In the recent publication of his book, Prince Harry revealed that he never entirely felt a part of his family but more like a “spare” to his brother.
I am eleven years younger than my brother, Pat, and was born three and a half years after my youngest sister. I wasn’t so much a “spare” or 5th child, more an afterthought.
After the birth of three interim sisters, it was my brother’s insistence that he wanted a brother to play with that made my parents try for me. In effect, I literally owe my life to my brother’s grumpiness.
He was probably a bit miffed that he had to wait that long for my arrival but I often remind him that the best things in life are worth waiting for and then have to point at myself for clarification.
My brother and I never fought. He certainly never pushed me into a dog bowl. I wasn’t that small.
Although once, when he was sitting on a sunlounger in our garden, I kicked at football at him for fun.
He got angry and told me to think about what I had just done. So I did and thought it was hilarious and laughed like a drain.
Only later did I realise it had probably been a bad idea – because he could have stood up and whacked the ball back at me much harder.
But I can’t deny that, despite our age difference, he was/is a fantastic brother. At no point did he regard me as an irritating nuisance and I’ve heard and seen reports that suggest I probably was.
He would often read to me bedtime stories and because of his bad stutter, these would sometimes finish at 6am.
He would also create his own stories in his head and “make my toys talk” with different voices, which I loved. During these times his stutter would totally disappear as he was in character.
His creative storytelling skills would fire my imagination and later lead me to writing my own children’s stories for my son and later read them to other children in library storytime sessions.
We would play football in the garden together almost daily and an assortment of table top and board games. We always seemed to be playing and having fun.
He even had the patience to teach me how to understand and play chess.
Even as he moved through his teenage years and into his 20’s, he’d still make time for me.
Annoyed at my infuriating habit of swapping my football team allegiances every season – I was such a glory hunter – I remember he showed me a football pools coupon with all the teams listed and asked me to pick a team and stick with them for life.
This was a big deal to him. He even drew a contract that I had to sign. In reality, a piece of paper in a notebook that read “I Russell O’Connor agree to support (team) for the rest of my life.”
I was eight. Clearly it had to be written in a language I could understand as it was legally binding.
At the time, I loved playing cowboys and the most exciting name on the coupon, the one that jumped out at me was “Queens Park Rangers.”
It probably helped that my eight year old brain had no idea what united, villa or vale meant and the only Rovers I knew were dogs.
My fate was sealed. In that one single moment I had subjected myself to a lifetime of misplaced optimism.
When my brother moved away from home, I inherited his bedroom and a black and white Murphy TV. I was 13. I had finally arrived in the world, although slightly in the shadow of my brother’s awful green bedroom curtains.
Many years on, we are still close. We phone each other every month for a few hours – yes, partially because of his stutter.
I can never fully repay him for all the time he has spent with me, the devotion he showed me and everything he has done for me and the life lessons he has taught me.
Sometimes not intentionally. Sometimes I look at his mad life and the life choices he has made and think “Hell, I’m not doing that.”
I won’t mention the time that his cooker broke and it took him two weeks to buy a new one and so improvised cooking by boiling potatoes inside a kettle. Sadly, true. This is how I still learn from him today.
He is not in the best of health these days and I worry and care about him as he would for me. But it is no surprise that he went on to become a caring and great dad to his son and daughter.
I owe him and love him so much.