I’ve discovered what’s been missing in my life thus far. It has come in the form of a Belgian student by the name of Léa. Since last summer we’ve been hosting foreign students who are studying English here in Belfast. I want to adopt this one. Though a mere sixteen, she is capable and astute, and has an aptitude for tidying and putting up curtains. When she arrived with a box of chocolates the size of Antwerp, I knew I was on to a winner. This was further clarified when I saw the calming influence she exuded over the children. The small one sprawls over her, cat-like, and gets her to rub her tummy. I hadn’t told my mum that we were due to host a week after moving back home, but Detective Clueso that she is, she went and read the blog. Nine-thirty, the day before said student was due to arrive, the mobile goes. “I am in a state of shock,” said she. “If I were you, I would ring the organisation and tell them that due to unforeseen circumstances they must find a new family for this girl. You simply cannot invite someone into that chaos.” Oh but mother, doubt us not! LSB built her a bed and we fired most of the crap into a downstairs bedroom and hey presto, though by no means tidy, our home was acceptable for guests. I’ve lived abroad and stayed with any number of folk, and I’d take a bit of mess anytime over a pristine house and a boring bastard of a host.
The thing is, if you have someone in, you have to up your game. You can’t be slumming it like a troglodyte, going round all bereft of make-up and looking gormless. (In the midst of upheaval, I do gormless with aplomb). You have to cook a decent meal, set a table, and clear up after yourself. In the midst of the home upheaval it would be easy to live out of a Chinese takeaway or take up residence chez McDonalds, but you can’t be doing that if you’re hosting. Thus we were forced to propel ourselves into action and create an inviting ambiance. And it kind of worked. A sense of order was established and I think we succeeded in given the impression of a nice, if slightly nutty crew. Wee Léa seemed to think so, because she left yesterday having invited us all to Brussels (off-spring included). I’m sure her mother would be thrilled at that prospect.
It’s just the small acts of kindness that bring a lump to your throat. One gorgeous couple announced they were bringing up a dinner and landed up with a huge bag from which they produced pasta, sauce (separately because children can be awkward. Really? Mine?) two types of grated cheese and a dessert. They wouldn’t even stay, just said “Bon apétit” and off they went. We gathered round to eat together with our student and LSB came over all civilised, “Are we just using the plastic containers as serving dishes?” Well yes, Little Lord Fauntleroy. When people bring you a meal you don’t set about decanting it into the Denby. Kind of defeats the purpose, don’t you think? I don’t think I’ve ever relished a Bolognese so much. The soft evening light streamed unto the table, the kids ate with gusto and I thought, “That’s it, I’m home”. So tonight I raise a glass to all the friends and family who helped us get to this point. Those who gave us good advice, helped us move, fed us and minded our kids while we got shit done. And sincere apologies for having had to listen to me moan. There’s been a lot of that…..sorry.