Mandy was three years younger than me, but always determined to keep up (and overtake where possible). Meticulous with her possessions, Mandy would dust and display her collection of ornaments on a little threepenny shaped table (having somehow negotiated the larger second bedroom) and would be indignant if one was moved even an inch. Conversely, my tiny box room over the porch of 24 Cedar Avenue was crammed with books, scattered across the carpet with some piled up on the small yellow and white bedside chest of drawers with its secret places – old cigarette packets glued to the inside back wall, tucked behind the end of the drawers. Inspired by my love of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five, the treasures tucked into these spaces included home-made membership cards and badges allocated to a limited number of close friends, depending on who was in favour at the time. Little sisters were rarely included in these clubs. Mandy’s room included a gigantic oak Victorian chest of drawers with spherical knobs that were almost too broad for little fingers, having to be tugged with considerable energy to get to our clothes stored within.
This was the room where we liked to play (although Mandy insisted on everything being tidied away meticulously at the end of each session). With her short blond bob cropped around cute apple cheeks and bright blue eyes, Mandy’s ‘orders’ were difficult to resist, though I would do my best to do so when it came to clearing up instructions. Wearing matching home-made cotton dresses and knitted cardigans, one wet Saturday afternoon found us both busy in the larger bedroom.
“I’m going to play my new single,” I announced, carefully placing ‘White Horses’ onto the turntable of my portable record player, a recent gift from Father Christmas.
Mandy was busy tidying the dolls’ house built by Uncle Bill, carefully pulling the sharp nail fixed as a front door handle and opening up the two front walls before getting to work, busily swapping the kitchen with the sitting room. “Again?” Mandy complained, “You’ve played nothing else since we went with Nanny and Grandad to that underground market in Allesby.” “Aylesbury,” I corrected with a superior tone, “Well, I love it so you’ll just have to put up.”
Mandy adjusted the position of the tiny dresser before carefully balancing miniature plates and dishes on its shelves. ‘On white horses let me ride away, to a place of dreams so far away, let me run, to the sun …’ warbled the vinyl at 45rpm, before getting stuck on ‘to the sun, to the sun, to the sun …’ I lifted the needle, blew off some dust and removed the record, inspecting it for scratches before carefully placing it back in its paper sleeve. Time for Freddie and the Dreamers.
“I’m bored,” Mandy announced, tucking in her vest and pulling up both knee length white socks for the third time in half an hour. This was something done so vigorously and regularly that Mandy’s socks were the only ones in our household that developed holes in the ribbing at the top as opposed to holes in the toe or heel. Totally impossible to darn.
When asked later, neither of us could remember whose idea it was – or if we did, out of typical loyalty neither was going to say. Taking it in turns to climb the oak chest of drawers using the polished knobs like a 21st century climbing wall seemed like a good plan. Who could climb the quickest? Mandy went first, at the age of four still the smaller, although likely to overtake me within the next three years (for a stretch of about 18 months we were repeatedly mistaken as twins, although Mandy always had the better hairstyle, neatly and professionally cut; my short style had a fringe that was sellotaped to my forehead whilst our mum Eve attempted to cut a straight line across the bits sticking out from underneath). “My turn,” I insisted, as Mandy sat on the bed glowing with triumph having made it to the top of the chest and then back down again in what she considered to be record time. “Bet I’ll be faster!”
Sprinting across the room and scrambling up the first set of drawer knobs, I was almost at the top when the chest began to tip, rocking back and forth slightly before the inevitable.
“Aaaagh,” I screamed, turning and leaping onto the bed next to Mandy who had shrunk back against the far wall with a look of sheer terror.
There was an almighty crash as the colossal furniture fell onto its face, causing the walls to shake and the single pane window to rattle. “What on earth is going on?” mum bellowed, racing up the stairs seeking the source of the unexpected earthquake. Two sheepish little girls stared wide eyed at the damage.
“It wasn’t me,” we chorused.