The above photo was taken a couple of weeks ago.

That’s yours truly with one of my nieces, Miss M.

We were on holiday in Croatia and we’d kinda got lost on the way to Dubrovnik’s Old Town. I could go into detail as to why we’re both looking kinda deranged but it was one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments. Suffice it to say it involved a very tenuous link to a horror movie that we just thought was hilarious (the link, not the horror movie). So much so we had to take a silly photograph, nearly getting run over by a motorbike in the process, falling about laughing all the while.

Like I said, you had to be there.

I very much pride myself on the relationship I have with my nieces and nephews, and being ‘Uncle Oz’ means a lot to me. I know one of the main reasons is that I’m pretty certain I won’t be fathering any children myself. It’s not that I don’t want to – I like to think I’d make a great dad – it’s just that circumstances and a little smidgen of irony have conspired against me.

So I just use my sisters’ kids. The added bonus being I can give them back when I’m done.

Well I call them kids – the eldest is thirty-five and the youngest is seventeen. Yeah, there are BIG age gaps in my family. Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just made things a little… different.

For instance, the three eldest – a brother and sister combo from one sis, and Miss M from another – are more like younger siblings. We all grew up together. We played together. We watched The Wizard of Oz nearly every day and my Commodore 64 was the most amazing thing. Ever.

If I think about the relationship I have with my uncles and aunts and compare it to the one I have with my own nieces and nephews there are some glaring differences. For one thing I don’t think I could have half any of the conversations with my uncles that I have with, well, any of my nieces and nephews. It just wouldn’t happen. From the language we use to the subject matter – if I ever repeated any of that stuff with the oldies I would be instantly shunned, branded disrespectful and written out of every will.

My sisters and I were brought up with a strong sense of family. At times this felt quite claustrophobic, particularly when we tried to go our own ways. But if I think back to my childhood and adolescence the one constant was always the knowledge that come what may, the family would always be there. And for my part, being the youngest out of four siblings meant that all my sisters had gotten married or left home by the time I was twelve – by that point I’d been ‘Uncle Oz’ for eight years.

In the years that have followed I’ve watched my nieces and nephews grow and mature into fine young men and women. There’s a musician and an artist, a computer boffin and a marketing guru, a shop manager and a media whizz and a… well, being the youngest, he hasn’t quite decided yet, but whatever it is I know he will excel. I’m immensely proud of all of them and it has been awesome watching them grow and become the people they are. (I’m also quite proud that all of my nephews have followed me in my nerdy footsteps, but that’s a post for another time).

Christmas is rapidly approaching, a time where the notion of family is particularly important and significant. For me anyway. Being the only one of my siblings without a family of my own I always feel like an extra unnecessary wheel. Which is really daft seeing as the last few years it has almost become a tradition that I spend Christmas with my sister (Miss M’s mum) and her family. I’m not entirely sure I’d want to spend it anywhere else to be honest. I actually don’t think they’d let me.

But that’s the great thing about having such close bonds. Being made to feel like you belong. Being made to feel special. Being loved and loving in return.

Keep being brilliant guys, and I’ll keep being Uncle Oz.