Discovering your family’s twin…

It’s not uncommon to discover that those with whom you become friends in later life have had an upbringing similar to your own – like attracts like after all. But there are occasions on which this fleeting similarity turns into a vision of an almost identical childhood, and quite frankly, there is one particular set of friends where the similarities are now spooky. It’s less “Oh! How funny! We had that too!” and more “Ah, ok, yes we had exactly the same thing…again.”

The Kilverts and the Clutterbucks have known each other in some form since 1997. Clutterbuck Maximus (myself) and Kilvert Maximus (Jenni) met through singing, and our younger siblings joined the happy singing throng a year or two later. It’s been nearly 19 years and it’s now official that we practically had exactly the same upbringing.

Minimii & MaximiiWe are so cool that in 2008 we had Minimus & Maximus hoodies created! Clutterbucks Minimus & Maximus (left), Kilverts Minimus & Maximus (right). The Morris sisters (centre) literally did share a childhood with the Kilverts…

It began with the simple things: similar values around after school activities and wholesome holiday adventures; clothes from 80’s classic retailer Clothkits; and a lack of frivolous games (looking at you Mr Frosty). It’s the kind of thing Buzzfeed could turn into a listicle, which if posted on Facebook would garner likes from a good number of friends.

Then it turned out that on more than one occasion, there was the possibility that we would actually have grown up together. In 1982 my family moved to Wealdstone in Harrow where Dad became minister of the local Methodist Church – the very one which my friends’ family had attended until a move to Harpenden a little while earlier. (This particular gem was discovered by our mothers while on the London Eye, they realised they had mutual friends as a result.) Over a decade later, there was a possible job in the very same town – it ended up not being a match, but had it been, I would have met Jenni two whole years before we actually did.

This past week featured a long discussed trip to Belfast for the Kilverts & Clutterbucks [well, the Kilvert, Clutterbuck, Barrett & Monks] – I think we’ve only been talking about it since 2004! We were fairly certain it would be a success because Belfast is wonderful, and despite them having spent less time with our parents than we have with theirs, our identical childhoods would ensure all would be fine. And it was.

As if to affirm our theory, during the trip we found physical evidence that cemented it. Our arrival coincided with the delivery of a box of photos sent by my aunt to my mum for safe keeping. [Fascinating in itself, especially due to some ridiculously strong genes that I’ve inherited.] Perusing the photos was an amusing pre-dinner activity (thank you aunt for including more than one photo of me naked in a paddling pool), not least because of a few similarities that cropped up.

First of all, photos from my third birthday, featuring an incredible Postman Pat cake, baked by my mother just hours before she went into hospital to have my sister.

Liz's Postman Pat

The Kilvert sisters recalled a similar cake baked by their mother and a text was sent to obtain photographic evidence:

Upon seeing the photo, my mother exclaimed “But we had the same dress that Gill’s wearing!” The rest of the family murmured agreement, and we (well I) carried on sorting through the box of photos. One was identified by my sister as ‘the epitome of sisterhood’ – given the disgruntled look on my face in the presence of my younger sibling.

The epitome of sisterhood

And then we realised, the dress I was wearing was the very same dress mum had identified in the Kilvert photo (albeit with the collar a bit tucked up under my chin). Voila:

One could argue that it’s simply a coincidence that is likely to emerge from being born in similar years and brought up in the same culture, but I think the Clutterbucks and Kilverts would like to see it as a sign from heaven that our friendship was always meant to be!

Oh, and we had a pretty nifty time in Belfast too. Much cake was eaten (although, as my mother commented, we never ate a whole piece – preferring to divide all cakes between us!) and the best and worst of Irish weather experienced. As always, the time passed too quickly!

Plane selfieThree of #4gotoBelfast on board their flight.

Girls at the dockEnjoying Belfast’s ‘honesty box’ cafe – The Dock – and their red-hot heating!

