Friday, 9 March 2018

My Sister's Birthday

1987. My sister’s birthday.
            2018: We’re in Manchester city centre at tea time. Just getting out of the house for a couple of hours on a chilly Wednesday in March. I’m up to my eyes in my book. Tomorrow I should get to the end of the first draft. I’ve three thousand more words to write. My head is filled with murder mystery and I can hear the squeaking of loose ends being tied up, and the crunching of plot logic as everything falls into place at last.
            In Oxfam on Oldham Street we’re browsing through rubbish and old tat. Jeremy buys a vinyl copy of The Rocky Horror Show original Broadway cast album. It even has the lyric sheet tucked inside the gatefold. Very jammy.
            As we wander towards the Arndale Centre I’m telling him that when I was a teenager there were three Rocky Horror records that were essential: the movie soundtrack, then the 1973 London Cast, then the New York one. They were all brilliant.
            Straight away I’m remembering those wonderful days of thinking Rocky Horror was the most fabulous, subversive thing I had ever seen. Loving the music, the lyrics, the message, the visual feel of the whole thing.           
            Christmas 1986 and sitting in the attic cinema of Darlington Art Centre. I had no idea what I was about to see. Why were people in fishnet stockings and lab coats? Why did they have water pistols and why was everyone carrying on like they were about to go to a party rather than sitting down and watching a film..?
            I was there with Nicola, Michael and Katherine. They already knew about the whole thing. They’d been before, I think. Nicola had her red hair crimped like Magenta and her eyes were made up just the same.
            Then… March the following year. It was freezing and snowy. The same gang of us were in Darlington, getting a lift from Nicola’s dad. We were off to the Civic: that squashed wedding cake of a theatre. Gold and red plush inside, just the same as when I saw Paddington at five and Arturo Ui at eleven.
            This time Rocky Horror was live and I was dressed up too – a little bit. As much as I dared. My mam’s Japanese maternity shirt and my Absolute Beginners mac and hat. That night I bought a red Rocky Horror T shirt. It seems really odd to think that, back then, a bright red t-shirt was a daring item in my wardrobe…!
            It was the night that Louise was born!
            It was while we were off to see Rocky Horror, the messages were coming in from Bishop Auckland hospital.
            My Big Nanna answered the phone: ‘It’s a girl! It’s a girl!’ I remember her hopping up and down.
            So, as I remember it, I heard the news just before I set off for the theatre that night. I used to get picked up on the main drag of Woodham Way by Nicola and her dad, and I jumped in the car and told the others. I can see their bright faces looking back at me. Nicola and Katherine with glittery eye shadow on. Grinning as I told them I had a new sister.
            Then we zoomed off to Darlington down the snowy motorway, off to see Rocky Horror.
            It’s one of those nights you never forget. And just as I’m telling Jeremy the story (and he must have heard it many times before) I realise that, of course, it’s today. It’s her birthday. And it was thirty-one years ago exactly. I’m even telling him as the clock comes round to 6pm – and I think: Happy birthday, Louise.
            In my diary I wrote: ‘Wonderful day. My mam was taken to hospital this morning – had Louise after a struggle at 6.30pm. Eight-and-a-half pounds! Rocky Horror Show at Darlington Civic – brilliant. Home in the snow in Nicola’s car, with ‘We are the Champions’ in the dark.’
            We went by taxi the next day, Sunday, ‘to see Louise (named this day.) Red and crumpled and hairy and sneezing. She’s lovely. Mark had bought a big blue Gummi bear for her. My nanna wouldn’t put her down.’
We took lots of photos in the ward. I remember that her feet were very long and red. They poked out of the blanket and they looked so new and, I realized: of course! They’ve never been walked on yet. It was such a surprising thought. Feet that had never been walked on. They were waxy-looking and brand new.


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