My parents waited eight years before taking the plunge and having another child. Which is probably not surprising as I don’t imagine it would be a picnic raising twins in post-war Britain. Living in an upstairs flat with no running water, too afraid to take the babies out due to the great smog of ’52 and without the modern conveniences we enjoy now must have been a test of fortitude for a young mother. But these weren’t the worst of her problems.
The twins, both girls, were medically described as identical yet there was nothing at all similar in either their appearance or demeanour. One was inquisitive, robust and always getting into things. The other was quiet, didn’t interact much socially, and wasn’t fond of being held too closely. Although one twin was quieter and less impulsive, my mother knew even back then which twin would cause her the most worry.
As twins they were dressed the same and had the same educational opportunities, but when one did not progress as quickly as the other, inevitable comparisons were made. Socially inept and introverted, she became jealous of the other’s achievements and my parents tried to compensate for this by encouraging her into activities that she enjoyed and demonstrated some ability in. The other twin wasn’t encouraged to participate in these pursuits as she ran the risk of overshadowing and upsetting her sister.
Eight years later in July 1960, I arrived on the scene and aggravated the situation even further. I certainly wasn’t a ‘gifted’ child but I was quick to learn, socially savvy and good at some of the things considered to be the domain of my big sister. I loved singing and music and was good at it, but even as a child I knew I had to moderate this as I didn’t want to cause upset and unleash a jealous temper tantrum.
Sometimes we would enjoy closer moments where we’d laugh but I never felt completely safe or comfortable with her and I clung to my mother very closely as a child. From a very early age I sensed the bitter frustration and anger bubbling away not too far beneath the surface and it frightened me. As much as I disliked the idea, I knew that to her I was the upstart little sister who was to blame for the fact that life was treating her unfairly. I should have been eight years behind in terms of social and learning development but simply by growing at a normal level, I had overtaken her. Jealous rage is not endearing and can make the best of us uneasy but for a small child who is the object of it, it is terrifying.
My early recollections of my father aren’t that clear. He was fifteen years my mother’s senior and was often unwell – nervous dyspepsia was the doctor’s diagnosis. A gentle and loving family man, he worked as an instrument inspector for British Airways, or BOAC as it was known then. I remember him coming home and talking to my mother about work and health problems and hearing them say how nice it would be to escape The Rat Race. I had no idea what a Rat Race was, but escaping it seemed like a very exciting adventure and I wished I could make Daddy better by helping to make this happen. Not long after my fifth birthday my parents announced that my father had been offered a job with NAC in New Zealand. Great excitement in the family! We were Escaping the Rat Race in an aeroplane and starting a new life on the other side of the world.
After a long and probably quite arduous journey for my mother with two thirteen-year-olds and a five-year-old, as well as a husband whose health was rapidly deteriorating, we arrived in Auckland. We stayed at a place called Tui Glenn for a short while before moving down to Christchurch so that my father could start his new job. He never made his first day. Desperately in pain and unable to keep any food down, my mother took him to see a doctor as soon as we arrived. He was admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital where surgeons opened him up to operate and then promptly stitched him back up again. He was riddled with cancer. It had started in his pancreas and was relentlessly taking over the rest of his frail body. He was given two weeks to live.
My mother, bereft and worn out with grief, broke this news to us not long before Christmas 1965. Christmas morning came which we spent at the Stoneyhurst Hotel where we were staying at the time. I got a green knitted bobble hat and some mint chocolates on a Wedgewood saucer. I’ve still got the bobble hat. It reminds me of a little five-year-old girl, of spending a forlorn Christmas in a strange land and feeling as though my whole world was falling apart.