How could my sister forget the priest who washed my willy with a loofah?

We were sipping the dregs of the sauvignon and talking about parents and the terrible effect they can have on their children, when my elder sister, Madeleine, nodded in my direction and said that at least we'd been lucky in that respect.

It was well past bedtime, and we'd all drifted into that easy conversational style in which it's possible to announce that you've taken up wild boar hunting without causing more than a flutter of interest; but this was altogether too much to bear. I hadn't seen my elder sister for the best part of two years, and it was downright intolerable to discover that she'd spent the time constructing such an extraordinary piece of familial revisionism. Surely we'd all agreed at the family get-together immediately after dad's funeral that we'd been the unfortunate products of an overprotective mother and a cold, unemotional father?

Out of the corner of my eye I clocked my younger sister, Christine, in the middle of a simulated yawn. Janet was stretching for her handbag. But I would not be denied.

"What do you mean we were 'lucky in that respect'? Don't you remember that dad only took me out twice when I was a child: once to see Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux and once to see Everton play Preston. And how I was sent away to that dreadful Catholic boarding school in Liverpool when I was only seven years old and how I was sexually molested there by that priest who insisted on giving me baths and washing my willy with the loofah?"

Gerald tried to halt the tirade with an intervention about the attractions of a long-haired loofah from Liverpool, but I swept him aside and switched back to my renegade sister. "Don't you remember how you once told mum that dad didn't love you, and she said that it wasn't dad's fault but yours, because you didn't show him enough love yourself? What about when you started to have those hallucinations when you were 17, and I explained long afterwards that you'd taken refuge in an imaginary world as a way of dealing with the contradictions of real life?"

By now Janet was waving her handbag in front of her as though it were a divining rod which might magically summon up the nearest minicab, while Christine was yawning with such vigour that her exhalations were stirring the curtains on the far side of the room. But I had to press on. How could I ever show my face again in public unless I could re-establish the essential dysfunctionality of my own family? What was to become of the explanations I'd traditionally provided for my failed marriages and my recurrent interest in the extremes of sadomasochism, without the unhappy background I'd come to know and love? More to the point, what on earth would I do with the first autobiographical chapter I'd recently sent off to Duckworth, the one entitled "The Claustrophobic Years"?

"What I want to clear up, Madeleine, is what has made you change your mind. Have you suddenly decided, now you're on an Open University course, that you'd like to have rather more satisfactory progenitors?"

"Much, much simpler than that," said my elder sister. "Now that I'm on my Open University course I decided it was time I had my own parents, rather than the ones dreamed up for me by you and R D Laing." She drained her glass with unnecessary emphasis. "Now, what would you like to do next? Admit you're beaten or open another sauvignon? Isn't that what you and your comrades on the romantic left used to call a double bind?"

This article first appeared in the 14 June 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Kosovo: a rich and comfortable war