24th March 2022 This week I am writing about and dedicating this to my sister, Mel Royle. I’m sitting here right now, waiting for her to arrive from Fuerteventura, where she lives with her husband, Steve, and their four dogs, Daisy, Nutty, Sasha and Dixie. She is flying into Manchester and then catching a train to Sowerby Bridge, where I’ve lived for almost 20 years. For the next two weeks and four days, we will be together, and I’m looking forward to it more than I can say. It’s been three years since we last saw each other in person, although we video-call on ‘WhatsApp’ several times a week. Apart from being my sister, she’s my best friend, the one I’ve known longer than any other – for all of the almost 58 years of her life. For the first few of those years, we didn’t get along – in fact, we came close to hating one another, but I’ll come to that in a little while.
Melanie Jean was born at 6B Barque Street, Barrow Island in April 1963 and top of the UK charts that week was Gerry and the Pacemakers with ‘How Do You Do It?’ and the Beatles were at number three with ‘From Me to You’. The only thing I remember clearly is our dad coming into the bedroom that I shared with my older brother, waking us up to go and see the surprise that Mam had waiting for us. At five years old it was certainly a surprise to me – I don’t even remember my mum being pregnant!
Two years later, we moved from Barrow Island to Brighton Street to the large end-of-terrace house Dad had bought for us for £2000. This remained the family home until after our mum’s death in 2018. Mum and Dad had the large front bedroom, Mel and I shared the middle bedroom and my brother Robert had the back bedroom. That year, I started at Victoria Junior School. Mel who was only two, stayed home with Mum, and my brother continued to go to Barrow Island Juniors for his final Junior year before moving to the Technical School when he was eleven. It was such a different world in those days – do you think today, parents would contemplate letting their 10-year-old son cycle a 2 mile commute alone twice a day? I doubt it very much!
Mel and I didn’t like each other very much when we were younger. I was pretty much a bookworm – I had my nose buried in a book more often than not, and couldn’t be bothered with Mel’s (to me) silly, childish games. I suffered greatly from ‘middle child syndrome’ although that wasn’t a thing in those days. But Robert was my mother’s favourite, and Mel was my dad’s favourite, so I was pretty much a loner. When we did all play together, it was very much a ‘me’ and ‘them’ situation – older brother and younger sister ganged up on middle one – and did their very best to make my life a misery! Memorable highlights include games of hide and seek where I would end up locked in to the understairs cupboard or in a wardrobe and left in the dark (with the spiders!) for hours. No wonder I suffer now from claustro- and arachnophobia! Another time I was tied to a kitchen chair and force-fed cold Heinz Chicken Soup straight from the can! I loathed that stuff even when it was hot!
We three spent a lot of time fending for ourselves, as in later years Mum and Dad both worked full time, so there was plenty of time for playing, and fighting! Mel would often deliberately mess up our bedroom as she knew it would get me grounded for a week! When I would try to explain it was Mel who had messed my things all over the room, Mum would never listen – I was older so it was my responsibility! I didn’t get on well with my mum either come to that – but that’s another much longer story, so suffice to say right now that eventually I left home aged 17, never to return – at least not until my first marriage broke up!
With my departure, and my brother’s forthcoming marriage, suddenly Mel found herself the only child left at home – and when your mother is a control freak, that’s not a happy place to be. That’s when my company became desirable to my sister, and that’s when we started to get close and become friends.
Mel had always been horse-mad, ever since she was little – all she wanted out of life was her own horse to care for. As she grew, she became more and more interested in a career in the equine field. Dad eventually bought her a horse, Jamie, and several of her schoolfriends also rode, so her hobby never lost its attraction. She went to college at Caton, near Lancaster to train as a riding instructor and when she qualified, Dad set her up with a riding school and livery stables. The only downside was there was no indoor space for a riding school, so when the weather was bad, lessons had to be cancelled. After a year of particularly bad weather when she’d been able to give hardly any lessons, regrettably it was decided to close the school down as it was not a going concern.
By this time, I was living in Slough, with my 2nd husband and I worked for DHL International in the Customer Services department of the Head Office at Orbital Park, Hounslow. Mel came for a visit and decided she wanted to stay. I got her an interview for a job as a courier, which she took on and enjoyed. She gradually got to know West London, particularly the Shepherd’s Bush area, like the back of her hand.
