It's taken me two weeks to come to terms with this but now I feel that I can finally write about what has happened. A death in the family is a hard thing to recover from and who knows if any of the remaining Legges will ever get over the death of George.
At first, I was jealous of George. Why wouldn't I be? He was the focus of so much attention and arrived into the family just five years after I left the family home. It used to be a special event when I came over from the big London with tales of how I nearly met Nick Berry or about the time that I didn't write for Radio 4. That used to excite my family and it made me feel like a big shot even though I knew that I wasn't. But George's arrival stopped that. When I came home to Newtownards the first thing my father would say was "Have you said hello to George yet?" I would get frustrated and with a lack of something funny to say I would just come out with something crap like "He's just a fish". My father's eyes would roll and he'd sigh into his paper. After a while, I did make a special effort to say hello to George. As much as I hated my family's, especially Dad's, attention to this newbie I too was secretly swayed by his aura. There was something calming about George. It sounds stupid but he was actually a good person to talk to and when you had something to say he wouldn't interrupt. He'd just listen. That's what made him different to any other member of the family. He'd listen and if you had anything personal to say then you knew it would go no further. I was jealous of George but I think I'm big enough to admit that he was trustworthy.
Soon, George was to become popular outside the family too. Neighbours all had a soft spot for him and visitors would always spend time with him. My family often holiday in America and, as a result, a large percentage of the population have at one time or another stayed in my parents house. There are few postcards that my parents receive from all round the world that don't mention George by name and best wishes sent specifically to him. The rest of the family never ever get a mention but George is thought of and cared about my travellers who have met him maybe just once.
When I left Newtownards to be a famous comedian in London, my siblings decided to have thousands of babies. Some grew up to have several hundred children of their own. This is one of the worst parts of living away from your family, you miss important people growing up. As a result of this some of my nieces barely know who I am and their children don't seem to even care that I vaguely know Frankie Boyle. It is a gulf that I'm all too aware of when I return. A gulf that is pointed out to me all too well by George's huge popularity. These children who are related to me push the stranger to one side and go to the real uncle who was always there for them. They go to George. They love George. They talk only about George. "Where's George?", they say. "And who is the ugly old man who doesn't have an accent?"
Maybe, the reason that I do have time for George is that as much as he's loved he hasn't once let it go to his head. He spends almost all of his time on top of the cistern in my parent's loo. He even sleeps there. Even my brother Martin had it slightly better than that. He is easily the most unhygienic of Legges often found in his own shit but looking like it was the most normal thing in the world. Airs and graces, George had none. He never cleaned up around him ever. In a way, that was part of his charm.
Yes, I used to mumble "He's only a fish" but he was a fish that lived for 15 years in a bowl that was never cleaned and was kept in a toilet and received fan mail from America. And he wasn't only a fish. He was a GOLDfish. Surely the most prized of all fish.
Two weeks ago George got ill. He was swimming on his side and, after 15 years, my dad decided to clean his little tank and see if George would respond to fresh water. He did. He swam livelier than he had for a long time. He swam like there was no tomorrow.
The next morning he had passed away.
I have spoken to my dad since George's passing and he's not the same. "We have lost a Legge", he said. A sentence that is totally understandable written down but quite upsetting when he just said it to me. He needs time to come to terms with the loss. To grieve. I took some happiness when dad said that he and mum would be trying for another goldfish soon. Again, the way he said it was very upsetting.
George Legge 1994-2009 RIP.