The Way I Was: I married him because he didn't notice her: Marje Proops tells Nicholas Roe why she and her sister hated each other

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I'M EIGHT in the picture, and the only bad memories I have are of a bitter jealousy of my young sister, who is on the left and who was everything I wanted to be. You can see that from looking at the photograph: she was pretty, I was plain. I was leggy and skinny and I wore glasses from the age of nine; my sister had beautiful hair, mine was mousy. She was everything I thought desirable. We used to fight, and we hated each other.

Indeed, as we grew older and began to take an interest in boys and boys took an interest in us, they took one look at my sister and that was the end of me. I think the only reason I married my husband eventually was that he didn't even notice my sister. I was very grateful to him for that.

This jealousy lasted a long time - until I got married, I think - but the interesting thing is that my sister now tells me she was jealous of me, because my mother was proud of her pretty looks but used to introduce me as the clever one. The last thing I wanted to be was clever.

As we grew up, both of us realised we weren't really a threat to the other. We can now laugh and joke about it. She rings me up and says, 'How's my brilliant sister?' and I say, 'How's my beautiful sister?'

But I picked this picture because it marks the period when, young as I was, I began to be interested in politics. I don't mean voting Labour, and I didn't know what a Tory was - though my father would have loved Maggie Thatcher, had he lived that long. But what I did learn, in those early days, was the difference between the treatment of people across the class structure.

My father ran a pub and we were quite well off in comparison to the fathers of some of the other kids. We ate well and because we lived in an area of London where it wasn't easy to get a polished education, my mother sent us to have elocution lessons: she was frightened we'd pick up Cockney accents. We also had music lessons and I can even remember having deportment lessons. So we were brought up comfortably with a mother with certain - I suppose you'd say pretensions.

My father was restless; we had about eight different pubs at various times, but then we were in Hoxton, in north London.

There was no private entrance so my sister and I had to walk through the pub, and I wondered why it was that the people in one bar wore bowler hats and suits and ties and had their drinks in little glasses, and in the other bar there were men who wore flat caps, rough clothes, and were drinking beer. The men in one bar had their glasses cleaned and polished, while the men with the caps had their beer glasses dunked in a big zinc sink.

I found this fascinating but hard to understand, and in the end my father explained that the people with the suits and little drinks had good jobs, earned more and spent more money.

I remember I had a sense of outrage at the unfairness of a society which divided people up into what they had, what they earned, and at this very early age I was determined I would fight this inequality.

It was a happy childhood, but this is the interesting thing: two girls from a secure background with devoted parents, neither of us had any reason to be rebellious in any way, but there was some instinct within me which rebelled against what I saw as the inequalities in society, and I've never stopped.

'Marje: the Guilt and the Gingerbread', by Angela Patmore (Little, Brown; pounds 15.99).

(Photograph omitted)

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