As a child of a blended family, awkward relationships and expressing gratitude that one did not feel, especially as a troubled teen, were part and parcel of gingerly finding a footing across the rotting bridge from childhood to adulthood, through the maelstrom that is adolescence.
My mother "lived in sin" with my stepfather for 2 or so years in the late '60s but, to avoid scandal they self-styled themselves as Mr & Mrs, until they slipped away in 1969 to tie the knot officially.
It was not a happy marriage. What marriage is? Mum, being 15 years his junior, with a love of parties and a sparkling personality was the perfect foil to his more rigid Edwardian attitudes and I remember there being lots of parties and socialising and endless, endless going to the races. My stepfather loved the horses and was not bothered whether it was the Royal Meeting at Ascot or the local point-to-point. They had moved to Suffolk and quickly made friends with a younger crowd, who had similar aged children to me.
My stepfather was 53 when he took on my brothers and I, aged 9, 7 and 2 (hence the gratitude). My brothers were away at prep school and I left home to go to prep school 2 months after my 7th birthday. I think that it was a relief to be away, for all of us because, as much as we loved Mum, the mercurial nature of someone who has been in the war and, looking back, probably had undiagnosed PTSD, who was a little overfond of the whisky bottle made tiptoeing on eggshells seem like a walk in the park.
However, we all grew up with good manners, a defined sense of right and wrong and a firm bond - nobody messes with my siblings - that has seen us all through good times and bad.
He had had his own children, born in the War (WWII), 3 sons whom he financed them through school and sent on their way. His eldest son went into his mother's family cork importing business and his other son went Cirencester and thence into agriculture, namely as a grain merchant. Of the third son, there was no mention and I still have no idea to this day what he did. I do know he died young (1944 - 1992) and was homosexual. I remember various friends and family saying that it had not been a happy childhood for any of them.
However, my mother and my stepfather persisted and remained married, until his death in 2005, aged 90 3/4, in his bed at home, swiftly and suddenly from a heart attack. My mother had nursed him, single handedly, for the previous five years and intensively (he was bed bound and incontinent) for the final six months.
He left all his worldly goods in a Trust for my mother and then on to his sons and grandchildren. It was an awkward transition for Mum and she remained homeless for some 18 months between the selling of their home and her finding a new smaller house (the "hovel" as she called it) that she would be happy to live in for the rest of her days.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, despite 35 years of marriage, 5 years of nursing (saving a fortune on nursing home fees?) and many compromises along the way, my stepbrother obviously never got over the Cinderella feeling.
Five hours (yes hours!) after my mother died (and two hours after the undertakers had left with her), an unsuspecting estate agent knocked on the door with instructions from my stepbrother to value the house.