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What sisterhood means to me by Christina Hopkinson

‘Sisters, sisters… there were never such devoted sisters’ goes the classic Irving Berlin song from the film White Christmas (and it’s all very lovely until the most unsisterly last line: ‘And lord help the sister who comes between me and my man.’).

I never had a sister, but was a girl sandwiched between two brothers, surrounded by local families who seemed to churn out boy-children in batches of two and three.

To be both bookish and sisterless was a cruel fate. Little Women, The Twins at St Clare’s, Lucy and Susan in The Narnia books, What Katie Did… the classics mocked me with their giggling and loving loads of sisters.

I think my whole school career was a search for a surrogate sister. I found none in primary school, quite the contrary, I was mocked for wearing the same style underpants every day from a Marks & Spencer multi pack instead of the days-of-the-week ones sported by the rest of the girls in my class.

Secondary school would be different, I hoped, but the girl I picked out on the first day, Jenny, dumped me by the first half term. She was probably overwhelmed by the whiff of desperation and neediness.

I looked around the classroom, keen to find someone else not paired off already in the best friend game of musical chairs. And there she was, Bini, a funny, smart, quiet and quirky person in amid a sea of mostly conventional girls. She had sisters of her own, but far older and already away at university, so perhaps she too was looking for a surrogate.

She was and is everything I could want in a sister without any of the bickering and competitiveness that I see every day played out between my two daughters. Together we played endless pingpong matches, watched old Hollywood musicals and invented a game where we gave every other girl in the class points for their talents (and by coincidence always ranked ourselves number one). Her parents’ house was next door to school while mine was a winding bus drive away in the deepest countryside so I spent as many nights at hers as at my own.

I’m a horribly competitive person who is to quick to compare myself unfavourably and resentfully to others. And yet, even in adolescence, I never did to her. We were always each other’s backstop, ally and cheerleader, always rejoicing in each other’s small triumphs. She went from skinny child to knock-out beauty almost overnight aged 17 – model figure but with curves – and despite being far from gorgeous myself I was just so proud to have her as a friend and marvelled at how those boys who’d only ever been interested in the precocious blondes were now drooling. I’ve still got the glossy magazine spread that she modelled in aged 18.

And she was generous back. We went off to the same university to read the same subject and she was the one I celebrated with when I got an unexpectedly good degree (despite hers being unexpectedly mediocre).

And now decades on, we’re both middle-aged with three children (a boy and then two girls apiece) and, until recently, living a couple of miles apart. But then, horrors, work and opportunities have taken her family to Los Angeles. I’m not jealous of her house with a swimming pool and the adventure she’s on (well maybe a little this week when our boiler broke down on the coldest night of the year), but I do miss her horribly.

It’s not fair, I want to stamp my feet, we used to speak every day and see each other every week, like the best sisters imaginable. And now it’s once a year and emails.

But sisters, birth or chosen, are allowed to make their own choices. Perhaps I need to find myself a surrogate-surrogate sister. I could start, I suppose, with the four, yes four, lovely sisters-in-law that I’ve acquired a long the way…