Home away from home
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