TODAY I shall tell you about the man who wasn’t there. This week we are surrounded by men one might wish were not there, or men who no longer are there (Boris Johnson in the first category, England manager Roy Hodgson in the other).
The man who wasn’t there has no connection to the would-be prime minister or the man with his head in his hands. He is not a conniving old Etonian who has just helped to do over another conniving old Etonian; and he is not the manager who resigned after overseeing the most woeful England game in memory – losing 1-2 to tournament minnows Iceland.
I watched the game and then remembered why often I don’t. Iceland were brave, skilful and dazzling, and England were none of those things. It was a Boy’s Own win, a sparkler of a story and would have been uplifting if our own side hadn’t been the desperate losers. Maybe it even was uplifting in a self-hurting way, as surely you only deserve to win if you deserve to win.
But let me tell you about the man who wasn’t there. This house of ours has seen many guests in the past year and this one was a perfect mystery.
Last week was unusually hectic in the word-worrying business, allied to a spot of daughter-ferrying, Volvo stuttering and temporary white van man antics. Amid the personal busyness, I was asked at the last-minute to stand in on a feature, so had another day’s work.
As I was juggling returning the van early, picking up the resuscitated old Swede and checking the train times to Wakefield, a guest got in touch. He wondered if he could have a key ahead of his stay on the next night as he might be going for a pint after his event. He was staying one night at the Bar Convent, and one with us. In a flurry of white van dashing and bicycle pedalling, I returned the van and left a key at reception.
All arranged and sorted, although I did have to phone the hire place from the petrol pumps to ask how you removed the fuel cap on the white van. Then I had to ask a proper horny-handed van driver how you returned the fuel cap after filling. And after all that I was generous in my diesel estimation and gave the rather expensive hire company too much fuel in return. “You won’t get anything back from this lot,” said the man who checked the van over.
The next day was busy and enjoyable, and when the day was done I sat up late watching television, half-reading the newspapers and engaging in phone fiddling, a modern addiction to which I have become addicted.
By 11.30pm our late-arriving guest had not arrived, so I went to bed, leaving a few lights on. A couple of post-it notes went on two doors – “This is your room” and “This is the bathroom.”
In the morning the lights were still on, the notes were still in place. And there was no sign of our guest. My first thought was to panic. Had this poor man been unable to open the door or had I given him the wrong key? Was he at this moment sitting shivering on the doorstep? Was he about to sue our useless Airbnb arses?
Puzzled, I checked the house phone. And there was a message from our missing man. Two messages and I’d not heard either of them. He’d been booked into the Bar Convent for two nights instead of one, so wouldn’t need to stay with us after all, but was happy to pay.
“I’ll be the quietest guest you’ve ever had,” he said.
And it’s true because he was.