Don't get me wrong, I love all generations of my family on both sides of my marriage. They all get along brilliantly, we go for holidays together at least once a year, and they worship the ground our kids - being the only children to carry on the family line - walk on. Love is one thing, but driving you insane over something totally trivial is another.
What am I talking about? Well I've come up with a term for it. I'm convinced that the collective noun for a group of elderly relatives is an indecision of relatives. Individually I find dealing with our more 'senior' family members to be relatively straightforward. They have strong opinions, are certainly not reticent about offering them, and it's impossible to change their opinion regardless of the evidence to the contrary.
However, gather a group of them together, like on our family holiday at Hunstanton in North Norfolk last week, and the result is polite prevarication on an unprecedented scale. You see no one wants to offend by making a decision for anyone else. An admirable trait I can't deny, but maddening when applied to trivial matters that really shouldn't be that hard to resolve. This was demonstrated to perfection by the incident I shall refer to as, 'The sandwich filler decision'.
To set the scene, it was agreed, more by osmosis than democracy, that we spend a day at Sandringham. The plan was to take a picnic, eat in the grounds and those without replacement hips, false knees, high blood pressure, gout, or anti-royal tendencies could visit the royal residence if they wanted. As it turned out, the house was closed - not that there were many of us physically qualified to visit.
Before we set out, I volunteered to do the sandwiches. To that end I intended to do a supermarket shop for fillings so, with notepad and pen in hand, I went to take orders from the family. Bearing in mind that my relatives have lived through wars, raised families and held responsible jobs where decision making is part and parcel of everyday life, this is what happened when I proceeded to take orders. I started with the female side of the family, who were drinking tea in the dining room.
'Right. I'm making sandwiches for the picnic so tell me what you want and I'll go get it from the supermarket,' I said with what I thought was brisk efficiency. Like rabbits caught in a car's headlights everyone froze.
'Who's going first,' I prompted, smiling to put them at their ease.
'You go, Kath' said my mother, to my Aunt.
'Oh no. Let Brenda go first,' came Kath's reply. All eyes turned to Brenda, my mother-in-law, in a classic pincer movement.
'I'll fall in with what everyone else is having,' answered Brenda, resorting to her standard response when in a group.
'Everyone can have what they want,' I said. 'Give me your favourite filling and I'll make it for you.'
'I wouldn't want you to go to any bother,' replied Brenda.
'It's no bother,' I said firmly.
'In that case just a bit of corned beef will be fine.'
'Good. Corned beef for Brenda. Now what about you, Auntie Kath?'
'I'll have corned beef as well, but could I have some cheese on it please,' said Auntie Kath.
'Are we allowed cheese?' asked Brenda.
'Yes,' I said, 'You can have anything you want.'
'Put me down for cheese too, but without the corned beef,' said Brenda.
'So you want a cheese sandwich not a corned beef sandwich?' I asked.
'Only if someone else has cheese. I don't want you to buy any on my account.'
Eager to move on, I turned to my mother and raised an eyebrow.
'We're not having brown bread are we? I only eat white,' she said with folded arms.
'We haven't finished fillings yet, mum. What would you like?'
'What have you got?'
'We haven't got anything yet. I've got to buy it. Just tell me what you would like,' I made a mental note never to be a waiter in a restaurant with a predominantly older clientele.
'I'll go for the cheese too then,' said my mother.
'If I'm the only one having corned beef then I'll change my order to cheese,' offered Kath, but her request fell on deliberately deaf ears as I headed for the lounge to get the boys' selections. I had already written down 'chicken' for my wife, myself and our kids, so there was only my father-in-law, Eric, and brother-in-law, Geoff, to go.
I repeated my sandwich making mantra to my new audience. 'Okay boys. I'm making sandwiches for the picnic so tell me what you want and I'll go get it from the supermarket. You first, Eric.'
'What's on offer?' said Eric.
'Anything you want. Just ask, and I'll make it.'
'Ham'll be fine,' he said. I was shocked, albeit pleased, to actually receive a straight answer.
I turned to my brother-in-law. 'Geoff, how about you?' Geoff was younger and a little more street-wise.
'What's everyone else having?' he asked diplomatically.
I sighed. 'Corned beef, chicken or cheese.'
'I'll have corned beef,' he said.
'Is that your favourite sandwich,' I asked, determined to root out another real decision if it killed me.
'No. But corned beef's fine.'
'You can have anything you want you know.' My exasperation was obvious from the tone of my voice.
'I'll stick with the corned beef thank you.'
I shook my head. So much for individuality, but more to the point, why did it matter so much to me?
'Go on then. Make mine a corned beef sandwich too,' said Eric.
Father-in-law or not, I could have throttled him.
We had the same shenanigans ordering drinks down the pub - 'I'll have a pint...unless everyone else is on shorts, in which case I'll have a short too.'
...and in restaurants - 'Seriously? Out of a menu as long as your arm, you all want scampi and chips?'
...and on numerous other occasions I'm too exhausted to dwell on.
So my advice to anyone in a similar situation when faced with an indecision of elderly relatives is: Stick to processed meat. The alternatives are just not worth beefing about