*I'm finding the process of writing quite interesting. Some days I feel like I could write all day, that my thoughts flow and there's a nice structure to what I'm saying. Other days it's a real struggle to write over 1000 words. Funnily enough I find it easier to write on the weekend than I do writing during the week day, probably because I have time to sit down and write as opposed to spend an hour to an hour and a half on it. I did nothing on Wednesday, but that's why I wrote so much on the weekend: so that I could have a day or two off. Anyway, I'm rambling again. This post is rambly enough!*
My first glance of England was both incredible and disappointing all at once. I’d been told by so many people that it rains a lot, and so had this image of a rather grey looking country with rainclouds permanently overhead. In my imaginings everywhere looked like it was in Mary Poppins, and everyone wore dark suits and ran around with umbrellas permanently up. England looked nothing like that. In fact it looked like a beautiful patchwork quilt, with lush green fields, bright yellow fields and forests dotted about. It looked beautiful. We landed in Manchester, took the train to Keighley and a taxi to Sutton in Craven. My father had a friend who worked in Scotland during the week and came back to Yorkshire for the weekend, so he was happy for us to stay for as long as we needed.
It was a beautiful summer and our first taste of freedom as children. I was 9, Alistair was 6 and up until this point we were only allowed to leave the house and gardens if there was an adult with us. England was different. From very soon after we’d arrived I was sent off down to the newsagents to buy bread and milk as and when we needed it. I must have looked a strange sight, barefoot and grubby, with a slightly odd accent. I know the man who worked at the shop was lovely and kind, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what he said to me. Yorkshire was probably not the best of places to live in first. The accents of the people around us were so strong that all I could do was nod and smile, looking at them in bewilderment. The two of us were allowed to the park on our own. It was just down the street and across the road, but it was our first taste of freedom from the adults. Our next door neighbours who realised pretty quickly that we had no toys with us very quickly offered us the use of various toys they had about the place for their grandchildren. Mom and Dad seemed happy, and all was well.
We moved to a village called Gamlingay in Cambridgeshire to a pub my Dad had bought. It was a lovely old pub, Tudor in age right next to a church. Things started to go wrong from there. The summer was over, Alistair and I headed to school and Mom and Dad started working in the pub. I think it hit all of us that this was it, there was no going back and we were 6,000 miles away from everything and everyone we knew. Mom’s pregnancy progressed and, while she had been healthy for the most part, she started getting ill.
My first introduction to the NHS was when my mother bundled me and Alistair into the car and drove to Addenbrookes in Cambridge. I don’t know how she managed that. I don’t know why my father wasn’t there. I think he had to stay behind and open the pub by a certain time. When you own your own business I guess you can’t just leave everything unless it’s really bad. I remember sitting down the hospital corridor as my mother was looked at by the doctor and a nurse asking very kindly if my brother and I would like some orange squash. I know I was feeling pretty worried, as the door was shut and I had no clue why my mother had put us in the car and travelled all that way. The nurse was lovely, though, and made sure we weren’t left on our own, scared. I was trying not to show my fear as Alistair was there, and, well, I was supposed to be the big sister and look after him. Eventually the door opened and we were let inside. The doctor was monitoring the baby’s heart rate and was doing an ultrasound. They took the time to show us our sibling. I remember hearing the heartbeat thudding away and thinking how incredible it sounded. Mom was given the all clear and we went home.
A bit later we were told that we were going to have a brother. I stubbornly refused to believe this was true. I’d read about doctors getting it wrong, and I decided this was definitely the case. If it was true, I decided, I wasn’t going to love him. I wasn’t going to have anything to do with him. I was struggling with a lot at the time. I think this was one extra disappointment and I wasn’t sure how to deal with it.
Mom had a few more rush visits to the hospital. One of these was a trip she made on her own, while we were in South Africa for my uncles wedding. She tells me now that she was absolutely terrified during that trip and doesn’t know how she made it on her own steam. Eventually she was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. They gave her the option of having her baby on the Tuesday, the Wednesday or the Thursday of the following week. They picked the Thursday. My Dad jokingly said it was so that she could have the weekend off from working and come back on the Monday. At least, I hope he was joking. I think the main reason was it was exactly a week after my birthday, and they liked that fact.
