One of the things about moving to the centre of nowhere is that you start having people to stay, rather than just seeing them for a cup of coffee, or dinner. This was something I was looking forward to. I had visions of myself transforming into a Nigella like figure who casually tossed together endlessly delicious meals, showed the glories of Wales to impressed friends and sent them back to their particular metropolis with a longing to live my life, not their own. Naturally this is not how things have worked out.
It turns out that my southern based softie mates all find the idea of travelling to Wales traumatic to say the least. It takes six months of nagging and cajoling to persuade them that they can make the journey at all and when they arrive with a vision of a Welsh Babington House, they are usually horrified to find that the gates have to be operated manually and that real sheep and cows have not been housetrained, but instead have chosen to use any road near said gates as a literal dumping ground.
The start of the weekend usually goes well. They are so relieved to arrive at all that this overwhelms everything else. Having invested in electric blankets that stay on all night I can be sure that they will not freeze to death before morning and I can then look forward to their reactions in the morning when they wake up and see the hills climbing in front of them, and not a house in sight. That thrill lasts for about half an hour. Then reality kicks in.
My sophisticated guests turn into three year olds. It's too wet to go outside, they are bored inside. They want to go to a shop. They can't understand that the shops are shut because this is the backend of nowhere and people have other things to do than shop. They want to go out for lunch and don't believe that the ex Little Chef is the only place nearby. They offer to help with the gardening until they realise it is a chore, and will involve getting wet / muddy.
In the meantime I am running round like a headless loon, trying to make everything look effortless - lighting fires, cooking, washing up and making beds - anything that will make them feel that they are having a fabulous time. In between I have to run outside for a breath of fresh air because the heating is on all the time to stop their thin southern blood freezing up and I am about to suffer from heat stroke. I drag them all out for a walk and they panic when they realise there really is no phone reception, and that there are no footpaths or cafes at the end of the walk.
They come home and flinch at the sight of the peaty bath water, however much of my precious Space NK lavender and peppermint oil I have put in it. By Sunday morning I am exhausted and thanking my lucky stars that they are only houseguests, not small children who I can't send away after lunch.
Now, obviously not all guests are like this. One of my oldest friends came to stay last weekend and is the epitome of the perfect houseguest. This is blissful. We had a great weekend, getting extremely wet every time we ventured outside and finding it funny, not traumatic, before returning inside for restorative cups of tea / glasses of wine and the general knowledge crossword. We explored tiny lanes that might have houses for sale at the end of them, and shared in the cooking / cleaning chores. We played cards and bitched about celebrities in the magazines that she brought up with her. She is always really good company and the definition of a good houseguest - willing to pitch in but also extremely happy to entertain herself for the odd half hour. She also understands that this is Wales, not a film set of Wales so has no unrealistic expectations. All in all, exactly what I had looked forward to.
This was just the start of my big social week which has been in the planning for many months. After friend number one, I had 24 hours for a changeover before friend number 2 and her daughter arrived to stay. I had changed and ironed the sheets and picked flowers for the bedroom, mopped the floor in the kitchen and tidied to within an inch of my life in preparation. I have known Friend number 2 since school and am godmother to her daughter, who was also coming to stay. They normally lives in Qatar, which she loathes, and which means I get to see very littl of them but they have been home for the summer and this visit has been planned since the dawn of time.
Unfortunately a summer of single parenting (her husband stayed in Qatar) had driven her to the edge of desperation and when I rang to check she had everything she needed for her trip she burst into tears and sobbed so hard that I had that horrible impotent moment where your friend is beyond miserable and you can do nothing but listen to them cry.
The upshot of this was that she was exhausted, depressed and driving four hours to Wales with a one year old was, it seemed to me, the straw on the proverbial Qatari camels back. I immediately refused to have her to stay and promised to come to London to see her at the weekend instead. The tears turned to hiccups and I could hear the relief in her voice at not having to set out on such an epic journey with a 1 year old and a famed ability to get lost on a straight road with no turnings. Despite being sorry not to have the long promised visit, I was glad that telling her not to come was a help and made things a little easier for her.
Guest 3 was supposed to be arriving tomorrow night, for the weekend. The ultimate urbanite she has been promising to come and stay for two years and this date has been in the diary for four months now. She rang yesterday to say that she had got her diary in a muddle and forgotten she was going out for dinner on friday night so couldn't come. I am confused as to why going out for dinner with someone she sees all the time takes priority over coming to stay when this was arranged so long ago, but forbore to comment. She has promised to put a new date in her diary which she can then cancel at the last minute. I am now officially thwarted of my endless life of houseguests and Nigella impersonations and have resorted to my normal slovenly self but with a fridge full of food to tempt the delicate appetites of guests who aren't here. The Loyal Hound and I are going to be eating very well!
All this thwarted effort at having people to stay in Wales reminds me of when I was fifteen and asked a friend from Nottinghamshire to come and stay. The day before she was due to arrive she rang and suggested that instead of coming to stay with me, perhaps I should come to her "as it was closer".
Need I say more.
The price of health
12 hours ago