Sibling Sobering

Cramming for Arab Lit in the Bill Bryson

Cramming for Arab Lit in the Bill Bryson

My little brother got back from his first ever solo adventure in Japan yesterday. Two weeks on Honshu, starting and ending in Tokyo, and taking in the south-coast sights from Kyoto to Hiroshima and beyond. It’s the kind of thing I would have done if I’d had the money he had on my gap year. That’s the main positive of a functional gap year: work for three quarters of it and then travel on the money you’ve earned in that time. Or, if you’re a singular nutcase like me, decide on a year abroad at the last possible minute, put a three month stint in Uganda at the start and a month and a half’s travelling in Spain at the end, making a stable job in between almost impossible, and try to get by on a budget of less than a hundred quid. Not a good model. I don’t begrudge my little bro in the slightest for this stellar work of one-upmanship; it’s how a gap year should be done. Bravo.

In between tales of his exploits, up to and including appearing on national television quite by accident (I told him he’d find people knew he was coming before ever he got there, though I didn’t quite see it happening like that!), I realised he’d learned a valuable life lesson that’s still beyond my understanding, and that’s not to rush things whilst you’re young. In short, old age doesn’t have to mean the end of your adventures. It came up when we were discussing where he’d be travelling next, and he told me that he’d love to join me on my crazy Cairo to Cape Town stint, so long as it was after we’d got on in life and – quoting verbatim – ‘after your kids had moved on and had kids of their own’. I was stunned. I’ve been hungering after Cairo to Cape Town since I first heard of it when I was sixteen, almost five years ago now. I wasn’t exactly planning on striking out for Egypt the week after graduating, but the prospect of waiting another thirty years and more hit me like a wall. There’s plenty of reason in his words, reason that’s beyond my childish enthusiasm, that’s for sure. It was a pretty humbling thing to hear from my nineteen year-old brother and it more than put me in my place. Clichéd as it sounds, I find myself bowled over at how much he’s grown up over the last year. Considerably more than me, at any rate! I wonder if that’s what having a stable job does to you… Man, what kind of an older brother must I look to him? I don’t half get the feeling sometimes like it’s up to me to make the mistakes so that he can learn from them by proxy without getting his hands dirty. And I make a heck of a lot of mistakes… (I hope to God he doesn’t judge me too harshly for that remark if he reads this!)

Well, it’s put my problems in perspective, at any rate. The kid’s off in search of another job for the summer already. Boy, if I’d had that level of get-up-and-go when I was his age, I’d have been made. Where we level out is on spending. I restricted myself to a £250 maximum budget for two weeks in Morocco, for everything. Lil’ bro managed to spend almost a thousand. Financially, we meet somewhere down the middle. Socially, he’s a good few hundred leagues ahead of me and still driving onwards. In a manner I never saw coming, I find myself looking up to him more and more. In a family of just four, I don’t have many familial examples to aspire to. But little brother, if I could be half the guy you are, I’d be a better man several times over. BB x

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