Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Those of you who have ever read Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford will remember the great scene when the Radletts came to visit Fanny in her small house in Oxford. They did what she called exclaiming. Everything was of the most wondrous, in their eyes. They loved the little room, the Fuller's cake, the plain curtains.
I have been madly attempting to wrangle some order from the shaming muddle of my domestic arrangements, all week, in anticipation of my guests. I need not have worried. Here is what the two smallest visitors (aged five and seven) said:
We love your dogs.
We missed your dogs.
Can we borrow your dogs?
Can the dogs sleep in the bed with us?
We love the pictures on your walls.
Oh, oh, is that a picture of Daddy? That's Daddy.
I want to sleep in that bed. That's my favourite bed.
We like stroking the dogs' ears, because they are so soft.
I hear all this and I think:
What on earth was I ever worrying about?
Once the children went to bed, the grown-ups ate lamb medallions with red wine and quince sauce, drank 2005 claret, and laughed and laughed. Sometimes I do wonder about all the things I fret over, and wonder what is the point. Still, it is important that the visitors have water by the bed, flowers to look at, a pretty tin filled with sweet and savoury biscuits, in case they should awake, starving, in the middle of the night, twenty-three copies of old Vanity Fairs, and a discrete selection of diverting reading. I give a lot of thought to the books I put on their bedside tables.
But really, all that matters is that they are old friends, and I have known their babies since they were born.
Here is the house, at its most respectable:
And here is the lovely younger niece, who came to help me arrange everything at the last minute, when I was starting to panic:
It's late now, and my brain is a little fogged, from all that organising, but I do start to think that, in the end, it is all about family: both the one you are born into, and the ones you adopt and choose. It's about the small people you have known forever, and watched grow up, who rush into your still slightly muddly house and say: please, please, can the dogs sleep on our bed? It's obviously also about dark matter, and geo-politics, and the unmapped parts of the brain, but sometimes that sweet, touching stuff is what keep your heart beating. I hate to say it, because it sounds like a bumper sticker or a Hallmark card, but it really is about the Love.