Skip onwards a year or two and Trevor and I decided we were going to move North to the East Midlands. His family were there, in and around Nottingham, and his father was beginning to get a bit frail, so we wanted to be closer. Also, his daughter lived with his ex-wife in Loughborough, and it was starting to get monotonous using up every other weekend going to see her, or picking her up and bringing her to Slough. So, we bought a house in South Normanton, near Alfreton. I managed to get a transfer to DHL’s East Midlands depot in Castle Donington, near the Airport. Mel moved in with another colleague from DHL, Jacqui, and they had a great time as a couple of young single girls in the vicinity of the bright lights of London.
It all got a bit too much though – the courier job was intense and very busy; Mel would leave the flat early in the morning and not get home until late evening, and she was becoming exhausted, and quite depressed. The final straw came when her handbag was stolen and the thief emptied her bank account. The bank was making a stink about paying her back, insisting that she must have given her PIN number to someone, or written it down somewhere. Eventually they paid up, but not before putting Mel through the wringer. She decided she’d had enough of the South and moved in with us in Derbyshire.
I had become great mates with one of my colleagues at DHL, whom we’ll call by his nickname – ‘Red’. I won’t bore you with the details of how he got his name. However, Red had become fed up with DHL and went to work instead for one of our subcontractors – a small courier company based in Derby, called CBX Couriers who are still going strong and have grown exponentially since those far off days! ‘Bod’ and ‘Capper’, the owners of CBX, were old friends of Red – they all hailed from Ilkeston and had been mates for years. Eventually I went to work for them too – they wanted someone to organise the office and become a Sales rep, but it turned out I wasn’t that good at Sales, so I eventually left, in the hope they would find someone better.
So, I introduced Mel to Red, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. After working together at CBX (Mel became a courier too), they moved up to Dumfries and lived in a static caravan for a while. Mel was working with horses again, and Red began long-distance lorry-driving. They got married and after 10 years had produced six children. They moved back to Barrow, living in Mount Pleasant, but sadly, they grew apart and separated, eventually getting divorced.
I’m not going to give you every detail of Mel’s life – that’s her story to tell, not mine – although reading through this I’ve done a pretty good job of it so far!
I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that since the mid-1970s, my sister and I have been good friends – more than good! We’ve seen each other through the good and bad times. I was there when she gave birth to her firstborn son, Matthew. I can remember it as though it was yesterday, yet he will be 32 this year! We’ve supported each other in every way possible through marriages, divorces, births and deaths. When I was left without a car as a university student, Mel and Red GAVE me a Citroen BX and wouldn’t accept a penny from me, knowing how broke I was at the time. Likewise, I’ve bailed her out when she’s been broke too. The way we both figure it is: it’s only money, and family is more important. Our mantra is “If I’ve got it, you can have it” and I think that’s a great way to be. We always know there’s someone to turn to when all about us is chaos and disaster.
I would never have got through the deaths and funerals of Dad and my beloved Glyn, both within four months of each other in the first half of 2011. On both occasions Mel came and shared the grief and, particularly in the case of Glyn, was my shoulder to lean on through the whole terrible experience of losing the love of my life. The first Christmas without him became one of the best I’ve ever had, my sister brought her whole brood with her to stay for the whole week, and any sad thoughts were instantly banished with all the love, fun and banter of six teenagers, two daft Labradors and Mel and me.
This time, my beloved sister is flying two and a half thousand miles to be with me and to support me through my latest venture, becoming a published author. We’ll have a week here at home, catching up, eating, drinking, shopping and visiting people, and packing up the pre-ordered copies of my books before posting them out. Then we’ll travel a further 110 miles to Barrow, where we’ll do much of the same, ending with my Book Launch on Saturday 9th April. We’ll travel back the next day, then she flies back to the Canaries on 12th April, because her husband is having a cataract op and she needs to be there for him and the dogs.
To me, she is one of the most wonderful people on the planet – she is grounded, witty, hilarious and caring – and an inspirational mother who has brought up six children almost single handed, of whom all six are fantastic human beings, without an alcoholic, a junkie or a criminal amongst them, against everything the statistics say about kids from broken homes. Mel is a beautiful person, both inside and out; when she gets her slap on, she’s stunning even as she races towards the 60-year-old mark. I couldn’t and wouldn’t wish for a better sister.
Till next week