“To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.”
When my brother Russell was born in 1963, Mum said I ran up to her as she held my new baby brother and held my arms out to her, my first words were: ‘oh thank you Mummy. THANK YOU!’ I had asked for a brother and Mum had brought me home a prize as far as my 3-year-old self was concerned.
From that day onward, we were the best of friends. We rarely exchanged a cross word. We are very different, I was always the chatterbox, unpredictable, impulsive and undeniably bossy, Russ is (and has always been) thoughtful, industrious and actually quite shy.
Never loud or opinionated (unlike his older sister!), he is nevertheless blessed with a reserve of patience and reasoned opinion. He is not seduced by the bright lights or trappings of fame and fortune and he dislikes confrontation, but behind the reserved demeanour, however, lurks a very funny guy. Like Dad he has a gift for storytelling and has great comic timing. I remember once after a visit home one weekend laughing so much at one of Russell’s funny stories the next morning at breakfast Dad saying (just mildly irritated) that he ‘had been kept awake by Alyson squealing with laughter for hours on end!’ – my husband once said that Russell was the ‘best drunk in the room who hasn’t had a drink.’. That is another feature of Russ – in fact both my brothers – neither of them like alcohol and to this day I have never seen either of them even marginally tipsy – preferring a latte to a lager on every occasion.
Russell and I were constant playmates from 1963 to 1970. I have never really been a ‘girly girl’ so never owned many dolls or cuddly toys: it was mainly cars and adventure games and we enjoyed immersing ourselves. We had a Christmas in Switzerland with Mum & Dad in 1967, Tom Jones and his Green Green Grass of Home would echo around the outdoor ice rink we skated at all day and we remember this as the ‘bodgy magoo’ holiday – that was Russell’s attempt to say ‘merci beau coups’ to the French waiter for his hot chocolate.
In 1969 we had a holiday in Malta and played table football at a local bar – Lily the Pink by Scaffold was on the jukebox and we drank bottles of coke as a rare treat because Mum & Dad were not upholding the strict ‘not too much fizzy’ rule.
In 1970 my younger brother Philip joined our happy hub. Elvis featured again as he did 10 years earlier when I was born with the best-selling record of 1960; he had another number 1 in the charts in July of 1970 with The Wonder of You. I think it is fair to say the family dynamic changed completely when Philip arrived. It wasn’t that he was a particularly naughty child, but he demanded quite a lot of all of us and if he didn’t get his own way would employ a blood curdling scream as a tactic to ensure Mum & Dad would get his attention, and what usually followed was Russell and I being told off for tormenting our ‘poor little brother’…
He became an absolute irritation to Russell and I who became his proxy babysitters. He drove us mad as we were suddenly responsible for his health and welfare. Philip developed a curious obsession with public toilets, we were often at speedway meetings and at Heat 11 (those who follow speedway will know that in the 70’s this was usually a critical point of the fixture), Philip would be niggling at Mum ‘ I need the toilet Mummy’….and it was Russell or I who were instructed and despatched to take him – he wasn’t fussy whether it was the ladies or the gents (up to the age of around seven or eight anyway) but our frustration became real agitation the day Russ complained to Mum ‘he only wants to go to have a look around, he doesn’t actually want to go!’ and as a result we had missed key races and potentially big incidents whilst Philip was content to take in the ambiance of however many WC’s the length of breadth of Britain in a variety of settings.
We have very different personalities us Lanning kids. Philip is by far the fieriest and his legendary temper has spawned a few memorable tales for the family album. Mum once lectured Russell and I for being our younger brother’s constant tormentors. It is true we teased him mercilessly and I recall one Shrove Tuesday we kept stealing the pancakes off his plate that Mum was making by-the-minute: ‘you are making him worse’ she scolded, ‘he’s angry and upset now’. As we sat in silence for a while as Mum allowed only Philip to benefit from the conveyor belt of pancakes tossed exclusively onto his plate, he looked up and said, somewhat smugly, ‘when you think about this Mum, Alyson and Russell have ruined my life….’
‘My world in their hands’ by Philip Lanning, aged 5!
