I grew up as One of two. Two siblings. Two parents.
I had an older brother. I still do. We were born on the same day. The same day but three years apart. Our birthday is the 15th of January (weirdly we have an uncle also born on that day!). We have no other siblings, just each other. When I grew up it felt mathematically perfect. The nuclear family. Mum and dad. Brother and sister. There was a balance. I was blonde and he was dark. My mother was blonde and my dad was dark haired. I felt there was a mirror symmetry. Our family seemed to symbolise the pattern of the universe in its oppositions. No one told me that and I don’t know why I thought it.
As we grew up we competed. My dad encouraged this. He liked to compare us. We were both quick. Top-of-the-class kids. But it wasn’t enough. We were our own little hothouse, there in our modern cul-de-sac in Ladybridge, Bolton.
We had bedrooms on the other side of the staircase that came through the house, at opposite ends. Mine was messy, his was tidy. I slept in, he woke up early. My mum (and dad when he was here) had a peach (beige?) room and next to that there was a white spare room with a white wardrobe full of PG Tips Tea Bags and golf clubs. My dad liked to buy things in bulk and he had entered a competition for which he needed to the coupons off a pack of PG Tips. He won a radio clock alarm that stood by the bed in my mum’s room. My room was pineapple yellow. His room was sky blue.
My brother was a high achiever. He was also faster, better at sports and I couldn’t keep up. When we took the 11+ exams we went to the posh school in Bolton, the direct grant school soom to become independent. He went to the Boys’ Division. Three years later I went to the Girls’ Division. The two schools were, and still are joined by a castle-like gatehouse. The school building is pink sandstone. Bolton School. Set up by Lord Leverhulme to endow the town. One wing for boys, one wing for girls. So we were parallel again. Me in my maroon school uniform, him in the dark blue or black that they boys wore. The girls and boys would sometimes watch each other go past at the wall that ran through the middle of the quad. Giggles and strange laughs. Snorts.
I found it difficult to believe in horoscopes as we were born on the same day. I liked the image of Capricorn, the goat with the fish’s tail but as I defined myself in opposition to my brother in terms of personality and interests I could not subscribe to a system that put our personality down to a date of year, a birthdate. Was that why horoscope-thinking never got a grip with me? Only part of it. Our parents were teachers. My dad was an English teacher, into clarity of thinking. My mum was a Maths teacher, a Science teacher. She was a little superstitious, inherited from her parents, but definitely not into horoscopes. Dropping a knife on the floor was another matter. That definitely meant a man was going to call. It was difficult to reconcile this mild superstitiousness with my mother’s scientific knowledge and insistence of accuracy. I put it down to her attachment to her own parents. They were godlike to her. Even now my daughter keeps my mother’s mother’s birthday with daffodils on St Patrick’s Day. She learned that family habit from my mum.
That was another of the family parallels, did you see it? My mother was a Maths teacher, my father was an English teacher. It was my brother who was the science student and I was the arts student. We fought back. Later he became a language specialist and speaks fluent Finnish (with Finnish wife and family) and I did Maths ‘A’ level (got a B, not bad).
Opposites. I felt I had inherited my father’s acerbic bad-temper and my brother had my mother’s evenhanded sequentialness. Opposite children. Opposite poles of the universe. It was inevitable. We held up knowledge between us.
Grandiose, but of such ideas are children’s visions built. Mine grew out of from these thoughts. This mental garden was not so much in the front of my mind, but in the back of my ideas. These two pillars of male-sibling and female-sibling as pillars of the universe, as two strands of DNA was a structure that had meaning for me. It was part of my dreams. A balance that was in everything.
I thought my family were special. And we were. Because it was my famly. Because all families are. Our close childhood circle becomes the model by which children understand the world. How we learn how everything works, life the universe and everything. The people we see and imprint on,create the framework by which our dream fashions the world. They are the visions, the personalities, the walking, talking, singing, sleeping, arguing, crying, laughing models for the way the universe works. A story beyond stories like Oedipus Rex or the Bible or Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland or Wuthering Heights. A story of pre-story.
I wish I could be clearer. As I child I knew things for sure, or felt I did, but that sureness is gone to me now. My interior world used to be rock hard as nails. Things that were clear as water thave beome memories of ideas, plans, schemes and dreams. Inscapes, Pictures that were also diagrams of how the universe was built, they are now melted, fainter. That’s what happens when you’ve grown up. You know the world better. You see what is in front of you better. You understand it for what it is. People are people, even your parents. Your brother is just another human, as you are, and there are lots of humans.
We fell out for a bit over my family difficulties – well I felt I had to become a bit estranged for a while. I had some hard-going years, when I found myself in a bit of a slough of despond. If you choose a difficult partner, it’s difficult not to fall out with even those close to you. That’s all over now, we’re allies, firm friends again. My parents would be pleased. That’s how they were. Despite differences. Allies. They gave me a model of how you can fall out but keep in touch and then make up without going over something that time makes irrelevant. Really useful.
But as children he was my universe. We inhabited not a modern estate house in Ladybridge but space and eternity. He was Mars, as his name was Martin, the red planet. The god Mars. I was Venus. Sulphuric acid bubbling, inhospitable, bad-tempered. We rode on comets. Looked at Jupiter through a telescope in the spare room. Went to Jodrell Bank to listen to the stars singing.
As children we roamed the expanse of infinity together. Using as our guide the Ladybird Book of The NIGHT SKY by Mary T Bruck and the science fiction of Asimov and Le Guin, the audio-visual models of Star Trek and Doctor Who to navigate the wild wastes of time. From the microscopic atom to the megatropic fauna of unseen planets we searched the night sky to find other homes where life could be supported. While our physical bodies were drinking pineapple milk-shake in Bournemouth by the sea that rolled in like the vast tides of space. Stars in the water, stars in our eyes.
Apollo 11 landed. Feet touched the moonrock. And when a piece came on tour to Manchester we saw the moonstone. It looked boring. Not yellow and bright like a crazy cartoon. Just dark rock. But it crackled with otherness. Other un-ununderstandableness. I made it a rainbow in my mind, a prismit to break up the ordinary into ultra-violet and infra-red patterns. Imagination in a rock.
To a large degree anyway, this was the imaginary world I inhabited. In which there we two. Until we were teenagers and went our own ways socially. But I don’t want to go back to those days when the world was brighter and more alive. I don’t want to step inside those vanished clarities. They were too powerful. They carried me to strange, brilliant places.
But if these pictures that built our childhood world collapse, god help us. We don’t want our parents to die. Our siblings must not, should not die. But they will. We will.
God help us? God! Oh he is really so much weaker than he is portrayed. He should help us, but he won’t. Who is he compared to our mother? Nothing, no-one, hardly a puddle of hope.