Host Intro: When Commentator Joe Sykes moved to New York he brought with him memories of his aunt and a big green crocodile called Lyle.
My Aunt Sarah lived in an apartment on East 86th Street two blocks down from a very friendly crocodile.
When I was a child Lyle crocodile was a character in my favorite book. It was the story of the Primm family who moved into an old brownstone on East 88th and found a him living in their bathtub. He was big and friendly and had this smile that would melt the heart of even the meanest mother.
Aunt Sarah was beautiful and bold and glamorous. She wore saris and gold rings. She worked for a New York fashion magazine. She lived across the sea in a magical city where crocodiles squatted in bathtubs.
When Aunt Sarah came to stay in London, she’d often bring me a copy of the latest Lyle crocodile book. I always wondered had she…met Lyle? Had she seen him out the window of her apartment? Maybe she’d even bumped into him as she was walking her Lucas terrier on a cold Manhattan morning.
We’d go driving in my Granny’s little Volkswagen and she’d pretend to be an airline pilot getting the plane ready for take off: “Cabin Crew Seats For Landing” she’d say…Then she’d start revving the engine on busy London streets before rolling through the gears…faster and faster.. she’d cry “Wheels Up” and we’d fly over the roads and avenues of North West London, until a carefully placed speedbump brought us back with a bang.
When I was 11 we finally went to America to visit Aunt Sarah.
On the last night we finally went to my aunt’s on 86th. It was huge, beautiful and decadent and decorated with immaculate taste. My aunt always had immaculate taste.
But that night she hardly spoke. She slurred her words and didn’t touch her food. In the taxi on the way back to the hotel I pleaded with my Mum to find out if she was ok. I knew there was something wrong. My glamorous aunt suddenly seemed fragile and alone.
In fact she was severely depressed. She suffered from a eating disorders, she’d lost a few job and she lived in a city that no longer cared for her. She became my difficult aunt. The aunt who you only invited to Christmas because you felt you had to.
She died last year after a series of strokes and heart attacks, alone in her flat in South London.
But then I remembered going through her things when she died. I found these American flag rolling papers, the kind of things only a 23 year old would own. She was just a year younger than I am now. I imagined her sense of wonder as she woke for the first time in her New York apartment.
The reason I’m here is because of her. She made me wonder about the world. That old aunt with her glamour and stories and mysterious life. And now I’m glad I’m here, far away from home, in a place where crocodiles might not live in bathtubs but where, somewhere on the upper east side the spirit of my aunt, my glamorous aunt still resides.
Back Announce: Joe Sykes doesn’t go to the upper east side much but when he does he still keeps an eye out for a big friendly crocodile called Lyle.