Sunday, 28 November 2010
More from the Hostess Chronicles
I think I set the standards a couple of years ago. Low enough, even for me. And failed even these low standards fairly abysmally over the summer. Read the comments to find the unblogged hostessly failure which left two dear friends with a punctured lilo, too polite to ask me for the repair kit in the middle of the night.
Friends, let this weekend serve as a dreadful warning.
To begin with, I suspect the perfect hostess may in fact plan at least part of any projected visit around the needs and interests of the visitors. By contrast, I managed to arrange friends for the weekend and a Girl Guide sleepover for the same weekend. Not the best start. Next complication, an invitation for Little Fish to go to a Birthday Party on the Friday evening. Not the politest perhaps but actually potentially quite sensible; friends arriving midafternoon so time to say hello and have tea before whisking LF off, then nice time to chat and shuffle other children into bed before collecting her again. Fine in theory.
Theory scuppered by horrendous traffic on the M25.
The perfect hostess probably has a perfect meal simmering on the stove, scenting the house with delicate herbs, whilst fresh bread bakes and coffee brews. I'm fairly sure our overflowing nappy bins do not feature in any guide to domestic goddessery. But then I've never aspired to be a goddess.
I wrap the girls up against the cold, text friend to warn her I've gone to deliver LF to her party, and receive a reply that she's in the carpark unloading. I unwrap Mog, race outside with LF, and inform friend that Mog's in the kitchen, can she keep an eye on her as well as her own girls. Leaving friend with two screaming children, I dump LF at her party, somewhat to the surprise of the Birthday girl's parents, and race back to at least pretend I know how to greet house guests.
One hungry baby, one screaming spasming small girl (and for once it wasn't Mog), one giggly twitchy Mog, and one truly chaotic but strangely pleasant evening. Little Fish rescued, thoughts of homecooked food abandoned in favour of curry delivered, and eventually all four children tucked up in bed and sleeping.
One glass of white wine and much conversation.
Next complication, 'flu jabs. Our surgery has the frustrating policy of refusing to book 'flu vaccinations out of appointment order. Meaning, you phone up, and you will be offered the next available appointment. Or the next available appointment. Protestations that I cannot physically get all three of us to an appointment for 8AM are met with reiterations of their policy and a suggestion that I call back in a few days' time, when, it is to be hoped, others will have booked the earliest appointments and I might manage to find the coveted 11AM slot. I call back, the clinic is fully booked, and I am offered the next available appointment for the clinic the following week. We again have the conversation where I inform people I cannot get all three of us into town for 8AM on a Saturday, the one day in the week when I don't have carers. They suggest I call back in a few days' time. I do. The clinic is booked, and we are back to 8, or possibly 8.11AM the following Saturday. Meanwhile, I get politely worded letters from the same surgery asking me why I am putting the girls' lives at risk by not booking 'flu appointments. Eventually, I phone up and am offered a 9.25 appointment. I beg, once more, for a later slot, and am refused. We take the 9.25 slot. I write it into the diary, making a mental note that it is the same weekend as the Guide Sleepover, and begin vague plans to spend the day in town doing something nice-ish with the girls after the jabs. And then realise this too is the same weekend as our friends are coming.
So, having forced ourselves out of bed several hours before the crack of dawn, and, annoyingly, before any of the massed feed pumps began their morning chimes, we stumbled our way to the surgery, presented arms, wrapped ourselves back up again and stumbled out. Accompanied by one very apologetic nurse who assured us we would very definitely be able to take a more appropriate appointment next time and that we should explain and ask to speak to the appointments manager. Funny; I thought that's what we had been doing. But never mind.
Our friends had a meeting here on the Saturday afternoon, leaving the girls and I holding their very cute and precious baby. This has definitely been the highlight of Little Fish's weekend; she acknowledged the presence of the rest of the family, but it has been baby all the way as far as she is concerned. Our original idea was that the girls and I would babysit in comfort at home. Guide sleepover has somewhat scuppered this, and instead we find ourselves in town; thankfully in a crowded cafe rather than trawling the streets.
The baby proves to be most civilised and sleeps for an hour. On my lap. This we like. Well. This I like. Little Fish is less happy; not because she wants to be on my lap but because she'd like the baby to be on hers. The baby awakes, and is passed around a few of the Guides and more of the leaders, before coming to rest on Grannie's lap, a lap shared with Little Fish. Little Fish leans over the baby, takes a deep breath, and vomits. Lovely. The good news is, she missed the baby entirely. The bad news is, she managed a direct hit on Grannie's gloves and her own cardigan. The perfect hostess probably refrains from partnering vulnerable babies with vomitty schoolgirls. I'm hoping 'flu jab reaction rather than anything nastier.
So, we leave Mog to walk home with the Guides, and LF and I load the baby back into the van. We drive home, pausing at church to drop sleeping bags and DVD players off for the Guides. I drive off, and am stopped by Guides running after me, pointing out I have forgotten to collect Mog. Oops.
We get home, one grumpy hungry baby, one pukey shivery achey Little Fish, and one Mog, laughing at the grumps but hacked off at having been forgotten. I juggle baby and dummy in one hand whilst showering LF with the other, and wonder if the powers that be might possibly consider this proof enough that I could in fact take on another child if necessary. Little Fish is tucked up in bed with several blankets, friend returns with still screechy sobby older girl, and Mog and I do our feeble best to entertain and divert whichever child is currently not with friend.
It sounds stressful but is in fact surprisingly relaxed and cheerful. There's something about having another adult around which somehow instantly removes the stress from the situation. Four children, two adults, should not, logically, be any easier or harder (except to squeeze into a Mini) than on adult, two children. And yet...
Three of the children finally shuffled into bed, we sit down with a stir fry (for I am indeed the queen of cuisine), the rest of the wine, and one beautiful little girl who is so desperate to control the twitches and spasms which continue to torment her, even in her sleep. Meanwhile the cats, who had their own booster shots on Friday afternoon, decide they too need their own fuss and attention, and lie around on the floor wherever we would prefer to put our feet, feeling sorry for themselves and showing how sad they are.
And then we head to bed, and I wonder whether having a bed to sleep on but having a host family who have disappeared on and off constantly all weekend is better or worse than having a host family all present and correct with nicely roasted dinner, but having to spend the night on a cold hard lino floor with a leaky lilo.
Sunday morning, and it's all go, go, go, to be out of the door ready for Church Parade. Little Fish is still on the slow side, so I leave her with our friends whilst Mog and I uniform ourselves up and race out of the door, only slightly late. A full church, lovely. Some very tired Guide Leaders who had the unenviable task of policing the sleepover; this weekend's overnight theme appeared to be "wake one Guide at a time and tell them everyone else has been sick, wait until they are really upset then wake a Guider and tell them the girl in question is very unhappy. Repeat at hourly intervals, picking a different Guide and different Guider each time." I can't say I'm desperately sorry to have missed the experience, but suspect possibly I ought to be bringing chocolates to church tomorrow for those Guiders who were there.
We parade, we hand over toys, we listen to prayers written by Guides and Scouts, some of whom will only enter church on this one day in the year. We watch others play Jenga across the front of the church to illustrate a sermon point, and we wonder why the curate is sitting on a large roll of Duct Tape.
We race home in time for a last cuddle with a now thankfully giggly girl and a last jiggle with the baby as our friend packs her car with most of the things she brought with her, and then we wave them off and slump down to watch Mary Poppins and eat some baked aubergines.
Busy busy, but good for us. I hope our friends thought so too. I'm hoping we get to repeat the process in a few weeks' time, but rumour has it this next batch of friends may have reconsidered. I can't think why...