The London Years: Always have a sister (7 of 20)

Let me start with a story that is definitely against type. When I told my sister I’d go learn how to ski before an upcoming trip to Austria (the boyfriend being a skiing fan), she told me I definitely should. “You think you got it. But you don’t”, she said darkly before sharing the story of when she went up the mountain, sat on the chair lift and waited for the opportune moment at the top to gently jump and ski off. She gently jumped, skis buried in the snow vertically, sprawled under the chair lift to her eternal embarrassment. And if you need to know one thing about my sister is that this is a story that you would never associate with her, me being a bit of a clown, she being a bit of a duchess. But then, it seems we rub off a bit on the people we love.

Don’t know what’s going on? I’m leaving London soon so this is one of my 20 London stories – a celebration of 20 years of my life here.

I am five years older than my sister – this meaning that we spent our adolescence completely disassociated from each other. By the time I was graduating she was starting. Like many sisters, we loved each other to distraction but also could not stand each other. And then, London happened.

I had been in London a few years before my sister decided to join me. We lived together in a spectacular house in Chalk Farm with various housemates – including boyfriends – London being an expensive city. The years we spent together in that house were difficult and fun – thinking about this today, it was a time when we were both becoming adults and we clashed often because we assumed the other knew what they were doing. Neither did.

Most people assume I am a pure extrovert. While that is understandable, it is also incorrect. Most people assume my sister is a pure introvert. Again, while that is understandable, it is also incorrect. We discovered this about each other while we were living together. Theodora, for example, was the only person who understood that the moment I got back from the office I needed alone time.

I’d walk in the door, we’d make coffee, roll a couple of cigarettes (during those days of wild abandon and apparent cancer ignorance) and she would wait. Nobody can wait like my sister. She can sit there and her movements slow down while she just looks without seeing. And then, at some point, we’d start talking. When she decided to leave London, this ritual was the thing I missed the most about her presence.

People who don’t have siblings seem to assume that the relationship is somehow automatic, almost biological. You are born with some sort of ability to get along with your sibling. You are not. It takes constant work and a commitment by both parties that this relationship is worth it. I don’t think we would have realised if we did not have to face the world together in London.

There didn’t seem to be so many challenges and so many opportunities for us in Greece – sheltered in a culture we knew and understood. In London we had to deal with other cultures, new jobs and our own conviction that we could deal with life when clearly, nobody can and we all muddle through.

Living abroad changes the way you understand the world. And that’s difficult to achieve when you’ve been in the same place forever. I don’t mean this in a negative way. I have simply observed that your reality is *the* reality when you’ve never had an indication that a different reality is possible. (Not a better reality. Only a different one. Which is why any Brit who migrates to the USA magically starts appreciating the NHS a lot more). Knowing me and my sister, it would have been almost impossible to sustain a relationship if she hadn’t lived abroad – she would have no frame of reference for the way I see the world. And it shames me to admit – but here it is – that I would not have respected her choice to be in Greece as much as I do now.

While we spent time in London together we learned how to be adults, how to navigate being abroad and how to be sisters. And more mundane things. How to cook and how to eat. How to make friends and how to leave them behind. How to be in a relationship and how to mess up one. How to dress. How to tell a better joke. How to take care of each other. We learned each other’s rhythms. We discovered London together and apart, we compared what we had learned at work and we somehow, often, reminded each other who we were.

One of the funniest problems we solved together was cycling in central London and my sister’s terrible sense of direction. Every morning we would cycle together PAST my office, all the way to hers and then I would cycle ALL THE WAY back. Took her a few months to let me just stop at my office and for her to go on her own. I usually claim it’s because she doesn’t pay any attention. She claims she was helping me get fitter. I now think we both loved spending the time together.

Here’s another thing: My sister has a voice that is better, clearer and naturally lovelier than mine. However, I am the one who’s been in small bands and have performed. One year – don’t ask me how the hell it happened – she was convinced to come up on stage with me for the first, quieter part of the show. (The band was Niavent – you should definitely check them out – bonus points if you can tell which songs I’ve written the lyrics to). She was every bit the duchess and I love seeing some of our photos and watching some of our videos from that performance because honestly – we are so much more alike than most people think.

It could have been tough to maintain the relationship when she left – and sometimes it is. Sisterhood is never a given. But we’ve persevered and the thing that we found works really well is travelling together. We travel with our mum and just the two of us – making memories with people you love being one of the best ways possible to combat your day to day distance. In those trips I usually am the unofficial guide. I listen to an audio guide and them explain about the buildings or neighborhoods we are in.

Last time I was in Athens we went to the newly reopened National Gallery together. We were walking around and I naturally fell into my role, explaining what I knew about art, composition and symbolism. “What the hell are you on about?”, she said. “Oh, should I stop?” I asked a bit embarassed. “No, are you crazy, go on”, she said.

And that, tells you all you need to know.

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My #20LondonStories

  1. Grexit/ Brexit 
  2. The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach
  3. The night bus 
  4. Words save our lives… sometimes 
  5. The rest is noise 
  6. How not to bite your nails in the Officials’ Box 
  7. Always have a sister 
  8. Greek London 
  9. This green and pleasant land 
  10. The bridge of aspiration 
  11. The knight in well travelled armor 
  12. Carpets in the toilet and other adventures in housing
  13. Moments in Art 
  14. The NHS hunger games 
  15. In nocte consilium
  16. The friends we found, the friends we lost
  17. Blogging tips for beginners 
  18. Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child
  19. γνῶθι σεαυτόν
  20. How to leave London

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