A Faraway Brother

Much to my eternal shame, I have not yet commented on the fact that my brother left for Australia for a year a couple of weeks ago. This is because of how busy I’ve been, and how little the blogging bug has bitten me lately…

It was several months ago when my brother decided – though only because of an opportunity that came from nowhere – to take the chance of getting out of this country for at least a year. He dropped out of university in February in his second year, and did nothing ever since. Such was his embarrassment for his predicament, and his own sense of pride, he refused to sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance. While that was understandable, it meant he had no money and no life for the best part of eight months.

He tried to get jobs and failed. No one wants to employ a university drop-out. Heck, hardly anyone wants to employ a university graduate. How I failed to get the jobs I applied for is beyond me. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that, at least for the moment (more on that story some other time if I remember), but for him every failed job application just made him worse and worse.

In truth, he ceased being a full member of the family. He went into his shell and didn’t bother keeping “normal” hours. He would go to bed around 6am and get up at 4pm in the afternoon, to go on the Xbox 360 and the PC or sometimes both. I can’t remember the last time I had a proper conversation with him. Note for men: proper conversations do not involve football, or any sport. They’re trivial small talk. And that’s all I had.

It’s so sad for me in particular. I was so close to my brother when I was younger. We used to have such good fun and a great laugh about anything. He was a real wit, exhibiting the usual child-eyed naivety in every observation he made, except to an extreme level. We’d annoy each other from time to time, usually over whose turn it was to go on the computer, but it was nothing more than the ordinary sibling gamesmanship.

I talk as if he is no longer with us. In the immediate sense, he isn’t. But what I’m describing is a brother that left me about eight years ago, when I first left home for university. Our relationship has never been the same since. In one moment of candour, he once admitted that he found it very hard to live in my shadow. He put himself under enormous pressure because he felt like he would disappoint us if he didn’t achieve what I did, i.e. good grades.

But as I found, grades are meaningless. It’s how you develop as a person and the skills you hone along the way that makes you what you are.

It is possible I might never see my brother James for a very long time. He is in Australia on a one-year student visa. If he likes it, he can extend it to two. If he really likes it, and an employer will sponsor him, well, he could settle there permanently.

I am envious. It is something I’ve always wanted to do. When I look out the window at today’s bad weather, it fills me with dread. Months and months of this to come. But the idea too of going out on your own to meet a new challenge, to re-invent yourself all over again. It was always tempting to me. It will almost certainly never happen for me now.

I wished my brother all the best. If I see him again in one or two years time, I suspect he will be a very different person. More confident. Hopefully with a better idea of what he wants to do with himself too. But I just hope he’s made the right decision. It’s not as if the jobs he can get in Australia – largely menial stuff – will be much better than he maybe could have got here if he’d lowered his expectations.

But sometimes, your environment is what makes all the difference. And if it’s a choice between Australia or the grim North, then the grass on the other side of the fence looks mighty tempting…