Posted by Tania Kindersley.
My Canadian family came to see me today. I have been useless about inviting them because of post-book crash. It was all I could do to put my gumboots on in the morning, let alone make the house respectable for visitors.
This making the house respectable is a bit of a bourgeois streak that I can’t kick. On the one hand, I convince myself that because I am a creative, I may live in a degree of Bohemian muddle. (This is a fancy schmancy way of saying I am hopelessly untidy.) On the other hand, I have a strict, middle-class voice in my head which says: what about those nice Organised People? Bet they don’t have little tottery piles all over their office floor.
When people come round, even if it is family, I do not want them to point and judge. I do not wish them to walk away saying, well, she’s quite nice I suppose, but my God, the housekeeping. My mother taught me well how guests should be treated. I have a strong memory from childhood of the preparation for visitors. Nothing was left unthought of. Malvern water and a barrel of biscuits by the bed, in case they were thirsty or hungry in the night; even writing paper and stamps on the dressing table, should someone have a sudden urge to write a letter. Flowers were brought in from the garden, the house was aired and polished to within an inch of its life.
So I found myself, after seeing to the horse, rushing down to the village to buy Sweet Williams. (My own garden is at the moment painted in every shade of green. I went crazy for box over the last few years, which looks lovely in the earth, but pointless in a vase.) I made homemade lemonade. I even decided the guests might be starving, and whipped up a quick smoked mackerel mousse.
This, of course, makes me sound like a domestic goddess, but I am a domestic slut at the moment. I am very ashamed to say that when I got the hoover out, it was the first time the motor had roared into life for two whole days.
At first, I was quite grumpy about having to do the hoovering. I have a lot of work to do. (New projects; hurrah.) There was a bit of Mutley muttering under my breath. I do not have time to entertain, for God’s sake.
The thought of the hoovering and tidying and rearranging always fills me with dread. It is because it reminds me of how hopeless I usually am, and how much of a muddle I let things become. The voice of shame then fires up in my head, and sings its siren song. But once I am actually doing it, I get a burst of energy, and realise that I have the capacity to make my room look really quite nice. The simple fact of moving things around can make a huge difference. Clearing away the clutter reveals the lovely items I have collected over the years, and I may notice them with love, instead of just seeing too much nonsense.
The effect of hoovering itself always astonishes me. Just getting rid of a bit of earth and dog hair and the stray bits of grass I bring in on my boots utterly transforms the room. I feel there is a proper life lesson there, something about small, mundane things making a huge difference.
So when the guests arrived, I felt pleased and proud. My house shall never be Homes and Gardens, but I do love it, in its irrational, cluttery way. We ended up having a delightful time. The two nephews are quite enchanting and I wish they were staying for a month. Fine compliments were paid, and I was sad when they went. They left me with the gift of a tidy house, scented with candles, calm and airy, which would not have happened had they not come. I would have slouched through the day; now, from the mere fact of a bit of domestic graft, Sunday opens up in front of me like a prairie.
Some quick pictures for you:
Red the Mare. The head was back on my shoulder today. We stood in companionable harmony, looking out to the west, and I apologised to her for being an idiot and taking things the wrong way and said that I understood that she was a horse and I was there to make her happy rather than the other way round. I told her about Camelot winning the Irish Derby and wondered if he were descended from the Darley Arabian as she was, so that they might be related. She listened very politely indeed:
The Pidge, in regal mode:
And with her yearny face on. Where oh where is my stick?: