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Sibling survivalry…

19 Jun

Before I continue with any more original material, I’d like to take the opportunity to repost the article I wrote recently for A World Of Pain, just in case anyone neglected to click across the link to it from Adam’s wonderful Fantastic Four post, (and I know from my stat counter that an considerable number of people didn’t visit his blog) including some extra photos from the family archive, plus one of Ho’s excellent, bespoke cartoons.

So, once again ladies and gentlemen, I give you;
Sibling survivalry…

There is a line in Baz Luhrmann’s Everyone’s Free To Wear Sunscreen that says;
“Be nice to your siblings, they’re the best link to your past and the most likely to stick with you in the future”

Well I couldn’t have put it better myself, and evidently neither could Mr Luhrmann, taking as he did the text of a Chicago Tribune column by Mary Schmich for the vocal on his 1998 hit, a song which I seem to be referencing a lot recently.
Maybe it’s an age thing. Much as I try to ignore the arbitrary application of numeric value applied to our lives, (my personal tally has just passed its 48th solar orbit) there’s no getting away from it, we’re all getting older and Ms Schmich certainly does dispense some good advice.

But no matter how many turns round that big fiery ball we take, the one thing that has been constant in my life, right back to when I was still in my terrible twos, is my little sister, Kerry.
(If this was a strictly accurate history, I would of course refer to her throughout by the full name that she answered to at the time, the hated, hyphenated, Kerry-Jane, but I value my life too much so Kerry it will stay)

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Mum, Kerry and me.

So let’s get the other thing Kerry won’t like out of the way first, shall we?
When she was born, we lived in Colchester, which of course makes her an Essex Girl by birth.
I should (very hastily) point out that this was a quirk of history, geography, gynecology, call it what you will and she does not wear white stilettos and fake tan to go dancing round her handbag at weekends. As far as I know anyway.

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The Essex Years.

Besides, she has spent the vast majority of her life in leafy Sussex and the rough edges must have been thoroughly worn off by now.
But before we leave Essex – where we resided until I was just shy of six years old – let me tell you one of my earliest memories of Kerry, typical of older brothers everywhere I suspect, it’s one that is at her expense.

One day I was playing in the front garden when there was a loud thudding sound from indoors which terminated with the arrival of my two year old sister.

Cut to…

Scene: House interior, stairs.

Kerry clumsily trips at the top of the stairs, losing her as yet partially developed sense of balance and plummets downward, cunningly striking the wall at the corner of the staircase, enabling her a straight run down the main flight to the glazed panel next to the front door, which she apparently takes like a human bowling ball.

Scene: Exterior, garden.

The thudding noise rapidly increases in volume and intensity, until it abruptly stops (as, it turns out, Kerry’s knees hit the hallway floor) and my sister’s startled but otherwise undamaged head suddenly appears, via a perfectly circular hole it has smashed in the glass door panel, looking for all the world like a confused punter in a seaside photo diorama. The most memorable thing was, she didn’t even cry. Not a peep.

Now, I’m not consciously aware of any thought processes that may have been going on at the time, but it seems as though I must have taken this as an unspoken challenge to test my unfortunate sibling’s endurance and indestructibility.

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“I’m sure I can unscrew this…”

Over the next few years, after our family moved to Sussex, Kerry somehow managed to survive my increasingly bizarre (but involuntary, honest) attempts to maim her, such as the time I was pushing her on the garden swing and encouraging her to jump off on the upswing, a favourite stunt of mine at the time.

Kerry dutifully complied, unaware that I was giving the swing one last push behind her as she jumped.

Of course she didn’t have the sense to do a spectacular dismount manoeuvre, thereby clearing the danger zone, as I would have done. No, she chose to turn and grin proudly back at me like the girl she was…

Just in time to catch the wooden seat of the swing full in the face.

There was already a certain amount of bed-without-any-dinner in my dad’s expression, even as he marched down the garden to investigate Kerry’s blood-curdling scream.

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“Now, you see that ramp and those buses…?”

Or there was the time that, just as an experiment you understand, I persuaded Kerry to stand at the bottom of our metal climbing frame while I ascended to the top, dragging the large, red, evilly grinning sphere of a Spacehopper with me.

I was interested in finding out how high it would bounce off my sister’s head.

I duly dropped the heavy rubber ball from a height of about seven feet, hitting my target dead centre on top of the head, narrowly avoiding driving her straight into the ground like a fence post, but failing to avoid (to my continuing shame) being responsible for compressing her spine and giving her a lifetime of back problems, for which Kerry, I apologise once again.

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Kerry, me and THAT climbing frame.

The point is, I utterly failed to follow the – then unrecorded – advice from Messrs Luhrmann / Schmich and was anything but “nice to my sibling” for a considerable length of time, and yet, against all the odds she remains a source of friendship, comfort and advice that would leave an indescribable hole in my life were she not there.

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The Spacehopper Incident, by Ho.

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A lot of that sense of connection undoubtedly comes from the death of our mother when I was just nine or ten, taken by a brain tumour after a relatively short illness. (Her all-too-short period of remission marked by a final, happy, sun-drenched family holiday in France that will always be my abiding memory of her; Happy and content, with her newly short-cropped hair, the result of surgery, making her look young again, albeit for a painfully brief time)  The extra responsibility I was expected to shoulder, whether real or imagined, made me more protective of Kerry after that I think, to the extent that I even once got into trouble at school for dragging another kid across the playing field by his ankles because he’d punched Kerry in the playground.

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That final holiday.

It often didn’t help my rather volatile relationship with dad that Kerry was the model child to my black sheep either.

When we were at school, teachers who had taught me would say things like “Oh, you’re HIS sister are you?!” when they spotted Kerry’s surname on the register, and keep a surreptitious eye on her, in case she was another bad influence.

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While I was living in a coach, she was working in a bank.

When I was living in a flat that resembled The Young Ones In Commuter Land, she was getting married and buying a house.

In short; “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”

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Me, dad and Kerry – Butter not melting in mouth, just out of sight.

Indeed, doing the exhaustive research on this post alone (amounting to a 45 minute phone call with Kerry prior to writing) I’ve found that she had more than one patient talk with him, trying to “explain” me to him, attempting to convince him that not wishing to be a carbon copy of him did not make me necessarily a bad person, just a different one.

Mind you, she also said he and I were “too alike for your own good” and told me that “moving out at 16 was the best move you ever made” so she’s pragmatic as well as sensitive. Not a bad mixture. For a girl.

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Kerry – Clearly not impressed.

And now we live nearly 300 miles apart, but when one of us gets round to picking up the phone we very rarely manage to get off the line within the hour, with conversations that end about nine times with the words “Oh, by the way, did I tell you…” and only conclude when her battery goes flat or my ear does.

So if you have a brother or sister who you don’t speak to as often as you should, make the effort, don’t wait for them to do it first, you know they’re just stubbornly waiting for you to do the same.

Mary Schmich was spot on, they are the best link to your future and, if you’re as lucky as me, they’ll be the ones who stick with you in the future too.

For Kerry and Ann.

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