My Brother, Pete
Stuart Heritage has written for the Guardian since 2009. His weekly column about his young son 'Man With a Pram' ran in the paper's Family section between 2015 and 2016. He founded a celebrity news site called Hecklerspray (Metro's Best British Blog in 2007 and the Observer top 50 most powerful blogs in the world in 2008) and has written for Vanity Fair, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Red, Marie Clare, the NME, Shortlist, Time Out and the Radio Times. He lives in Ashford, Kent.
His new book, Don’t be a Dick, Pete is Stuart's unconventional biography of his younger brother Pete told in Stu’s trademark wry observational tone. Pete is quite the character: Alpha Male, Danny Dyer fanatic, Tough Mudder Iron Man champion, self-proclaimed ‘King of Ashford’; known to his friends as ‘Shagger’ – and the total antithesis of liberal, bookish, mild-mannered Stu. Through a series of painfully relatable and excruciatingly funny anecdotes from throughout their lives, Stu reflects on his own experiences of fraternal dynamics and what it means to be a man, a father, a husband and a brother. Below, exclusively for Foyles on National Brothers Day, Stuart describes how he came to write about the 'whirlwind of aggressive single-mindedness' that is his brother Pete, and how their relationship is reflected by that of brothers everywhere.
Five years ago, at Christmas, my little brother Pete sat down next to me. I say ‘sat’, but that isn’t really how Pete does things. His is more of an aggressive flop, a deadweighted thunk that’s often performed with one hand down the front of his pants like some kind of godforsaken zoo animal. “Look at this”, he said.
Pete proceeded to pull out his phone and show me a YouTube advert for something called a Tough Mudder. The advert looked terrible; full of bearded topless men with tribal sleeve tattoos roaring at each other as they crawled over rocks and plunged into icy water and carried logs around for no immediately discernible reason. The Tough Mudder was ostensibly a leisure pursuit – a gussied-up fun run – but that isn’t what the video looked like. The video looked like the country had gone to war, and sustained so many casualties that was left with no choice but to introduce a policy of enforced barista conscription.
Pete was very excited about the idea of doing a Tough Mudder with me. I was not. As if often the case with this sort of thing, I lost the argument. To cut a long story short, I ended up doing a Tough Mudder. It was awful, so I wrote a newspaper column about it. About how much it cost, and how much it hurt, and how Pete – possibly off his nut on creatine at the time – began the race by screaming at the sky and ripping off his T-shirt like Hulk Hogan being attacked by moths.
“Are you exaggerating?” asked my editor when I filed the column. “Is your brother a real person who actually exists?”. I told him he was, and he didn’t believe me, so I invited him to my wedding. That evening, as Pete all but pinned him to the wall and forced him to do a near-infinite succession of sambuca shots while howling like a wolf and making ‘blap blap’ noises with his mouth, my editor was forced to concede that, yes, he was a real person.
I started to write more columns about Pete. About the time his bicep ripped through a shirt during a meeting with his boss. About the time he had to move back in with Mum and Dad, and Mum and Dad kept feeding him baked potatoes until he threatened to kill himself. Every time I wrote about Pete, the weird little soft-handed liberal bubble that counts as my readership reacted in exactly the same way. The vast majority would hear my stories about this Danny Dyer fanatic, this WWE devotee who once owned an above-ground hot tub and went by the name of Shagger, and wonder if he really existed. There was also a small contingent of people who’d openly declare that they fancied Pete, but I’m absolutely not going to dwell on that.
By the time one of these columns was used in a GCSE English exam, inundating my Twitter feed with hundreds of messages from 15-year-old boys calling Pete a ‘fucking ledge’, my mind was made up. Pete and I had always been different – I’m bookish and well-behaved, while he’s a whirlwind of aggressive single-mindedness; I do my best to seamlessly meld into the world, while he actively forces the world to meld around him – but it started to feel like this might be worth examining properly.
This is how Don’t Be A Dick, Pete came about. I wanted to know how two people, made with the same equipment by the same people, raised in the same house at the same time, could end up so different. Maybe if I went back and tracked some of this oddest behaviour from the past (he tried to stab me once, it’s in the book) and compared that with today, now that he’s got a nice house and a fast car and a lovely girlfriend and a new baby, I’d start to work out what makes the boy tick.
Something I hadn’t really taken into consideration, however, was the sheer length of time that I’d have to spend thinking about Pete. For almost a year while I wrote this book, he was absolutely front and centre of my mind. During this time, I managed to call both my wife and son by Pete’s name on numerous occasions, which isn’t necessarily something I’d recommend to anyone keen on maintaining a largely harmonious domestic life.
I still don’t think I’ve properly figured Pete out. He’s still an enigma wrapped in a mystery dressed in a replica Manchester United top. But I’ve closer than I’ve ever managed. In the process of writing this book, I’ve realised that we’re both slightly incomplete as people. He’s all left-brain and I’m all right-brain. He’s all raging id and I’m all cowering superego. Throughout our childhood, these differences made us fight time and time and time again. But thanks to the experience of putting this book together, I’ve now come to realise that – if we work together as often as possible – we just about scrape together all the qualities of a single normal person.
The more I talk to people about the book, the more I realise that this is pretty much the case with all brothers. Everyone’s got a story about a fight or a misunderstanding or an accident that happened years ago and has since taken on the timbre of legend. Everyone has some sort of scar to show for it, whether real or imagined. And, as maddening and infuriating as these conflicts were at the time, in hindsight everyone’s grown slightly fond of them. They’ve become a sign of closeness.
For better or worse, without your brother’s influence, you probably wouldn’t be who you are today. And that sucks, obviously, because Jesus Christ my brother is a dick.