Be assured, they will will not read this; she has little understanding of or interest in computer-related matters, which therefore are a pointless waste of time, he, in his mid-eighties (she is somewhat younger), is remarkably competent and quick to pick things up, but his interest in computers and the internet is purely practical. Also though, the idea of reflection on oneself or other matters, the examined life, of seeking to understand more deeply, which I think this kind of blogging at its best should lead one to, is alien to both of them, I think. They simply don't understand why I do it, are dismissive of it, and so I no longer try to talk about it.
I explored the idea that I see the relationship with them as a little like that with my parents. Some of the dynamic that marred things between my parents and myself is present with them too: they have, in my eyes, a tendency toward prejudice on certain matters verging on bigotry, a mental and spiritual laziness giving rise to glibness and conviction as to the rightness of their own opinions, and, with J especially, an exasperating tendency to repeat herself and go over matters from the past which we know all about already and didn't find very interesting in the first place. All this, of which I'm probably equally guilty but blind to, or I will be when I'm old, triggers a reaction of irritable impatience and smart-arsedness on my part worthy of any stroppy adolescent, which I usually curb but not always. Yet there is the kind of safe familiarity and appreciation that they will always be themselves and one will always receive a welcome that is the positive side of a good parental-filial bond.
Another way in which they may be akin to parent figures, at least within my experience of the family model, is that they rather form the central connecting knot of our friendships with other, generally younger, people. We may really like and admire B and D better, for example, yet we have a little trouble relating to them without reference to D and J, and when we see them on our own, frequently end up talking about the older couple, often with a degree of rueful exasperation. This is quite reminisicent of siblings, I feel.
D has no children, J has sons around my age, not in France, daughters-in-law she gets on well with, but no daughters. She and I sometimes go shopping, have coffee, exchange novels, recipes and non-malicious gossip. On a day to day level, she knows me quite well, but little of my history. She is fairly incurious, I am fairly guarded, but if one is in reaction to the other, or if that is our general default position, I'm not sure. She is one of the few people I am quite at ease with on the 'phone. When I answer and it is her, my voice lightens with relief, she hears this and laughs, and we slip into comfortable chit-chat for as long as we feel inclined, even if we're seeing each other later.
So, it could be seen that we are a little like surrogate mother and daughter. Yet there are important differences too. J is a very positive person, a galloping extrovert and seems very secure in her self-esteem. She is good at asking for what she needs, but not emotionally needy. She never drains me. We sometimes feel quite exasperated at her adoration of her favourite son, who seems incapable if fulfilling any commitment to her except for occasionally flashing his money about, and that not as often as he says he will, but she genuinely seems to feel no sense of disappointment or reproach. Indeed, reproach, like malice or jealousy, doesn't seem to be much in her nature.
By contrast, my mother was a sensitive, thoughtful, perceptive person, very considerate of others and tactful, but with wounds deep down to her self-esteem that could never really be healed, only ignored or covered over for a time, but which erupted painfully when life, especially in the form of her family, disappointed her, and as the skin of her spirit grew fragile with age. Reproach was a fairly large part of her being, certainly by the time I was growing up. The more keenly I felt this, the more I pulled away from her, and then the more she had to reproach me for. I am a far better surrogate daughter to J out of goodwill, than I was a real and dutiful daughter to my mother. Am I trying to make amends? It may be so.
*J is undergoing chemotherapy at the moment, as I've mentioned before. Fear, exacerbated by a Job's comforter or two distressed her at first, but now the treatment is underway, she's embarked on it with a notable degree of positivity, treating it rather as a creative project, something going on round which to organise her life and busy herself finding ways to make as bearable as possible.
"Come on Monday, D'll appreciate the drinking company, and I won't feel like socialising for a bit after Tuesday's treatment."
"Couldn't make the the Tuesday's, the white blood cells were too low, so I took advantage of the week's parole to do such and such... and it means I've still got a bit of hair for a bit longer."
"I went to the material shop and bought some pretty bits for scarves..."
Unable to take alcohol, she has become a connoisseur of fruit juice blends,
"... and now I've bought a blender to make smoothies. It's good for D too, he's so lazy about eating fruit."
She told me about the blender on the 'phone the other day, and we fell to talking about these. They were, I recalled, among the first bits of motorised kitchen gadgetry to appear, after hand-held mixers and before the full-blown food processors. My mother had one, a Sunbeam I think, she was always a great one for electrically powered kitchen hardware. I recounted how she used to do our milk drinks in it to make them frothy, and that my brother's preferred cold Nesquick chocolate sometimes finished with buttery bits in it, since, as the second wave of post-war and rationing offspring, we lived off the fat of the land, including gold-top Channel Island milk with everything. (This probably accounts for the relatively svelter shapes and better looks of my older sublings...). J, who lived in Guernsey with the second of her three husbands - another area in which she differs significantly from my mother - concurred on the tendency of Channel Island milk and cream to turn to butter at the drop of a hat, or third turn of a whisk.
"It was nice, though," I said "coming home from school to frothy warm chocolate. My childhood wasn't bad really."
" I can see you suffered terribly!"