I don't know how to break it to him, but I think my brother may have been switched at birth. The red hair and blue eyes in an otherwise brown-haired and green-eyed family should have been enough of a sign, but last Sunday I got the final confirmation. Not only did he run in the London Marathon with one day's notice and no training, but he also managed to finish in 4 and a half hours. Actually, he's embarassed that it took him so long.
'How did it go?' I stuttered on the phone to him that evening.
'Well, the first 18 miles flew by,' he replied nonchalantly. 'Then I hit "the wall" and it was really tough.' 18 miles? The only time I ever run is for the number 28 bus and I usually hit "the wall" after about 18 metres.
Matt was always the sporty one when we were growing up, which totally let him off the hook academically and meant that I had to become the clever one, or just be an embarrasment to the whole family. He successfully stamped out any seeds of sportiness in me by ridiculing all attempts I made to throw a ball over-arm, pick up a badminton racket or correctly identify off-side. For example, after one surprisingly good athletics lesson at school, I ran home to tell my mum that the PE teacher had said I leapt the high jump like a gazelle.
'Not sure exaclty what a gazelle is though...' I continued, enjoying the compliment nonetheless.
'A gazelle?' snorted Matt, 'I wouldn't be so pleased if I were you.'
'Well,' he said with a tone of great authority, 'a gazelle is a bit like a koala - but with no arms and no legs. It's a bit like a furry acorn.'
I was devastated and avoided all forms of athletics for some time.*
I am slightly less gullible now, although only marginally sportier. The only exercise I get is to cycle to work. However, in Florence, cycling is something of an extreme sport: the moment you sit on your bike, you become invisible to all other forms of transport, SUVs in particular. To improve matters for cyclists, there are a few cycle paths in the city and the local council has launched a new advertising campaign to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and cycle. Their slogan is '+ bici + baci', which means 'more bikes more kisses'. I fail to see the connection. Having said that, I nearly kissed the pavement recently when, distracted by a '+ bici + baci' poster, I didn't see that the brand new cycle path I was on abruptly ended in a brick wall.
Still, I keep cycling and hoping that the hill up from Piazza Leopoldo will get easier, even though it never does. My brother, on the other hand, now wants to do the New York Marathon. How can we be related? I remember a couple of years ago, having a cup of tea in my mum's kitchen and Matt unexpectedly showing up at the back door.
'Where did you come from?' I asked him.
'Same place as you,' he replied.
We have the same sense of humour, at least.
* I grew up in the Hampshire countryside where the main animals were cows, sheep and squirrels. I obviously didn't pay much attention at the zoo.