Our family kitchen table was a rectangle of bare wood, with a worn surface patterned with rings from the tree. At one end, there was a drawer full of random stuff: rubber bands, bicycle repair kits, extra-strong mints. As a hungry child, I loved this table. It was where I ate eggy bread and toad-in- the-hole, beef stew with fluffy suet dumplings, and raspberries and cream covered in sugar. It was where my sister E and I sat side by side, taking it in turns to thump the end of the ketchup bottle until it finally splurted out a red stain on our fish fingers, like the poster paint we used for potato prints at nursery.
Like most siblings, we had battles over food: who could mash the most butter into a potato, who stole the nicest Quality Street chocolates at Christmas, who could make an ice-cream last the longest, pushing the melting vanilla ever deeper into the cones with our tongues. Two years older and wilier, she usually won. Her best trick was to finish everything on her plate before the last person had been served. Ha! On hot summer afternoons, after school, we could hoover up a whole bag of cherries, pausing only to hang a few from our ears, like earrings.
But then we got too big to be sitting next to each other any more – or so our parents thought – and she moved to the opposite side of the table. She became vegetarian and, across that rectangle of wood, we started to live in different worlds. She read books; I watched TV and spent my pocket money on comics and sweets.