Reading the Virago collection of short stories about sisters prompted me to post this photo of me and my two sisters.
I’m the eldest and Clare followed just 16 months behind me. In the few years before this snap was taken we were often mistaken for twins. I’m not sure if my mother dressed us identically because of this or if it was just that it was easier to buy two of the same. Clare and I were born at the end of the fifties, me in 1957 and she in 1958. I think this coupled with our parents being a few years older by the time Anne was born in 1964 has led to us having quite different memories that have been distinctly shaped by the era into which we were born.
I remember our parents buying a second-hand record player several years before Anne joined us. It came complete with 2 or 3 records. I’m not sure what the others were but I can still recite some of the words sung by Pat Boone. Wang dang taffy apple tango, ma mo, a cha cha cha. How’s it go? I don’t know. Ooh la la la la la la. Now all night long he did it wrong but still it ended right. They did the wang dang ….. As usual with me, I never remember all the words and just go round in some sort of a manic loop that bears absolutely no resemblance to a piece by Steve Reich.
Anne was born in 1964 and I’m sure that was the year that I remember hearing my first Beatles song even though I didn’t know that’s what it was. Our next-door neighbours had some strange habits, or so we thought. They had a teenage daughter who used to listen to the radio IN THE GARDEN!! It wasn’t turned in to the BBC Home service either. “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” My mother was constantly telling us that she would not be a slave to fussy eaters like Mrs F next-door who cooked a different meal for each member of the family. We were fascinated by the idea of this whilst being well-behaved children and learning to eat everything on our plates and “cut across the fat”. Don’t get the idea that we were flawless though. I managed to reach adulthood without eating many tomatoes and absolutely NO beetroot. Clare still doesn’t like spaghetti although she has nothing against any other sort of pasta. Where is the logic in that? They are the same thing for goodness sake. This woman has two science degrees, under and post-graduate and yet she doesn’t understand that all pasta is made from the same ingredients until you start bunging in spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and squid-ink.
I’ve wondered hugely off the point here, if there ever was one. I think what I am trying to say is that you can never explain to someone who doesn’t have sisters what it is like. It just IS. You love them to bits and yet there are times that some of the old petty jealousies and rivalries rise to the surface even though you are unaware of this till someone points it out to you. The moments that stand out from “Such Devoted Sisters” are the ones where the sisters are arranging their father’s funeral and later sorting out his clothes and possessions and they still feel his presence and disapproval. They regress to the favourite taunts, “You’re the eldest” and “I’m the tallest”. It’s rather like how I feel if I ever eat in the street. I’m sure that someone will telephone my school and the headmistress will be horrified to have to remind us that “young ladies do not eat in the street”.