Girls at CausewayAt the Giant’s Causeway the day they take the postcard photos…

Giants Causeway Panorama


Treasures in Tewks

It’s great having siblings that know you well. Over half-term (how great is it to have half-terms again?!) I paid a flying visit to the shire, [well, I say ‘flying’, First Great Western got my there fairly speedily by train] and as a special treat, my sister had saved an exciting activity for us to do while I was there…

Tewkesbury, on the surface, is a fairly sleepy town. You can walk round it in 20 minutes. It doesn’t have a wide range of shops (its M&S closed down over a year ago), it does have an ancient abbey. The most dramatic thing to have happened there was the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 (part of the War of the Roses) – until 2007, when the town was over-run with water:

Thus, the thought of a exciting activity based in the town was rather intriguing – even more so when I discovered it was part of a fundraising activity from church (which in her case is the aforementioned abbey) – but my interest was truly awakened when I realised it was a competitive quiz:

That’s the quiz sheet – a collection of 30 images involving parts of the town (in a defined geographical area) and the abbey. Our mission was to locate them all and we only had a morning. Joyful. I love a good mission and a random adventure!

Luckily, she’d already identified a few of them (like number 25 – the West Window of the abbey photographed from below) so the task was slightly less daunting. Off we headed to the abbey, where we certainly did not use Verger contacts in order to get a head start… We foolishly assumed that #16 was part of a stained glass window – more fool us, how did we not realise it was a roof boss? [Who knew ‘roof boss’ was the official term for those things on the ceilings of abbeys/cathedrals?] However, it was once we left the abbey that things got really exciting.

In addition to the super-exciting quiz, Mim also took the opportunity to show me hidden nooks and crannies of the town. As we ventured up one alley, we unexpectedly found #11, quickly followed by #5 and #23. The next alley yielded even more – and our shouts of excitement with each new discovery were getting louder. As we paused for a breather (and to write down further answers using a bin as a desk) we spotted another three. Within an hour and a half of starting, we’d crossed off the majority – leaving just a few for Mim to finish off with some younger friends.

But the treasures of Tewkesbury did not end there. In the summer, I had an unexpected phone call from my mother, asking me questions about Chalet School hardbacks thanks to a discovery in the town’s second hand bookshop – it yielded me a copy of The Chalet School Goes To It. Clearly, I needed to make my own visit, though there were serious money implications. Within seconds of stepping over the threshold, I spied a shelf of familiar spines. My sister likes to help other people spend their money and she soon had me convinced that the two first editions and fully dust-jacketted hardbacks I held in my hand were veritable bargains (they really were, but it still came to quite a lot of money). Then, I glimpsed the cabinet…

…I think most Chalet School fans covet a few particular titles owing to their dust-jackets (it isn’t just me, is it?) and I would suspect that a highly sought after one would be The Chalet School Reunion, as its jacket features a collection of characters, with a key as to who’s who. As I approached the till to pay for my discoveries, I spotted three CS books in the cabinet – and there was an immaculate Reunion. (Plus two immaculate Coming of Age of the Chalet School. All three were first editions.) One of the books cost the same as the three I held in my hand, but I was tempted. At least I have now held those books, and that’s something.

Joey Goes to the Oberland, A Genius at the Chalet School & Shocks for the Chalet School

Go, visit Tewks! (Just don’t buy the Chalet School books I left behind.) Or, if you can’t be bothered, devise your own photographic treasure hunt and invite your friends along for a competitive afternoon of random object hunting. Fun for everyone.

Familial communication

Since my parents moved to Ireland six years ago, actual, in the flesh family gatherings have been limited to Christmas and special family occasions – weddings, relatives’ significant birthdays, graduations etc – and I get over to Belfast once or twice a year, but usually separate from my sister (so we can spread the joy of daughter visits a bit further). As a result we’ve developed a cunning variety of tag-team family contact, in which none of us are all together simultaneously, but manage to see pretty much everyone in a short period of time, something both my father and I will be managing in the course of the next week or so.

Tuesday night witnessed the closest my family gets to a four-way conversation these days. My father and I were sat together on a bus, he was on the phone to my mother (in Nottingham) and I was on the phone to my sister (in Tewks). A conversation about a friend’s GCSE results went like this:

Mum to Dad: Does Mim know what Meredith’s results were like? 
Dad to me: Your Mum wants to know if Mim knows Meredith’s results?
Me to Mim: What did Meredith get?
Mim to me: One A*, some As, a couple of Bs and a C
Me to Dad: One A*, some As, a couple of Bs and a C
Dad to Mum: One A*, some As, a couple of Bs and a C
Goodness only knows what the people around us thought about this ridiculous carry on! 
This week my Dad’s been staying with me, having a few days of being a tourist in London. Initially I laughed when I heard that his idea of London fun involved at least two libraries (the British Library and my very own Hogwarts – Dr Williams Library) and a lot of walking. It was only last night, while comparing our library cards, that I realised I really am a chip off the old block. [He’s the first person I rang when I was gifted a three-year ticket to the BL instead of the usual one-year, courtesy of my business card that proved I was indeed a ‘professional’ researcher!]