Any family games almost invariably ended in tantrums and tears. Philip nearly always stomped off in a rage. The red mist would descend and woe betide if anyone tried to calm the situation or attempt to explain the rules if he felt he’d been ‘cheated’ or we’d been ganging up against him.
A simple game of ‘blow football’ (remember the one with straws, a board and a small soft ball?) was battered and broken as Philip hurled it to the wall in frustration. Mum had gone out to her theatre club and left the game for Dad, Russ & Philip’s entertainment for the night. Dad was sitting alone, with a small beer and a despairing look when she returned. On enquiry: ‘Philip’s stomped off’ he said ‘ I’ve told Russell to go to his room as well. All hell broke loose with that bloody game!’ he said to poor Mum who when relaying the story on the ‘phone to me a few days later said: ‘and there was me feeling all cosy thinking of them playing a nice simple game that could not possibly cause any arguments…’. On hearing Mum arrive back home Philip mooched sulkily into the dining room: ‘Mum can I have a Beechams powder. I think I’m going to get a headache…’
Our family games included outside tennis, football tournaments and speedway on pedal bikes on the driveway. We all joined in -bar Mum – who was often called on to either referee or adjudicate – and then in turn was accused of bias – Dad always claimed she was never on his side! Accidents and injuries occurred on countless occasions. Our cousin Andre, 4 years younger then Russell and 3 years Philip’s senior, joined us for most of the summer and Christmas holidays and he too was involved in the games and equally as competitive. Over the years we have recalled those days in Hornchurch, Essex where we lived from 1976 until Mum and Dad moved back down to Dorset 20 years later, by which time we had all left home. There are still (mild at this stage of our lives) disagreements over who had won really, who was the real rogue and cheat and so it rumbles on…
We are a very close family and I am eternally grateful to Mum & Dad and my brothers for creating a world where we were able to grow and thrive. It gave me the confidence to believe in myself, to never be browbeaten (we all pitched in with debates and discussions) and most importantly we were equals and I was never, ever treated any differently from my brothers.
Dad bought three season tickets at West Ham and it was Russell and I that went to Upton Park with him. When we were older and had Saturday jobs, Philip would go and Mum too on a few rare occasions. We all love sport and of course Dad’s involvement in speedway and darts shaped much of our childhood. Speedway racing was always our passion – it still is today, and our children are equally as involved which we regard as a wonderful legacy to our father who ‘got the bug’ as far back as 1948 when he attended the first ever meeting in his native home of Poole. Our politics grew to be very different but I admired and adored Mum and Dad until their dying day.
Music played a very big part in our lives too. Dad was a showbusiness features writer for TV Times in the early days of his 30-year career with the magazine. We owned a few hundred vinyl albums and as a result we all have an eclectic love of weird and wonderful songs with vivid memories of party nights and records strewn all over the floor as the wine flowed and the spirit of the night became intoxicating. Forever is the fond memory of crazy guests, communal singing and Mum’s penchant for cocktail cigarettes on those particularly bacchanalian nights!
Russell loved the band Sweet during the glam rock years of the early ‘70’s and I often wonder if our recall for the words of Blockbuster and Wig Wam Bam is a sad indictment and misuse of memory space in the brain! I was completely in love with David Cassidy and because Philip is a devotee of ‘80’s music we were bombarded with Adam and the Ants and constant repeats of Young Parisians and Prince Charming morning, noon and night.
When we lost Mum and Dad it was my siblings I needed more than ever. We share a unique love and bond and I am incredibly proud to call them my brothers. They are wonderful men with equally fantastic families and without them I would be a ship without an anchor.
And Philip should get the last mention given the diva rages of his youth are so well remembered by the family. How could we ever forget his greatest exit after one particularly stressful and argumentative mealtime when he was banished to his room, only for Russ and I to follow and listen quietly to his stroppy rant outside his bedroom door.
‘I hate this house. I hate everyone who lives here’ (noises off; sickening crash, doors slamming, bags being packed) ‘in fact it is so bloody awful in this house I am…I am. …yes that’s it…I am going to starve myself after breakfast…’