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Seán Moncrieff: The gift of having the whole house to myself wasn’t really a gift at all

I drank wine, played loud music and watched a movie in space where nobody talks about their feelings. Weirdly, it felt like something was missing

What do you call your sister-in-law’s husband? Google says there isn’t a specific term: which is odd, given that most of us would include them within the general definition of family. There’s May and John. Suzanna and Bob. But Bob and John are, technically, strangers to you.

In India, they recognise that strangeness. There, your sister-in-law’s husband can be referred to as your co-brother-in-law or shaddaka.

All of which is irrelevant to this column, other than to tell you that my shaddaka went away for the night, prompting my sister-in-law to invite Herself and Daughter Number Four over to their house for a girls’ night: Daughter Number Four would hang out with her cousins while the sisters would drink too much.

Like a lot of siblings, when they get together (and there’s drink involved) they revert to their own peculiar brand of silliness: a rolling avalanche of odd phrases and non-sequiturs, which they find consumptively, blowing-snots hilarious, but from the outside can appear loud, baffling and at times a bit frightening. They also get up to mischief. I could tell you stories, but we haven’t quite got over that snoring piece I wrote a few weeks back (in which I neglected to mention that Herself is generally awesome, does a great roast chicken and only snored the one time). I expected to get 3am text messages with pictures of them bouncing on the trampoline in the back garden.


For my part, I had the rare treat of a night entirely to myself. While Herself and myself are pretty good at facilitating alone time for each other if we need it – that happens within the confines of the house: she’ll take the bedroom for a few hours or I’ll go in my office. But this time I had the whole house. And I was looking forward to it. I planned to get a takeaway, drink wine, play some funk records at a pot-rattling volume and after that watch a movie: something dumb and loud, probably set in space. The kind of film where there’s zero chance of anyone talking about their feelings.

Migrants aren’t here to dilute our culture. They’re here for the Irish dancing medals

Which is what I did. Or tried to do. But it felt strangely awkward. I didn’t enjoy the music as much as I normally do. And when I sat down to watch a film, I couldn’t decide what I wanted. And when I finally did, I couldn’t concentrate. My thoughts kept drifting off. I’d find myself staring out the window, then return to the film, and have to figure out who was shooting who and why. I realised I didn’t care. Eventually, I abandoned it and went to bed.

This one night was squeezed in between Daughter Number Four’s usual raft of weekend activities. On the day of the girls’ night, she had song and dance followed by swimming, while the following morning, they had to rush back to our house to get her ready for a feis.

Daughter Number Four has done them before, and each time I’m always struck by how the kids seem to genuinely delight in performing reels and jigs; and also by how it’s a multiracial event. Migrants aren’t here to dilute our culture. They’re here for the Irish dancing medals.

Herself (and I suspect quite a few other parents) bravely powered through their hangovers while we applauded each set of dancers and listened to the same two pieces of music played over and over again. It went on for a while.

And only then did it occur to me why I hadn’t enjoyed the night by myself. I was lonely.

It’s not something I feel very often: so infrequently that on that night I didn’t recognise it for what it was. I told Herself about my realisation. She nodded – very slowly as her head still hurt – and opined that this wasn’t a bad thing. Occasionally, it’s good to miss the people you love.