Family & Friends

Family relationships: “The surprising lesson I’m learning while living with my big brother in the pandemic”

The Christmas break is different for everybody this year, including Stylist’s Hollie Richardson, who is spending December with her big brother in Yorkshire. Here, she explains why it’s actually turning out to be the best festive season ever.

“Muuum, tell Hollie she needs to leave my bedroom… she’s bad luck!”

That was my big brother shouting in frustration while playing Tomb Raider when we were much, much younger. Apparently, my quiet presence on his floor was the reason Lara Croft kept dying. “Maybe it’s because you suck,” I cried before running downstairs to try and get my mum to tell him off. 

Since then, Tim and I have grown up together and built a much better relationship. He’s actually one of the most reliable, kind and hardworking people in my life – the family’s Golden Boy. And yes, I have used my cunning little sister ways to take advantage of these virtues on more than one occasion over the years.

In fact, he’s been a total lifesaver for me twice this year alone. 

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When the first lockdown was lifted back in summer, I left London and jumped on the first train back home to Yorkshire to see my family for a week. Knowing I couldn’t stay with my high-risk mum, Tim welcomed me into his flat with a Pizza Hut margherita (my favourite) and Beyoncé’s Glastonbury set playing on the TV (he had never knowingly listened to Beyoncé before). We had both spent the previous few months living on our own during lockdown, and I think we were just really happy to be around a familiar face for a few days. 

Then, a week ago, I messaged him through floods of tears: “Please can I stay with you from tomorrow until after Christmas?” During the second lockdown, I was dumped over text for the second time this year and had to live with a very difficult and intense new flatmate. So I knew where I needed to be when lockdown lifted.

“Yeesh, I’d better tidy up then,” was his reply. 

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London in the winter is my favourite time of the year. I’d pictured myself drinking mulled wine in pub gardens, winter walks along Regent’s Canal and putting on a sparkly dress to go see my friends for a final time before Christmas. So, knowing my brother lives a comparatively quiet life, I felt pretty sad knowing I’d miss all the fun. 

Reader, I am actually having the best time living with my big brother in a sleepy Yorkshire town instead.

Brother and sister playing computer games
"I read my book while he tries (and still fails) to complete the computer games he’s still obsessed with."

We watch a family Christmas film every other night at 7 pm. We’ve been for family walks with our two other siblings who live nearby. We’ve decided we’ll have a Pizza Hut once a week because we just bloody love it. I read my book while he tries (and still fails) to complete the computer games he’s still obsessed with. We reminisce and laugh at childhood memories. And – because he is a triathlete and I am trying to get back into running – we share our training plans and encourage each other not to skip a run because “it’s FREEZING out there”. We also argue over the central heating and I win because I threaten to tell mum he’s not looking after his little sister properly.

Last night, he gave me a box of Celebrations he was given at work. A few days before that, he came back with a portion of McDonald’s fries for me because he felt bad going there and not getting me anything. 

This is great!

And then there’s the fact that I don’t need to think about all that stuff I’ve left behind in London. While we’ve grown much closer over the years, I’d never talk to my brother about relationship woes, work dilemmas, flatmate dramas or even pandemic anxieties. Instead, our conversations are light and fun. Who wants to cry over an ex when they’re in their Christmas PJs, munching on pizza and watching Home Alone with their big bro?

Yes, I know I need to process it all properly down the line, but right now I just want to have a nice end to what has been an awful year for all sorts of reasons. I feel calm. I feel I can completely be myself without tiptoeing around the person I’m living with. I feel safe. I feel loved. I feel like a kid again. 

At a time when innocent child-like fun almost seems impossible, maybe all we need is an older sibling to remind us that, at heart, we’re all still just big kids who need cheering up from time-to-time. 

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Images: Getty