A change of hearts and circumstances led to Susan Hanks having to move in with her older sister. She offers some tips on sharing a space with a sibling as grown-ups.
Sisters aged seven and 13 are respectively washing and drying dishes and harmonising our primary school favourite I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Ice Cream. Vocals are interrupted only by the elder sibling’s need to highlight a washing up ‘reject’ and conclude when the little one is bored and leaves the work-station to set up Monopoly.
Fast forward 26 years and the same sisters, now aged 33 and 39, are respectively washing and drying dishes but are no longer allowed to play Monopoly. Mum said so circa 1990 after a particularly nasty bankruptcy incident involving all the purple properties, spilt custard and a sister who never took into account that her opposition was six years her junior.
If you’d have asked me 18 months ago, when I had a mortgage and a potential future elsewhere, how I’d get on living with my big sister now, I’d probably have said” ‘It’s unlikely we’ll find out. Also, we would clash.”
Yet a change of hearts and circumstances meant that the offer from my big sis to move in with her was a virtual welcome mat with my name on it. She would be giving up her freedom of single occupancy and her ability to hide carrier bags in every crevice of her home without discovery, and I would be in constant training on how to wash up efficiently.
Just weeks after my move, we got snowed in and turned to the affectionately named ‘Triv Piv’, which we decided would be a nice accompaniment to ‘tidying’ the leftover Christmas goods (please note: ‘tidying’ means eating). My big sister has a very big brain and is by far the more naturally intelligent of the two of us. Coupled with the fact that she has owned this particular edition of Trivial Pursuit for several years, it was ever likely that she was going to get her cheeses sooner. Cue something that every younger sibling will relate to and no doubt be annoyed by: the “I’ll give you a clue” approach. Suddenly we were 10 and 16 again. I was whipped then and I was whipped now. My only consolation was that although she had her science cheese, I was winning at ‘tidying’, as I rattled through the Red Leicester and crackers.
Board games aside, living in harmony under the same roof can be addressed using a few simple steps:
Understand that neither of you have grown up since you last lived together. Our (very wise) mum put an instant pre-match ban on either of us ringing her to tell on the other one.
Never let a verbal disagreement turn physical. Not solely because your parents aren’t there to break it up, but also because as adults it’s very tiring. I wish we had the same energy levels to commit to inflicting a wedgie after a 10-hour working day as when we were kids who’d spent the day at the park with mates and had our tea made, but neither of us do. I’d rather just give her the TV remote than face another trip to the doctors with a bulging disc in my back, saying it ’just happened’ rather than reveal the truth: my big sister sat on me when I wouldn’t let her watch One Born Every Minute because I think it’s gross.
Pick your battles. Choose the thing that annoys you most and veto it. Ours are straightforward: I’m not allowed to crack my knuckles and she’s not allowed to whistle. An accidental crack results in one musical phrase of her choice as revenge. Intentional and spiteful cracking constitutes a whole tune. Premeditated whistling is punishable by the cracking of all fingers, both thumbs, and a neck stretch. You’ll never win the war, because you can’t stop your sibling from being all the things that annoy you — it’s impossible and a negative way to live — but be sure to make your battle count.
Do something regularly that you used to do together before you lived together. Aside from arguing. This may be tricky if you never really did, but find something: cinema trips; shopping; the pub; or simply farting on each other to make you both laugh. Yes. We do.
So I suppose it’s all relative. Literally.
Hearts and circumstances have once again changed, and we plan to move on separately, yet I shall always look back on this period of my life as something of a back-to-basics boot camp. At a time when I wasn’t sure what my next step was in life, or what made me happy anymore, I remembered that having washed and dried the dishes, finished our homework and had a bit of a moan about how unfair life was, I was always happy watching the telly in my sister’s room before bed. And even though she would always merrily thrash me at everything we ever played, she would always let me pick what we watched on TV afterwards.
I will miss it. I’ll also miss the response you get from others when you tell them you live with your sister. Often they think it’s unusual, which I suppose it is. Or they think it’s strange, which it isn’t.
Should our lives evolve in such a way that we live together in our twilight years, I’d love to live up to the stereotype of dressing similarly, having too many cats and gossiping wildly down the pub — while inappropriately flirting with a man half our age and insisting he tell us which he finds more attractive. If this happens, I’ll be sure to let you know our address. You can either come and see if we’re still scrapping over the washing up, or ensure that any male family members around the 40 mark live a safe distance away. Either way, you’re welcome.
Presenter on Moorlands Radio 103.7FM Drive Time, weekdays 4-7pm. Join Susan in 'shaking what ya mamma gave ya' for the daily Derriere Dance. Rhythm/leotard not essential.