Alison Goulding: Bad Aunty Alison strikes again

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I AM Bad Aunty. When my nephew was born it was a moving time, and I spent many hours pondering how best I could serve him as an adult family member.

I envisioned him holding my hand as we glided around museums, parks and interesting farmer’s markets with me dispensing worldly wisdom and him soaking it up like a sponge while eating chocolate buttons. Apart from the chocolate buttons, it has been nothing like that.

Despite my good intentions I have fallen effortlessly into the role of Bad Aunty.

I tend to instigate boisterous games that end in tears (his) and someone being told off (him again).

I don’t visit him enough, or send enough cards with banknotes inside, and when he’s not looking I eat the Easter egg chocolate I’ve bought for him.

The toys I buy him are the wrong ones and tend to break too easily.

It’s small wonder that a sliver of mistrust is starting to shimmer in his big blues eyes whenever Aunty Alison turns up. But at the weekend I surpassed myself.

I thought it might be a nice idea to take round some of those big Chinese lanterns that you send off into the sky with a wish.

It seemed to me that it would repair an awful lot of my tattered reputation for the whole family to share a magical moment.

I should have known.

It took half an hour for everyone to put a coat on and then we stood outside shivering while I scanned the instructions.

My sister-in-law gamely volunteered to hold the lantern while I lit the fuel block.

It was a heart-shaped lantern and rather beautiful. The lantern filled with air and we let go. I had anticipated it drifting directly, yet gently, up into the ether, as if in some invisible elevator. But this in fact, did not happen.

Looking distinctly like an airborn terrorist weapon fuelled by a small, but sprightly, fire it headed straight for the neighbour’s garden, threatening to set their entire property aflame. At which point the family started screaming and trying to scale the boundary wall in an attempt to catch and extinguish it.

Then, in the last second it turned and gusted back towards my mum’s house, and the wailing intensified.

Attempts to bring it down failed and we watched in horror as it hovered painfully down the back street like a low-level flamethrower.

Silence descended on the group as we stopped breathing and listened for the sound of the fire engines.

It became a fiery dot, and then a speck and then it vanished.

There was a collective sag as the adrenalin began to leave us. In the silence that followed, my brother started to laugh hysterically and couldn’t stop.

My nephew looked distraught. “Where has it gone?” he said, gazing at the horizon.

“It’s like a firework” I said manically, “You just let it go.”

“Maybe we can find it and get it back?” his eyes began to fill with tears.

We trooped inside. Mum switched the local news on and waited.

I left shortly after, feeling that my work was done. The remaining lanterns were expelled with me as the family closed ranks and prepared their “Chinese lantern? No officer, we don’t know anything about a Chinese lantern” faces.

So. Not just Bad Aunty, but a budding arsonist to boot.

Well played Alison, well played.