Wednesday, February 8, 2012


We used to keep the cats’ bowls in the cupboard with the rest of the crockery, until I saw my brother eating his breakfast cereal out of one. At least it was Crown Lynn. He came to no harm, but the cats’ bowls stayed in the laundry thereafter. Small adjustments like that were necessary when living near the bottom of Earth and taking in casual visitors, many of whom we didn’t even know. They arrived not with myrrh and frankincense but with bulging suitcases or saddlebags and sometimes, bless them, duty free scotch.

In spite of worries about whether the hot water would last, and searching for stray mugs under chairs, we were almost always charmed and entertained by house guests over many years. They came from everywhere. AJ used to come across cyclists from Canada or Germany or Holland looking lost by the roadside, heavily laden bikes propped against trees, and maps spread over handlebars. He always scooped them up and brought them home. They ate ravenously, emptied saddlebags into the washing-machine, and slept like the dead wherever they fell.

Friends and relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends were always welcome. My mother sent us a jillaroo from Oz who turned out to be a Cordon Bleu cook but appreciated spag bol and ice cream for dinner. And she said I made great cheese scones. A friend met a rangy English woman on the Cook Strait ferry and brought her down to us for the night. I found her the next day bent over, peering into a neglected patch of the garden. I screeched, aaargh, don't look! but she turned out to be a professional gardening person and said that she was fascinated by the weeds, some of which she’d never seen before.

The house was tiny but we managed to entertain seventeen English cycling tourists two days before Christmas one year. They had arrived by plane with luggage but no bikes, which had been left in Bangkok. Until the bikes turned up the cyclists filled our house and needed food. Luckily I had already cooked a large turkey ready for Christmas Day, but it wasn’t big enough for seventeen unexpected guests. AJ dashed out for extra supplies including lots of carbs – cyclists will eat anything but they wolf down the carbs. I hacked what I could from the freezer, made a ginormous trifle, tossed loads of salads, peeled a bucketful of potatoes, unveiled the turkey, and stood back.

We enjoyed all our guests, except the drongo travelling north who dropped in for a night and stayed for two weeks, drove us mad, and broke the ceiling light in the spare bedroom by whirling a cricket bat round his head. As G. K. Chesterton nearly remarked, travel may broaden the mind, but first you must have the mind.


  1. Re hospitality: Our son recently phoned his indigent brother in law. An unfamiliar and dignified voice answered 'John Smith's residence'. Startled son asked if he could speak to John, mate. When John came on the line, son asked:
    'Who's THAT?'
    'That's the gardener.'
    'You don't have a garden, mate.'
    'Right. He's staying here.'
    'You and Liz still in the one-room place with one bed?'
    'He's on the floor, mate.'
    'Where d'you meet him?'
    'Lives in the park across the road. Top guy.'