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The Not So Secret History: Family dynamics

After the madness of the first half of term, these last few weeks have seen at least three of the household retreating back into the house to hibernate and catch up on the work we should have been doing earlier. Although it’s been nice to see more of each other, one of the side effects I’ve observed is a certain fraying of tempers, particularly among those who perhaps spend a little too much time together. I’ve remarked to other friends that I feel like I’m living with two pairs of siblings, and it became apparent this week that, like all family dynamics, ours has its breaking points. 

Let me begin by saying that I have nothing but admiration for the way the Classicist and the Thespian have maintained cordial relations throughout not only living together but also working together for months on an incredibly stressful production. From what I can tell, the secret to their success lies in spending lots of time in bigger groups, followed by late night debriefs of these gatherings before bed. 

The Poet and the Chef, on the other hand, spend a fair amount of time alone in the house together, and two months in the cracks are starting to show.

The Poet has two brothers, and as an international student they don’t get to see them very often, so I’ve often imagined that they must miss them a lot, and have transferred some of these affections onto the Chef by way of a substitute. At least, that’s what I tell myself. ‘Affections’ is a strong word. What I’m really getting at is that the Poet likes to bully the Chef, reserving for them a tone much harsher than the rest of us are ever subjected to. I once accidentally turned the light off as I was walking past the kitchen, having not realised the Poet was still in there, to be greeted by a shriek of ‘Hey! How dare you, you knew I was – oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you were someone else.’ The Poet did at least have the decency to look guilty – clearly, they would never have dreamed of screaming at anyone else like this, but within the remit of their relationship with the Chef it’s apparently fair game. I’ve often seen them walk into the kitchen while the Chef is cooking and spend a few minutes standing behind them at the stove making critical remarks about the food, or laughing at an item of clothing that’s arrived in the post for them. The Chef’s policy is usually to take this lying down (they have two younger siblings and are, I’m sure, used to it), but recently they’ve started biting back. In one instance, they told the Poet they didn’t like their outfit, whereupon the Poet jumped right back down their throat, telling them they didn’t understand the rules of friendly sibling bullying: ‘it has to be playful!’

If it sounds thus far like I’ve been painting a rather one sided account, let me set the record straight. The Chef has their faults when it comes to cleanliness and general housekeeping, and the Poet is more tolerant of this behaviour than the rest of us put together. It all came to a head this week, however, when a bath mat belonging to the Poet, that went mysteriously missing in about September, miraculously reappeared in the Chef’s bathroom. I have rarely been as tense (outside of a theatre) as I was watching this great showdown: the Poet stood in the kitchen doorway, dripping wet mat in hand, while the Chef sat back on the sofa, insisting what was before them was, in fact, a hand towel, and therefore not stolen goods. As my head flipped back and forth between the two like a Wimbleden spectator, they did not break eye contact, holding each other’s gaze for what felt like an age. Finally the Chef broke the silence: ‘Ok, it might be a bath mat. Sorry.’ I waited for the explosion. But, to their immense credit, the Poet just nodded, and took the mat back to their bathroom. Given the number of times the Poet has had to stand dripping on a cold bathroom floor after a shower in the last few months, not to mention the amount of hours spent looking for the accursed mat, I have to commend them for the restraint of their reaction. I’m not sure I could have done the same. 

As with all housemate sagas, however, the story doesn’t end there. A few mornings later, the Poet went to get the milk out of the fridge for their tea, and stood up holding an empty pint carton. Their hands were trembling. ‘I’m going to go and hit them over the head with this right now.’ (the Chef was in bed nursing a hangover). I protested that it might not have been them, and anyway, maybe hitting them wasn’t the right option? ‘I just saw them leave the kitchen with a cup of tea. And they knew I was making tea too!’ ‘Deep breaths,’ I advised. I needn’t have worried. Instead of making their way to the door, they simply put the carton in the recycling, and checked the other fridge. I can’t speak for what would have happened if there hadn’t been more milk in there, but based on the bath mat incident I have to believe their characteristic restraint would have prevailed. That’s what siblings are for, after all: you can drive each other up the wall, but in the end you love them anyway. Household harmony prevails.

Image credit: Lina Kivaka via Pexels.

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