We were picked up after school on the 11th January by some friends of the family. My father picked us up from their place an hour later and drove us to the hospital. Our car broke down on the way, about 2 miles away. It was an old rusty thing that had overheated a time or two before, but we’d managed to get it started. Not this time. We were stuck, 2 miles from my mother and about half an hour drive from home. My father called the AA. When the driver turned up he asked my father where he was going to. When my father explained the driver said that he has another job to go to after this that shouldn’t take long and offered to drop us off at the hospital and pick us up when that job was done. I think it’s quite honestly that kindness that kept my parents with the AA for as long as they were.
I don’t believe in romantic love at first sight. I don’t really think you can truly love someone until you’ve learnt who they are. But I do believe at love at first sight. I’ve felt it. I was still determined that I wasn’t going to like my little brother, this person who was not what I wanted him to be. We went to my mother’s bedside on the ward and my new little brother was brought to us. My brand new, wrinkled little brother. He was put in my arms and I was lost. He was absolutely tiny, with small little starfish hands that gripped onto my thumb with so much strength. His little head poked out of the blanket he was wrapped in, his eyes shut tight shut to the world. I vowed then and there that I would do my best to look after him and make sure no one would every hurt him.
Somehow along the way I also decided that he was going to prefer me over Alistair and myself. He was going to be my friend, on my side. Alistair had his own friends and, at the time, I felt like I had no one. Jamie was going to be my person. I’ve said and done a few stupid things in my life but I’ve never regretted anything as much as I regret pushing Alistair away the way I did. Because I felt like an outsider I made him an outsider. At the time I saw him as being more loved than I was by my parents. I was hitting my teens with all the hormonal surges that come with that. I was angry at the world, at my parents at anyone and anything. All I could see was how Alistair was everything I was not and how he seemed to belong in the family so much better than I did. I was jealous, yet again.
I looked after Jamie a lot. I was 10 when he was born, so my parents were able to rely on me a little bit. I changed his nappies, fed him his bottle and was able to keep an eye on him when my mother was busy with something. He wasn’t all that well and had pretty severe infant reflux. I remember him screaming a lot, and my mother unable to sooth him. I also remember him throwing up a lot. One day at school someone asked what was down my skirt. It turns out I’d been walking around with baby sick on me and hadn’t noticed.
He was such a sweet little boy. He would follow Alistair and I around the house, trying to copy what we were doing. There’s a video of all three of us pretending to do ballet. I was all awkward limbs, at that stage where I was about to hit puberty and grow so fast. Alistair was fooling around for the camera, prancing about while la la laing to whatever we were dancing to. And Jamie, this tiny little boy, twirling about in the kitchen.
For the most part the three of us did get on. As the older siblings, Alistair and I looked after Jamie, and he in turn trusted us to do so. However, there was a part of me that wanted Jamie to love me the best, to prefer me over Alistair, to choose me to spend time with. It was a nasty way to feel, and I can only imagine it stemmed from the fact I was getting gradually more insecure. I felt like an outsider at school, bullied by my classmates at two of the schools I went to. I didn’t feel like I had any friends, or anyone I could trust, as people who had pretended to be my friend before had then turned out to be trying to get information from me that they could then use against me. At home I seemed to be causing one argument after another between my parents. My mother and I had always butted heads, we’re very similar and are just as stubborn as one another. My father would then try and deflect her anger or stick up for me, and then they’d argued. She suffered from post natal depression, and, like all of us, was desperately homesick. Her unhappiness manifested itself in anger, as did mine, which was not a good combination. After one fight with Dad, after he’d walked away, she told me that if they divorced it would be my fault.
The one good thing in my life, the one person who seemed to love me unconditionally, was Jamie. So I didn’t want to share him, especially not with Alistair. I wish I’d been more empathetic, been the kinder person I became. I wish I’d seen that by pushing Alistair away from getting close to Jamie I was just as bad as those bullies were to me. I did it in little ways, mostly by monopolising Jamie’s time and attention. I so desperately wanted attention. In that same video, a few days before or after the dancing scene my father was taking the camera around the house. He was trying to make a video up to take back to South Africa for everyone to see. I was in the kitchen and I kept interrupting him to tell him there was a robin in the garden. It’s so obvious to me now that all I wanted was to be acknowledged. It hurts to see that little girl in the video. She’s just so very lonely.