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.
And this weekend we did.