming from his little face.

And there was Uncle Poo-Poo, already positioned in the front row, camera poised for action . . .

I don't know why it is that some people crave the acceptance of children.

Let's face it, they're monomaniacal, rude and largely disinterested. And yet we would do anything – anything – for a peck on the cheek or a high five.

Do we crave a child's affection for the acceptance of adults, or is it for the validation of ourselves?

Perhaps we think those with the purest hearts are the most careful scrutinisers of humanity.

Be honest: you've cast doubts upon the person your child simply won't go near or the neighbour your dog incessantly barks at. We all have.


Speaking of dogs, I should at this point probably tell you that an ex-boyfriend and I once staged a love test for a terrier that we owned.

Scrappy (the name of the dog, not the boyfriend) and I had a serious connection. He lay snuggled into the small of my back night after night.

My ex, however, contended that he lay snuggled into the small of his back night after night.

And so we had to find out who was top dog. If only for a sense of closure.

We sat on opposite sides of the room and after the count of three we simultaneously called his name. Whoever he ran to was clearly his favourite.

Well I've never seen anything so pitiful. Poor Scrappy ran in one direction and then the other – right and left and left and right – before becoming completely discombobulated and collapsing to the ground.

We never staged another love test, and we never talked about that day again.

Davy, on the other hand, has grown rather fond of the projector I bought myself for Christmas, particularly when I watch Toy Story.

It's my favourite film. Honestly . . .