It's that time of year, folks. The tree goes up, the decorations come down from the attic, and the doors of one's abode are thrown open. Rented wine glasses, a freezer-full of canapés – and houseguests. Bloody houseguests.
No matter what Downton Abbey-style notions I may have, of matching guest towels and a carafe of water by the bedside, my hostly ambitions begin to fall short the moment the interloper (or treasured friend, whatever) comes through the threshold.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" I offer, as they plonk their bags next to the sofa that will be their home for the night.
The guest accepts, and I begin to rummage through the cupboards for some biscuits – special gluten-free ones I've bought just for them. I pop the biscuits on a nice plate on the table, along with a jug of milk and the teapot.
"Oh." Their face falls. "Is this soya milk?"
I am dismayed. No. No it is not soya milk. "Do you have a lactose allergy?" I ask delicately (muttering about the bar of chocolate I can see poking out of their bag). "No, no, it's fine," they demur. "It's a taste thing." Taste, schmaste.
Bags deposited, the guest then leaves the house to go about their day, while I return to my deadline. We have plans to meet for dinner and then out for drinks, before they leave to get the early train in the morning.
"Guests are great!" I think to myself. "Pals on tap! I love this! I should have overnighters more often!"
Our dinner and drinks are wonderful. We're gossiping and laughing and ordering more and more wine.
"You, you should stay another night!" I decide. My guest, the second-cheapest Pinot Grigio on the wine list coursing through her bloodstream, concurs.
We pull out our phones, and between us manage to change her train ticket online. We celebrate with some more wine.
The next morning, my head is pounding, and my guest is sprawled on the sofa, blanket pulled over her head.
I've no deadlines today, but there's still work to be done. I put on a pot of coffee, and try to quietly type at the kitchen table. "Ssssshhhhhh!" comes a bellow from the sofa.
I'm hardly bashing at the keys, but I try and keep it down further. "SSSHHHHHHHHHH" cries the blanket. I bring a cup of coffee to the couch, and hand my guest a towel.
"Have a shower, and watch a DVD," I say. "I'll be finished work in time for lunch."
Sullenly, my guest sits in front of the television. I feel guilty for not entertaining better, but at the same time, it's still a school day. And there's the whole city to explore!
I feel seeds of resentment bubble up inside of me. Mooching off my hospitality! Staying inside with the blinds drawn! Using up all the clean towels!
Any logic I had left goes out the window, and as we break for lunch, we barely speak.
I make us sandwiches, and we sit in front of Deal or No Deal, describing our headaches to each other. As the show ends, my guest suggests that she might just go home in the afternoon instead. I don't disagree.
She gathers her bits together, and I walk her to the train station.
"We must do this again, soon," we both agree.
"Yes," I continue. "Except next time, I'll come to you."