THE “no vacancies” sign has come down and we have Airbnb guests again. My wife is away for the night and I am grilling a piece of pork. This is not a difficult culinary task: three lots of five minutes equalling 15 minutes under the heat. A good quick bit of meat for a man married to a vegetarian.
A young German woman from London stayed overnight. I ran her into York after a long breakfast chat about town versus country, Britain versus Germany, followed by a walk round the garden.
Our new guest is here all week for the antiquarian book fair. His journey from London has been disrupted and he has phoned a couple of times to keep me up to date. The pork steak has had one turn and is half-way through cooking when the doorbell rings. Our guest has arrived and I welcome him in and start on my host spiel. We are standing by the kitchen door. A sense of having forgotten something passes through my mind like a fish lurking at the bottom of a pool.
And then it happens.
All the smoke alarms go off. I have to interrupt my introductory talk and dash around the house with a chair. The alarms are very loud. I stand on the chair, push the buttons and the alarms fall silent, although my ears carry on ringing for a while longer. That’s one way to test the smoke alarms.
Back downstairs, I apologise to our guest. He says it was all very dramatic and suggests it was his fault for distracting me. I suspect the blame lies more squarely with the person who left a piece of grilling meat to its own devices. You could build a charred wall with the pieces of toast which have gone that way down the years. Then there are the forgotten pans. The other day I was heating oil for potatoes to go in a Spanish-style omelette when I switched on the TV news and picked up my guitar for a strum. That oil was very hot by the time I remembered.
We have had many visitors now from all over the world. As well as the British guests, we have had people from Australia, France, Germany, China, Japan, Israel via Crewe, the Crimea (via Norway) and America (via London). And an English couple who live in Luxembourg. I hope that isn’t to forget anyone.
Opening the house to strangers has been mostly a comfortable experience. All of the guests have been pleasant, some have been a little more demanding than others, but we now specify no cooked breakfasts, which removes the need for last-minute scrambling of eggs and so on.
The question some people ask us is whether it is strange to let people into our house. It would be if you didn’t like the idea or were suspicious of strangers. But it’s been fine so far, enjoyable even, and I like the changing rota of guests, someone to get to know a little before they leave and their replacement arrives.
Each new person has a different story and they offer company after a day of laptop labour. My wife finds this harder as she is out at work, talking to people. And the washing of sheets falls to her, so there is that too.
The lack of company is the strangest part of being at home alone rather than in the office. That and not feeling part of the outside world. The other day, when I wrote about the Tory MP and his refugee barber, I realised that sometimes I miss being in dear old Walmgate. No nipping over the road for a head-shave at the busy barbers – although I have found somewhere else to park my balding head. And no weekly cappuccino from the lovely Polish café. Just a stovetop coffee from the ancient espresso pot, a good drink but sadly served without office gossip, unless I start talking to myself, which isn’t a good sign.
Our guest has just left for his booksellers’ conference. And I am upstairs on the laptop again. There will be no smoke alerts as my licence to grill had been revoked. Curry from the freezer today, and you have to try hard to make a drama out of that.