I’m pleased to share an extract from Them Roper Girls by David G Bailey as part of the Random Things Tours. Thanks to Anne Cater for the opportunity to take part in the tour. Them Roper Girls is published by SilverWood Books and available now in ebook, hardback and paperback. In this extract, we hear from the oldest of the Roper girls, Angela
About the book
They were beauties all right, them Roper girls – but sometimes even four aces don’t make a winning hand.
In an unsettled household in the 1950s, how will the sisters come up from their shipwrecked childhood? Facing issues including domestic and sexual abuse, physical and mental illness, they struggle to offer their own children a better legacy. Follow them over sixty years to see if all the siblings make it safely to shore.
Angela: Whatever rumours you may have heard, I never knew Dad say my third sister Karen wasn’t his.
Janet: She had promised that on her sixteenth birthday she would finally let him go all the way.
Lucy: I think Jan was away at a Guides’ camp when I got run over.
Karen: Don’t think I’ll be rambling on like Ange … I wouldn’t want to leave you only her version, talk about unreliable memoirs.
Part One: The Fifties and Sixties
Me and Jan. My first memory, left on our own in the house, me and Jan. Aunt Molly from next door – not a real aunt, you know what I mean – is supposed to look after us. Mum had to be taken into hospital pretty sharpish for the birth – maybe she didn’t have time to make plans, and Dad is away.
But Aunt Molly won’t have us round her house to sleep. She’s all right though, that’s all right. She sees us up to bed with a broom in her hands and leans it against the wall. Says we can use it to bang on that same wall, it must go through to her house, if anything happens. Jan is still in nappies, but I swear I get up a hundred times in the night to make sure I don’t pee the bed for Aunt Molly to find out in the morning. I do anyway though. I do still pee it.
I always tell my sisters they had it a lot easier. For one thing, I was the one who was always looking after them. They say I was a bit hard on them. They never seem to think it was a bit hard on me.
I haven’t thought back to those years in the longest time, but lately Paddy has been stirring up memories, wanting to know about my childhood, drinking only tea between us. That makes me sound like a lonely old bat with her carer, and I’m not – not lonely I mean, and Paddy’s not my carer neither if it comes to that. If I’d had a whole house to myself and just whoever else I want to invite in to share it when I was younger, what a luxury it would have been.
Dad was a soldier when our mum Grace met him. He’d tell us war stories which, if we’d realised, was as good a proof as any that he was never in the war. Perhaps he was doing national service – they had that in them days you know. They got married within six months of meeting, best man an army pal of his who Mum said she never met except on that day, and I got born within six months of that.
I suppose Private Eric Roper – in some of his stories he was a captain, but he would wink when he gave himself that rank – must have had to accept some kind of discipline in the forces. Maybe he used his whole stock up then. I would never use the word discipline to talk about Dad.
They may have been a bit previous about having me, and Janet was born within the next twelve months – did you know they call them Irish twins when there’s that short a space between them? Longer than real twins, but Jan and I have always been close.
He didn’t have an accent or anything but there was some talk of Dad being from Ireland. That’s what I thought they meant when I first heard them talking about us as Irish twins. Not that they didn’t call us worse things than that. I wouldn’t have minded gypsy – has a kind of romantic ring to it, you know, the gypsy prince (not Gypsy King like that boxer, that is a bit much) – but they hardly used that word, nor travellers. Sometimes gyppos, more often vanners or diddicoys (I don’t think pikies had been invented yet), all ugly words.
Lucy’s arrival while I was left babysitting, I think we were living in a village somewhere near Thetford but can’t be sure, was a year and something after Jan. I remember we would fight about whether she was mine or hers to play with. Mum was more than happy to let us look after her. Three kids was a lot to handle, I learned that early.
Whatever rumours you may have heard, all I can tell is I never knew Dad to say my third sister Karen, born another couple of years down the fifties, wasn’t his. Mum had a wicked tongue, so if she did say that sometimes, that was her all over – probably just trying to get Dad to bite.
Others sometimes say they notice a difference in our looks, but I don’t think kids care about that sort of thing, if they notice it at all. They might be cruel plenty of other ways, but not like that. Know what I think? It’s cos they see so many supposed-to-be brothers and sisters on telly who look nothing like each other. In them days it would have been just Crossroads and Corrie, now there’s EastEnders and Emmerdale, Doctors and all the rest – they just take it for granted. I’ve already said Dad was away sometimes. Maybe Mum got lonely. Who knows?
In any case we wouldn’t all have to be the same, because while Dad was quite dark complexioned, black hair and sideboards when they came into fashion, Grace was more your classic blue-eyed blonde. That in itself didn’t make her a beauty any more than it made her stupid, but I always thought it was a pretty good start. That she was a beauty her worst enemies never denied. She would complain about her nose being too small – Dad used to call her Pug sometimes, and I wondered why she didn’t mind being compared to a dog as I thought he meant. She also made the best of her looks most of the time. It was a real shock to see her with straight hair later when she was suffering more than we knew.
I don’t know about Jan with hers, but I would definitely have swapped my big hooter for Mum’s little button. His first two girls had Dad’s fleshy nose and his colouring, while you could have argued that Karen was similar to Mum except she had brown eyes, which stood out more against her fair skin. It was only Lucy among us girls who seemed to be a real joint project between our parents – his chunky build (I wasn’t the first to call Luce thunder thighs) and her blue eyes, the hair a fudgy brown. Not that any of us ever got accused of falling out of the ugly tree and hitting every branch on the way down, like I heard Alex say about my best friend Sally Gregory. I know I shouldn’t have laughed but I did.
About the Author
David G Bailey was born in Lincolnshire and mainly schooled in the Isle of Ely, also studying in the Fens and the Black Forest. He has lived in the USA, Caribbean and South America as well as the UK. Currently based in the Midlands, he travels to write reports on insurance markets around the world. Researching and producing for publication reports the length of novels may have instilled more discipline in David’s creative writing. In 2021 his first novel ‘Seventeen’ came out, an adventure fantasy story aimed at and beyondyoung adults. From ‘Seventeen”s mainly masculine world of Pirates, Knights, Army and Westerners, ‘Them Roper Girls returns to our own. With humour and compassion it traces in their own voices the lives of four sisters over more than sixty years from their 1950s childhood, as each tries to make her own way in the world against many challenges – as often from within the family as outside it! To read more of and about David’s work, including a quarterly newsletter and new content daily comprising extracts from diaries and other writing over more than fifty years, visit his website http://www.davidgbailey.com.
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Thanks for the blog tour support x
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Them Roper Girls…I like the Story … want to read till the End…