Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Staying over

It's sometimes blindingly obvious - that link between childhood fascinations and grown-up obsessions. It takes no effort at all for me to trace the journey from standing with my Dad, on the terraces at Crystal Palace football club, to standing with Philip behind the goal at Bromley FC.  It's almost as easy to see how my my love for Formula 1 racing started when we walked beside the wide tracks of the one-time racing circuit in Crystal Palace Park, or listened to the roar of the engines from the back door step at home.

It isn't always quite as simple to understand the impact of the things we never did, those things that went unnoticed and unremarked at the time.

Looking back I think we must have been fairly self-contained as a family; the characters in my memory bank are always my parents, grandparents and sisters. Apart from an occasional aunt and uncle, I don't remember any other visitors. Perhaps there were friends of my parents who made quiet calls after I'd gone to bed, but if they did, there were never any traces of their presence the next day. And, apart from the time when my Nan was really sick, I never, ever, remember anyone coming to stay.

No childish sleepover ending in a top-to-toe bed-share; no late night dinner party leading to a blanket- draped figure on the sofa. No strange coats thrown over the banisters at the bottom of the stairs, no odd toothbrushes in the bathroom, no politely embarrassed conversations over breakfast.

Our house wasn't big; five of us and only three bedrooms, but it never felt too small to me, certainly not like Maria from school, who lived with her six brothers and sisters in one of those tiny houses overlooking the cemetery. We didn’t have central heating, but hardly anyone I knew did then –we were used to the winter frost on the inside of the bedroom windows, to cowering under the wall heater in the bathroom, to sitting in the kitchen with all the gas rings blazing to keep us warm while we ate. But the house was always clean; properly clean. not just a tidy-away-the-newspapers-and  flick-the-hoover-round clean. 

I never asked then, and I wouldn’t dream of asking now, so I'll never really know why nobody came to stay.  But in the midst of all that didn't happen, I somehow missed out on a whole heap of life lessons, on the etiquette of staying over.

I never quite grasped how much cleaning in advance is a good thing or when to stop; I could never see the boundaries between thoughtful hospitality and force-feeding. I never learnt when it was ok to admit to tiredness, to suggest it was time for bed; and I never understood the proper arrangements for getting up in the morning or agreeing the order for the bathroom. I couldn't work out if it was better to take in a cup of tea and risk waking people too early, or to wait until they decided to surface and risk leaving them feeling ignored. I never reached that state of relaxed happiness where you know your guests are having a grand time and you can stop trying to fend off their boredom and disappointment.

For years I shied away from inviting people to stay; in my head I invented all sorts of reasons why it was a bad idea or simply inconvenient. 

This weekend I learned something I never found out as a child; if you invite good people because you enjoy their company, you end up enjoying their company. Your new house begins to feel a bit more like home and you start to see the place where you live with different eyes. You might even begin to feel a strange sense of pride that your village has the only listed duck pond in the country and the largest scale model of the solar system in the world. It might not even matter if you don’t quite get the etiquette right, you could still have a simply lovely time.

And this weekend we did.


light208 said...

This is lovely. A snippet of your past and a recognition of your present. I love how you weave your posts together.

Anonymous said...

That was so true of our chidhood, must be a family trait. All I remember for my parents social life was going to visit family or having them visit us. Never a sleepover existed for my friends or my sisters!

Bobby Stevenson said...

Truly wonderful Sharon. I guess we all have things and experiences that others take for granted - like staying over in someone's house - but you and Philip have really invited people into your home from all over the world for a long time via your writing. A feat that others wouldn't take so easily for granted.Now they are literally visitng and staying with you and I guess the things you learn later in life (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) are all the sweeter for it. You've also taught me about racing at Crystal Palace and that your village has the largest Solar System model in the world and a star of its own - you. Cheers as always for a great read.

Starlight said...

Lovely. Perfectly combined pieces of your past and present. I can imagine the four of you drinking wine (or gin and tonic for Kelly perhaps?) and laughing.

otherworldlyone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
otherworldlyone said...

Though my childhood, and my adulthood, are completely different than what you describe here (people are forever staying over, traipsing in and out), I still understand what you mean...worrying about your hostessing being too much or not enough. I wasn't there, but I'm positive it was just right. :)

I'm also positive that you yourself are every bit as sweet, thoughtful and lovely as this post.

Baglady said...

I love how you can take such a simple subject and weave a whole world from it.

We too never had anyone to stay (and ice on the inside of the windows). There were no dinner parties and I never had friends round.

Even with no training you've become an expert hostess (chocolates on the pillow! I mean!).

lladybugg said...

I've been anticipating (all four of) these posts all day thanks to tweets here and there...and this has proved wonderful.

A beautiful tying together of past (lack of) experiences and a present experience you obviously enjoyed.
Thanks for sharing.

Hillary said...

I missed you while you were gone from the blog, Sharon, but I loved this post, so all's fair.

I'm glad you had a chance to discover what a pleasant time it can be to have guests to stay, even with the occasional awkwardness. I'm really glad that the experience has given you stronger ties to your new home - memories to weave throughout your village.

Sharon Longworth said...

Light 208 - thank you - I'm really glad you liked it.

Anonymous - thank you for stopping by - families are odd aren't they?

Bobby - that is probably one of the nicest comments I've ever had - you are too kind by far, but I appreciate every word of it!

Tamara - thank you. And yes, there was certainly some wine taken!

Sharon Longworth said...

OWO - it's that horrible combination of wanting everyone to have a lovely time, but thinking they'll just be bored and then hate me. Of course, given who our guests were, I should have known better! Thank you for saying such lovely things, I hope one day it will be you who comes to stay.

Baglady - clearly the whole experience of having people to stay is enormously helped by having lovely people to stay... And as for the chocolates - now where exactly did I get that idea from?

lladybugg - the idea of anyone waiting to read something I've written is just lovely - thank you!

Hillary - thank you for saying you missed me - that's so kind. I'm glad you enjoyed this post.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Wonderful post. I know exactly what you mean, even though my lack of experience had more to do with a simple dinner party than a sleepover.