When we were little, my sister and I used to squabble. A lot. As teens, there was a lot of shouting and flouncing. As younger children we occasionally came to blows. Most of the time we got on well; it was perhaps, those moments of shared interests combined with deep-seated competition that set us off.
One of the things we used to like to do, for instance, was to turn the entire house into a hospital, when friends came to play. There would always be someone groaning to dramatic effect behind a door, and another child, leg slowly going blue, in traction via a skipping rope slung over the low beams in the sitting room. One year, we became obsessed with weddings (we lived opposite the church), and paraded up and down the garden, taking it in turns to wear the maxi-dress and carry the net curtain train. We used to race up to the church tree to collect up bits of confetti with which, mixed with the gravel we found there, we showered each other and our friends.
I think it was something to do with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or The Slipper and The Rose, because one April, we decided to make a play, involving sellotaping apple blossom to the ropes of my swing. It was disappointing the next day, when, ready and excited to perform in front of our mother, we found the pink-and-white blooms wilted and brown. It didn’t stop us finding a use for them though, when we gave a passing bride, glowing in her horse and trap, a shock by throwing them at her, twigs and all, from the end of our garden, where it met the sunken lane.
We would build ornate homes for our Sindy dolls out of a collection of books and boxes, as a prelude for elaborate Sindy shows-cum-stories involving ballerinas (imaginatively called Bally) (and always with one hand); mine was always rich, my sister’s always poor, which was much better because it was more romantic. I never got my hands on the Sindy house with crackling fireplace, but we did create a Sindy barge out of one of those old-fashioned pencil cases (SCALE DOES NOT MATTER IN THESE THINGS) with the slidy wooden lid, complete with telephone constructed out of a dolly shoe, some blue-tac and a bit of wire curled round a pencil.
We were remarkably cooperative over these pursuits, only occasionally coming to blows over the fact that it always seemed to be me on the outside of the Room Of Groans (probably an operating theatre), except when it came to the song and dance routines. We were OK if it involved making the Sindy dolls perform over the top of the sofa to Super Trouper (our grandma was always happy to be the audience), but the instant words were involved it all became somewhat more fraught.
The Abba albums weren’t too bad, it has to be said. My mum and dad approved of Abba, and, luckily, there were lyrics printed on the sleeve (although I do remember getting cross about something or other, probably ownership, because ‘Arrival’ is inscribed, in the sky above the helicopter, with my name – rather annoyingly – spelled wrong); they also, however, approved of Shawaddywaddy, Blondie and Grease, and therein lay the problem.
For some reason, possibly economical, there was a time when my dad used to come home bearing singles with the middles missing. I think he must have got them from a juke box as he delighted himself by fashioning that three armed plastic centrepiece out of card, and we kept them carefully inside plain paper sleeves. We would play them on the hi-fidelity record player and sing and dance along. And argue about the words.
Shawaddywaddy was never too much of a problem with all the wallawallabingbongs, I mean, that doesn’t make sense anyway, but ‘Call Me’ became something about comics, although we never got to the bottom of the designer sheets (obviously this was some sort of paper). It kind of made sense if you suspended your disbelief (you can do a lot of that if you are prepared to have a Sindy barge made out of a pencil case and a phone from a dolly shoe).
Not having seen the film, ‘Greased Lightning’ didn’t make an awful lot of sense, but we had heard our parents discussing the content and so listened very carefully. No, it was ‘You’re the One that I Want’ that caused all the trouble. We listened again and again, wrinkling our brows, never thinking to connect the name of the song with the chorus and regularly coming to, if not blows, then a shouting match, over the fact that the words could not be ‘you’re the wallabawah’ (her) and failing to come up with a viable alternative (me).
I’d forgotten those childhood disagreements until just the other day. L had been to see the dress rehearsal of ‘Grease’, performed to great acclaim by the local secondary school. She was impressed, and then let a comment slip that made me pause. She reminded me of my childhood, and how different it was to hers.
“I don’t get why she had to change at the end,” she said. “She was really pretty before.”
And, as we chewed over her pronouncement, I thought what a gift we had, to sit together at tea time and share our days, to talk about the things that happen and what they might mean; to share with them the idea that if someone loves you, and if you love them, it isn’t a conditional thing, that you shouldn’t have to change in order to please them, or they you. That if you love someone, you love them, as they are, not as you wish they would be.
It strikes me that showing your children, teaching them what a healthy relationship is, what it feels and looks like, even with EHCP meetings on my mind, isn’t something that is just for the learning disabled, important though it is. Knowing that it is OK to be you, and that you are worthy of love – just as you are without having to make yourself into something that you aren’t – and that you can do the same for someone else, is a lesson, not just for the girls, but for us all.