Our similarity was cemented with his choice of pub. We’d agreed to meet in London Bridge and I had a plan to take him to The George Inn – one of London’s oldest pubs – because I figured he’d appreciate the history and it’s opposite a branch of my favourite Turkish restaurant. When I rang him (in the midst of torrential rain) it turned out he was sheltering in a pub, the The George Inn to be precise – spooky! Those that know me well may also be amused to hear that he’d thought to look up the London Bridge area in the Good Pub Guide while browsing in Waterstones – always a researcher… 

Having said all that, given that he has a beard and bears an uncanny resemblance to Gerry Adams, the similarities end with libraries, pubs and research. 

Texting and driving

This evening, while on my regular Monday evening past-time of driving aimlessly [ok, the aim is learning to drive, so not totally aimless] around the streets of south-east London, my phone rang twice and then I had a text that I sensed was indicative of a voicemail.

Figuring it might be important (there are sick relatives around at the moment) I checked my phone when it was safe to do so. [Pulled over, handbrake on, in neutral…] It turned out to just be my sister, returning my call from the day before, so I fired off a text that read: “Can’t talk. On driving lesson.” 

The text conversation that followed had both me and my instructor in stitches…

Mim: “I think he should train you in talking and driving. As he’s obviously already covered texting at the wheel…”

Me: “Waiting for a ferry!”

Mim: “WHAT? Where are you going? Holland?”
Mim [in a separate text]: “1st country that came to mind…”

Me: “Woolwich ferry. Across the Thames…”

Bless her.

Has to be said, until I began this driving lark I hadn’t realised just how crucial river crossings (bridges, tunnels, ferries etc) were to those of us who inhabit a city divided by water. I have now, over the course of a few lessons, driven through the Rotherhithe Tunnel (twice, it’s hideous – narrow and interminable with a 20mph speed limit), the Limehouse Tunnel (also twice), over Tower Bridge and on the Woolwich ferry*. All fun activities, especially at night, when you get views like this:

Canary Wharf just behind the Thames Barrier
(Taken on ferry, while stationery & with engine off – in case you were concerned.) 

Another piece of driving good news is that I appear to have mastered both stopping (finally!) and roundabouts. Reversing round corners is still a skill that evades me, but one day…

*Today was the first time I’d personally driven a car onto a ferry. I’m counting that as another 2010 first. 

Happy birthday to…


A lot of the American blogs I read go in for super cheesy birthday posts in honour of their loved ones and offspring. It’s not something I’d generally indulge in, except that as I’m tent-bound, writing a birthday greeting on my sister’s Facebook wall is an impossibility – but scheduling a blog post is not.

So, this is what she looked like 26 years ago today:

Here’s an indication of how our sibling relationship developed:

And, just so she can’t complain that I’ve posted potentially embarrassing photos of her online, here’s one in which she definitely comes off better than I do:

In the gushing American blogs, there would now follow a piece on how wonderful and amazing my sister is. But I’m neither American or gushing, so I will simply say that I hope she has a lovely day that makes up for me having given her (at her request) the saddest birthday present ever – thanks to her being hugely grown up and having just bought a house. Oh, and I hope there’s cake and she doesn’t have to make it herself! 
Our parents rather conveniently organised it so that our birthdays are only five days apart, ensuring that:
(i) It would be difficult to forget both dates, what with the first being a reminder of the second.
(ii) Joint birthday parties are excellent money saving devices.
(ii) Two summer birthdays also result in very small birthday parties, what with everyone having gone on holiday.
Now that we live miles away from each other, we no longer have to suffer the indignity of joint celebrations – so whilst it might cost more (and involve more organisational skill) to get presents where they need to be, at least there are some advantages…