On my birthday, my mother expected a present. It was, after all, the anniversary of when she’d had a baby.

With every year, the labour story accumulated more hours. The pain more terrible. The cravings more extravagant. The morning sickness more projectile, the vom-fountain might have reached Russia by my last birthday.

I have an older sister, slim and kind, she’s wonderful. I was constructed from the chromosomes left at the back of the fridge. I have come to accept this.

I didn’t have brothers. And, unable to procure any by the usual means, from the age of eighteen I went about choosing some for myself. I don’t expect much from my brothers: they must be kind and funny, that’s about it. Along the road, a lot of people have been and gone and broken my heart, so my taken family are every bit as important as blood.

My brothers range from a sixty-something motor-mouth to a bearded nineteen year old with Kit Harington’s jawline.

My first brother Trev, with whom I had a brightly-coloured Saturday afternoon after fifty-four filter coffees, had started working at the cine-bar we frequented most weekends. When the films were playing, Trev and his colleagues could only clean the bar so many times, and given that they had a copy of each of the daily newspapers delivered daily, and a photocopy machine, they made their own intellectual entertainment. One of them used to take copies of the newspaper crosswords, and they’d spend technicolour hours chewing biro lids and looking quizzical. The only clue I remember that no-one else could solve but Trev got in moments was: Silicon Valley, eight letters, ending in ‘E’.

Answer at the end of this post.

My very favourite person who wasn’t me, Trev had been single for a few minutes, and his sadness was palpable. I gave my advice, obviously. I suggested he talk to women. Not blurted out conversation, taking a seat at other people’s tables type behaviour. I just meant, go out, have a few drinks, strike up a conversation, don’t start thinking that all women will lead to failure. He followed my advice up to a point. He went to a party in the student halls. In a bow tie, and shoes. Little else.

That would be a liberal interpretation of what I had said.

I was very odd when I came to Devon. I had this weird, unheard-of accent, was a short-arse, rust-red hair, funny in a way that left an unusual taste in the mouth, basic levels of nerdiness, older parents, mother in a wheelchair, easy target. I was slightly tortured, like everybody in high school. The only person who treated me like a person was Danny. He’s still one of my favourite people of all time.

I’d been at the Legion for a little while and we got a new barman. As soon as he walked in, he called me ‘Darling’ and said I reminded him of Keira Knightley. I was carrying a good three stone more than Miss Knightley, had been thick in drink for some years and would commit crimes for her cheekbones. I love my brother, Ben.

Dave would rescue me, if I needed him to. Vic would go into battle for me, without question. Rob flirted with me, and then sent me a letter of apology.

These are my big brothers.

Paul calms me. I’m not sure how he does it, the man is like walking lavender.

Technically, Jack is young enough to be my progeny. He is made of diamonds and just the kindest fella.

Nathan, Stephen and Karin are my delightful, not-mine children. To be fair, they occupy a space somewhere between sibling and child. I think that keeps me as aunt. Things get complicated in families. It’s like Tiverton.

I love my brothers.

It had been the plan to take my brothers and my taken granddad out for my thirty-fifth birthday. I was thinking: booze it up, curry, strip club.

My honorary children offered to take me to a gay bar.

I mopped up a magnum of prosecco with the remains of my liver.

Silicon Valley, eight letters, ending in ‘E’ – CLEAVAGE.