Rebellion Begins at Home

In any family each generation throws up a rebel, someone who breaks the conventions of their tribe, who shows them a different way to live. And so it was with my sister.

Diane decided to be a rebel at the age of three. By then she was no longer the youngest child. An older brother, an even older sister and now a younger sister (me) meant she was fated to be that ‘middle child’ – a boring title with no joy in it. So she determined to be not middle, not eldest, not only boy, not youngest, but rebel – she would make her mark.

The life of the family renegade began with small acts of defiance and boldness. She played outside when she wasn’t meant to, she answered back when none of us siblings would dare. And, bit by bit, she gradually took on the role and was defined by it.

She would be first over the back fence to play on what we called ‘the dump’ – a great heap of earth and rock piled up at the side of the new houses. We were warned not to go near the dump but with Diane in the lead, the pull of an adventure was too strong. Me, my brother and eldest sister would join her along with the neighbour’s kids for a glorious afternoon of digging, running and fighting on top of that hill of soil.

She earned the title of tomboy and no-one dared take it off her. Dolls and books were not really her thing. Diane loved only two toys – Ellen – a small, strange, dark-haired doll that looked like an old lady and Oswald – a cuddly owl toy that sat on top of her bed.

And although we went to the library every week she was in no hurry to choose a new book. Instead she read and re-read The Folk of the Faraway Tree – that magic land full of strange adventures. While the rest of us were content to read our library books on a rainy afternoon, Diane would be out into the wild (well as wild as woods near a town can get) with the dog, on the hunt for her own faraway tree.

She was the first of us siblings in many exploits: the first to learn to swim, the first to ice-skate. She was the only one of us who signed up for the outdoor camp at Dalguise. She came back from that and talked non-stop about canoeing and capsizing. I listened to her stories as we drifted off to sleep at night, amazed that I had such a sister.  

A family holiday in Wales led to a day of horse-riding. What were we thinking? We weren’t that kind of family. I think Diane must have persuaded us all to sign up. Of course, I was too scared to go when I met the horse up close, so Mum stayed with me and a day of equine adventures was replaced by a cream tea.

Diane took my horse, Calesca, as she liked it better than the one she had been allocated. Both horse and rider recognised the wild streak in their partner. Calesca galloped faster than she’d ever galloped before. The speed led to a bolt and Diane was nearly thrown but managed to cling on to the horse of her dreams. She was shaken but defiant.

The rebellion and bravery continued into Diane’s teens. She would sneak out, underage, to the local clubs. Here she met Mike, the love of her life. He was the first boy she ever brought home – a studded dog-collar round his neck, a ripped t-shirt, leather jeans and a pair of Doc Martens finished the outfit. We pretended that this was normal though my staring eyes said otherwise.

Years passed and the boldness continued. Diane and Mike continued with their own life adventure when they emigrated to Australia with their one-year-old son. The rest of us were homebirds, London was as far as my own bravery would take me. Diane, however, had to hightail round half the world to satisfy her curiosity.

They came back a few years later, another son added to their own wee family. We were all grown up, rebellious acts forgotten for now.

And yet, even as a grandmother she doesn’t advise caution. She is out there shouting at her three grandchildren to ‘go faster’ on their sledges, her rebel yell carrying on out into the world.

rebel, family, sister, childhood