Home away from home

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator -

the soft mat­tress. Alarm­ing in that noth­ing is where you ex­pect it. Is there re­ally no kitchen pa­per? We’ve searched ev­ery­where and are re­duced to loo pa­per. Hew in­sists on giv­ing ev­ery door han­dle a dose of WD40. The oven’s panel of in­struc­tions de­feats us and the ice-cube tray is a snare. Shards of ice shoot all over the place when we pre­pare a gin and tonic. Is it try­ing to tell us some­thing?

Where do we find the lo­cal vet? In the ad­dress book, of course. Yes, but where is the ad­dress book? Syrie, our Weimaraner, has gashed her leg on some barbed wire. We didn’t ex­pect to spend our hols at the vet, but, with dogs, things never go to plan. She’s now loung­ing with a royal-blue pro­tec­tive col­lar round her neck.

I sus­pect John and Helen are hav­ing sim­i­lar trou­bles. Not least is the fact that John ac­tu­ally com­plained about a friend’s house be­ing an ‘ab­so­lute tip’. Will we get black marks, too? We spent sev­eral days be­fore they ar­rived with feather dusters re­mov­ing spi­ders’ webs and hid our bas­ket of soap and flan­nels. I also spent two days tidy­ing a wardrobe— two bin bags to the char­ity shop and a cup­board of in­cred­i­ble or­der. Like open­ing your gar­den to the pub­lic, open­ing your house to critical rel­a­tives is a good op­por­tu­nity for a tidy-up. I must now ran­sack a sec­ond groan­ing cup­board.

Be­fore we set out, I’d made ex­haus­tive lists of what was ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial for our four nights away. I’ve found over the years at Land­mark Trust houses that you must bring your own favourite kitchen knife; like­wise, potato peeler. We didn’t in­clude a corkscrew and there­fore have to make do with theirs. I re­mem­ber that, when we moved house, I kept one in my hand­bag—more use­ful by far than a credit card.

I for­get that, even in Ox­ford­shire, it’s pos­si­ble to buy lemons, French mus­tard and Hell­mann’s mayo. Well, of course the lat­ter, as this is David Cameron’s con­stituency and Sa­man­tha C drew Miriam Clegg’s dis­ap­proval by serv­ing it at a Down­ing Street lunch.

For our meals here, I bought a whole lot of ready-mades from, dare I say it, Waitrose. Mous­saka, chicken pie and mine­strone soup. I felt an urge to apol­o­gise to the cashier, to ex­plain that I re­ally do cook when at home. Just as well we’re not do­ing a roasted leg of lamb as the oven still de­feats me. Helen in Suf­folk threat­ens to do so in our new elec­tric Aga. Brave, eh?

House-swap­ping is an adventure (or at least so I tell my­self). I didn’t know that great-grand­fa­ther had 12 chil­dren or that his brother’s wed­ding-present ta­ble had six ex­tra leaves. I look at it, stat­uesque and sturdy in the din­ing room, ready for any­thing. And thank heaven that fam­i­lies of 12 chil­dren are to­day not the norm.

‘The oven de­feats us and the ice-cube tray is a snare

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