The older I get the more I realise how valuable the childhood games I played were – particularly the ones I played with my sisters. I have started to worry that our game playing time may soon become limited and that I may need to reorganise my priorities. I feel like calling my sisters up to book in some free-style creative role play; we need to make it feel like the old days and get our act together.
Back then we had the exclusive use of a large play room. No nannies or baby monitors ever threatened our fun – and the fact that our parents liked to take a long snooze on a Sunday afternoon (banning us from the lounge) meant that we pretty much had the run of the playroom and the adjacent workshop (thanks dad, love a power tool). Being the youngest, I sometimes viewed this workshop with trepidation. To me it looked like a small dark room with a customised work bench; to my sisters it was a make-believe operating theatre or dentist’s surgery. Needless to say, being the youngest, I was usually the patient, and was often wheeled in by one sister on my mother’s tea trolley to be greeted by the other sister, already gowned up and ready to use the bench vice. I still hold a deep suspicion about doctors and dentists.
Our mother rarely stepped into the playroom, but she did store her ‘buy in bulk’ food products in a cupboard within, and these large bags of goodies were often used in part of our make believe activities. If we were naughty (ok, when we were naughty) Mum thought that sending us to the playroom to sit on a stool was a draconian punishment. She would set the kitchen timer and shut us in the playroom believing she had shown us who was boss. Strangely she never seemed to notice that we ended our time in the Chokey looking a little bit sickly and behaving in a hyperactive fashion; a giveaway would have been our mouths stained blue or pink with jelly crystals or dried fruit. I did hear her telling a friend once that she thought we must have mice in the playroom, because her ‘buy in bulk’ often seemed to dwindle into ‘buy in bits’.
Outside this house, we also had extensive gardens (dad must have hit a golden spot in the civil service at this time), and my two older sisters quickly realised that an easy way to give me the slip was to suggest that we play ‘house’ visits with our respective dolls. One sister would take the shed as her residence, the other the summer house and I would be given the playroom. Off they would go with their dolls in a pram or push chair, promising to ‘come visiting’ soon. I would wait as patiently as a four year old could – often hours -,and then eventually venture into the garden to find my sisters sunbathing, reading comics and eating homemade ice lollies.
If we raided the dressing up box, I needed to wait in turn while the oldest two sisters picked their outfits first. One would put together a vibrant Can Can outfit, the other a princess dress and tiara. I was usually left with the option of a fur mat which they would tie in an intricate fashion around my torso to assure me that I was a cave man.
If we played tennis or badminton, as the youngest, I was always the ball boy. I would then be sent off to get some strawberries and Robinson’s squash for the intervals. If we played wheel barrow races, I was always the one put into the barrow to test the tipping point of the obstacle course they would have built. If we played on the double swings, naturally my job was to push the other two as high as I could.
We sometimes performed Sunday evening tableaus for the groggy heads that would be rising from their Sunday papers in the lounge – yes, remember us, the feral children you left in the play room? Again, these extravaganzas would involve dressing up – and often further customisation of the tea trolley. (Incidentally, why do people no longer use tea trolleys? Fast food outlets are missing a trick here). That tea trolley enjoyed starring roles in our Casey Jones series and worked as an effective prop for our budding conjurer (middle sis) when she halved her assistant (me, youngest sis – and no, that’s not an appendix scar I have).
And if it wasn’t enough to play together, we also shared a bedroom (the house was big on gardens and sheds, but small on bedrooms), affording hours of pranks and niggles that only sisters can perform. There are only so many times you can apple pie a sister’s bed before your sisters come home to roost. My sisters had me adapting their ladybird books so that we could ticket them for a bedroom library, they had me ‘knighted’ as the First Lord of the Tidy Toy Cupboard and they were quick to shove the Easter Egg we were decorating one Easter for our parents (#BluePeter) under my bed when our melted chocolate antics were interrupted. Smarties, melted chocolate and carpet fluff are an unwanted combination even on a tea trolley.
You knew where you stood in this sister hierarchy. You knew the rules of the game because your sisters were older and wiser and would always be there to put you in your place. It is unsettling when things start to change, when you don’t actually feel like playing and when all three of us are not available at the same time to take our hierarchical places. There are some games designed to be played by my two sisters and myself. These are the rules. We triangulate nicely and I am happy just to sit waiting – for as long as my sisters want – as long as they promise me that they will still come to visit. I have been out to buy a tea trolley; this Sister Act still has wheels.