Never act like a sissy, don't steal cocoa and always tell Mummy her hair looks nice: As a little girl scolding her brother is a YouTube hit, MARTIN DAUBNEY recalls lip-wobbling life lessons from HIS big sis
06:44 GMT, 16 October 2012
Sitting on the sofa after school, I gazed proudly at my new, prized possession: a Mickey Mouse watch.
A boy’s first watch is a landmark, and, months before my sixth birthday, I’d gone to great (and admittedly dishonest) lengths to get my hands on one.
It belonged to my friend Max, but he had swapped it with me for a pack of cocoa I’d pilfered from the cupboard at home.
Tough love: Martin Daubney, pictured aged 2 and a half, with his sister Cheryl, aged 10. She taught him many lessons, including never to steal from their parents
My mother hadn’t suspected a thing, and I was chuffed I’d got away with it. When my older sister Cheryl burst in from school, however, she immediately sensed something was amiss.
It wasn’t just because, at 13 years old to my five, she was far more worldly than me. She also seemed to have some sisterly sixth sense for when I’d been up to no good.
‘Where did you get that watch from’ she hissed, knowing full well Mum and Dad hadn’t bought it.
I immediately confessed, reddening with guilt: ‘I swapped it for some chocolate powder out of the cupboard.’
She pulled herself up to her full height — 5ft — put her hands on her non-existant hips and hissed: ‘You stole it! It wasn’t even yours to take. Mum bought that for both of us!’
My face burned with shame. Cheryl was right. I’d stolen, even though I knew it was wrong. What did I need a watch for I couldn’t even tell the time.
‘You’re to take it back, right now!’ she said.
Delilah O'Donoghue reprimands her younger brother Gabriel for spitting at another boy in a YouTube video
‘But I can’t,’ I said. ‘Look — it’s broken.’ It was true. Mickey’s left arm — the ‘big hand’ — had fallen off on the way home, meaning the watch was useless, anyway.
‘Well, you got what you deserved,’ said Cheryl. ‘Don’t steal from Mummy or Daddy ever again. They will always find out. We’ll keep it as our secret — this time. But do it again and I’ll tell Mum. And then you’ll be for it.’
I broke down in tears, only for Cheryl to scorn me: ‘Oh, stop crying, you big baby. Can’t you grow up!’
I could, and would, of course — but I’d never catch up with my older sister: and boy, did she know it.
So, when I saw the touching YouTube video of four-year-old Delilah O’Donoghue earnestly lecturing her two-year-old brother Gabriel ‘to toughen up’, it was eerily reminiscent of my own experiences of growing up with an older sister.
The 65-second clip was videoed by their father, after he overheard Delilah telling off her little brother for spitting at another child in the playground.
Delilah’s stern, no-nonsense tone and Gabriel’s nervous fidgeting and wobbly bottom lip were touching — and brought back so many memories (happy and otherwise) of being told off by my big sister.
When I was a child growing up in Nottingham, I idolised Cheryl, who was popular, pretty, and clever, and there was none of the tension between us I saw flare up between my friends and their brothers.
She acted as my guardian angel, often getting me out of playground scrapes and standing up for me in arguments with our parents. But she was an angel with a sharp tongue, who could cut me down to size in the way only an older sibling — who knows full well your weaknesses and foibles — can.
Cheryl’s advice was often serious, sometimes unwittingly hilarious, as she schooled me in the agonisingly complex ways of the adult world.
She was often a little harsh or dismissive of me — probably because when she was a teenager she often acted as an unpaid babysitter for me, while all her friends were out at parties.
Straight-talking: A frowning Gabriel fiddles awkwardly with his hands as big sister Delilah tells him off
When I was ten years old, my parents’ marriage deteriorated and they argued constantly. I was angry at the world and barely a week went by without me being in trouble for fighting at school.
The tears could be wiped away, but there was no hiding my split lips from Cheryl. ‘There’s no point picking fights with other boys, as there will always be a boy who is bigger than you,’ she would counsel (which is pretty much the point little Delilah makes to Gabriel in the video).
I would sulk at her advice, but she was right, of course — and I haven’t been in a fight since I was 11.
She also provided much needed stability during this turbulent period. As Mum and Dad argued, it was Cheryl who took me in her arms and comforted me.
‘They are only shouting at each other because they love each other so much,’ she’d say. Years later, she admitted that she’d been frightened, too, but having me to hold helped her pull through.
Our parents divorced when I was ten and Cheryl was 18. My Mum moved out and I went to live with her, while Cheryl stayed with our father in the family home. /10/14/article-2217546-157FE148000005DC-291_634x455.jpg” width=”634″ height=”455″ alt=”No-nonsense: Gabriel, 2, looks away and shifts uncomfortable as his sister teaches him a lesson” class=”blkBorder” />
No-nonsense: Gabriel, 2, looks away and shifts uncomfortable as his sister teaches him a lesson
The advice she gave me has served me well both in my career working on women’s magazines and in my personal life. As Mum was getting ready to go out on a Friday night when we were young, Cheryl would urge me: ‘Tell Mummy her hair looks nice. Even if you don’t mean it.’
And on family caravan holidays, it was Cheryl who made me see the logic in spending precious pocket money on my parents. ‘Always buy Mummy and Daddy a present on holiday, even if you think one last candy floss is a better idea. It means you will get more candy floss next year.’
Then, when we stumbled on a beached jellyfish the size of a dustbin lid on a Cornish beach, she confided sagely: ‘Never kiss a jellyfish. They might look like a jelly, but they hurt a lot more.’
However, not all of her advice was sound, particularly when it came to style tips.
As a teenager, Cheryl was a slave to Eighties fashion, and, much to my dad’s horror, dated men who wore make-up. So, when it came time for me to go to a school disco, aged about 11, she told me it would be a great coup to paint a white stripe across my face like my pop hero, Adam Ant.
It wasn’t. I was laughed out of the school hall and ran all the way home, crying like a baby, only for Cheryl to tell me: ‘Oh, stop being a sissy!’
When I was 16, Cheryl, then 24, accepted a job in Spain and I was devastated. When she later married a U.S. Marine and went to America with him, my delight at her happiness was accompanied by a deep sadness that I would be thousands of miles away from my beloved sister.
Every day's a school day: Gabriel bites his lip as his sister concludes her sermon
That marriage ended in divorce — Cheryl is the first to admit she hasn’t been lucky in love. It didn’t stop her offering romantic advice to me, though.
‘Never let a woman see you in pyjamas or slippers, Martin, it will shatter her illusions of you for ever,’ was one particular gem, obviously drawn from her own personal experience, along with: ‘Never wear socks while making love. It’s lazy, disrespectful and downright gross. Take the damned things off!’
After I gave Cheryl away at her second wedding, only for that to fail, too, I joked: ‘I think the time has come to admit you’re not best placed to give me advice on my relationships, now, darling’.
It was said in jest, but there has been something of a role-reversal in our relationship. Now 50 and single once again, she comes to me for advice. I feel incredibly protective of my sister, especially as she’s a hopeless romantic.
Recently she almost fell victim to a Nigerian conman, who posed as a suitor online and tried to fleece her out of thousands of pounds. I intervened just in time, warning her that his requests for money sounded suspiciously like a scam.
Cheryl lives thousands of miles away in Texas, and I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like. I really miss her sisterly reprimands.
Little Gabriel O’Donoghue should be thankful he has a sister as loving as Delilah to school him in the wrongs and rights of life.
One day, when he’s outgrown the ‘cringe with embarrassment’ phase, he’ll look back and thank her for her stern words.
For then he’ll realise, as my own sister used to say to me: ‘I’m only telling you off this badly because I love you so much.’