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The art of the perfect houseguest

It is very important, when staying with someone, to be a good houseguest. Some people think that being a good houseguest is all about tidying up after oneself, or not drinking all the wine. Those people are mistaken. Since last night, I have been a houseguest, and I am happy to generously come down from that expert level of experience and share my wisdom with you.

The key, naturally, is to arrive 2 or 3 hours after you have suggested to your host that you might. Be sure to ramp up excitement by not turning your wifi on, and therefore missing increasingly anxious messages about your location/ alive-ness. When you do arrive, make sure your friend knows how happy and excited you are to see her by exclaiming loudly ‘I’m so excited…to take a shower!’ and rushing past her into her walk-in wardrobe. (The latter, naturally, was a mistake. I assumed it was the bathroom. But spending a bit of time in anyone’s walk-in wardrobe is a pleasure I highly recommend).

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When asked what you would like to do for dinner, be open to suggestions. ‘Anywhere you’d like,’ I called out cheerily from the bathroom, before emerging from it in my pajamas. Save your host the bother of working out what you’d like to do after dinner by simply falling asleep on the sofa when they leave the room to go to the loo*.

In the morning, wake up as early as possible. Check on your friend several times, to ensure they don’t need anything/ want to make you a cup of tea. Leave the apartment sneakily, wearing their shoes. (You have mysteriously lost your shoes, and don’t want to be presumptuous by asking your host where they’ve put them).

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Head to the local supermarket, and purchase things for breakfast. Feel free to increase your host’s neighbourhood standing by cheerfully accosting other people who you pass, and asking them questions or advice.
Return, laden. Realise after several attempts to open your friend’s front door that you don’t know how to do so. Re-group. Take a small nap outside your friend’s appt. (This has the dual purpose of further endearing her to her neighbours). Finally enter your friend’s appt. Use all available bowls and pans whilst making breakfast, only to be told that your friend has to go to work, and also doesn’t like eggs. Sit outside in the sun, smugly eating delicious home-ccoked breakfast, safe in the knowledge that you have admirably fulfilled your houseguest duties.

*This is part of a different advice article, about the powers of suggestion. In it, I cover how to ‘suggest’ to people that they always do what you want.* 

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I’m a very private person

No good deed goes unpunished, and yesterday I helped my flatmate buy t-shirts online, which means that every single part of the internet is insistently trying to sell me mid-range* menswear today.

I have a working knowledge of internet algorithms, so I understand why they think that all human people, having bought the thing they need, now only want to buy that thing, in infinitesimal variations, for the rest of their life. (To be fair, this logic does hold for a very few things that a human needs – like toilet paper. In some ways I like the assumed austerity of the internet’s thought processes. It’s not all about teenage vine stars and ‘liking’ horrific animal rights abuse photos, guys. The internet is also here to encourage you to repeat order your toothpaste).

Parts of the internet, however, I am less well disposed towards. For instance, amazon now asks me, every single time I purchase something (and they’ve recently dramatically increased their prime membership, so to get them back I’m buying even more from them) if I want to ‘share my purchase on FB, twitter or by email’. Amazon! Half the reason anyone buys things on you is because they’re embarrassed to get them from real people in real life. (The other half is laziness).

Why on earth would I want people to know that I bought a copy of the bible (My old one was falling apart, from over-use) or a guide to charitable giving (I just wanted to make sure I was tax-efficient, so I could give even more) or an extremely expensive birthday present for my little sister? I simply can’t see any place in my life for such egregious self-aggrandizement.

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*This sounds more revealing than I meant it to. I just meant t-shirts that are more expensive than produced by child labour, and less expensive than YOU COULD BUY AN ENTIRE WARDROBE FOR THAT HOW BIG IS THIS T-SHIRT ANYWAY

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Nostalgia, and other things I excel at

“You,” my Mother said, glaring at me across the kitchen table. “Are the queen of nostalgia.” At the time, I was pretty pleased. I was just about to turn 11, so being the queen of anything was sortof thrilling. (Not, I hasten to add, entirely unexpected, but I guess I’d assumed I’d serve a longer princess-in-waiting period). “Thank you,” I replied. I was slightly confused, as my Mother’s tone had yet to adopt the referential tone I was expecting, but I remembered that my Mother was never particularly quick on the uptake.


Then, aged 11 and complaining that the chowder she’d made last year was “much, much better” than the one she’d served us this year, I took my mother’s bemusement as a compliment. A couple of years later, I still do. There’s nothing nicer than nostalgia.* It’s like post-production air-brushing for your own past life. Of course, not everyone remembers the past as nicely as you do. But if you are insistent enough about it, you can pretty much get everyone on side.

Every single Christmas, I force my bored and unwilling grandparents into recounting how exciting and irreplicable my birth (‘as the first-born grandchild!’) was. For everyone. “I was pretty out of it,” my Mother interjected one year. “That gas and air stuff is the best.” “She was delirious with happiness,” I told my little sister proudly. “She felt like she was walking on air.”


Another time, we were talking about childhood injuries. Several of these, other people have wrongly assumed, were created by me. Looking back, I can say for certain that the only people at fault were the carpet, shampoo and rocking-horse manufacturers. I’m not a particularly accomplished lawyer, but even I can see that all of these things ought to carry warnings. “Do you remember,” my little sister asked. “That time when we were playing mattress-staircase races and I broke my head on the door?”

“Nope,” I replied. “Yes,” she continued. “I couldn’t stop at the bottom, and you’d left the door open, and I cracked my head on the metal bit on the side of the door.” “The backplate,” I said automatically, because it’s important for my little sister to continue to realise that I know everything and am older than her. “That’s right,” my Mother continued. “The whole of the door is wooden, and you manage to find the one bit of metal. We took you to hospital.” “What about me?” I asked, despairingly, because if there’s one thing that is kryptonite to nostalgia**, it’s not being invited.


“We had to take you along too,” my Mother said. “But you cried so much when they started stitching up your sister one of the nurses took you out.” I stared at my Mother in no small confusion, because I never cry. In many ways, it was lucky that I already knew my Mother’s memory was so faulty. (Pre-warned is pre-armed, which is why I like to email a selection of my favourite jokes to people before I attend their dinner parties). Last Sunday, we were having dinner. I had just been to visit my friend’s tiny newborn, and there was some general discussion about how badly I had been mistreated as a baby myself. “I was made to sleep in a suitcase,” I told my friends, gesticulating in outrage towards my Mother. I paused dramatically, until I was certain the whole table was listening.  “I could have died.” “Well,” my Mother said. “I had bought you a travel cot, but you were too fat to fit into it.”

It is just possible that it might be time to give up my crown as the queen of nostalgia.***

*Except the first time I was nostalgic, which was obviously the best time.

**Also to me.
***I will be accepting invitations to be the in-situ ruler of other things immediately.

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It’s not all about you and other rules

Recently, my little sister was telling me a story. It was a moderately interesting tale of a tropical disease she seems to have picked up (most of my interest in the story stemmed from the opportunity to say, “qui custodiet ipsos custodes?” and “physician, heal thyself”, which happens less in everyday life than one might expect) and it reminded me that I had pulled my hamstring. I interrupted her to tell her this interesting fact.

“It’s not all about you,” my little sister complained. “And you know you’re not meant to interrupt.”

I do know that I’m not meant to interrupt. I also know that I’m meant to ask people how their day was, even if I don’t care in the slightest, and say thank you for gifts I didn’t ask for and don’t want. We had a lot of rules growing up. In many ways it was similar to being raised in the movie Annie, what with all the extra children (my siblings had a seemingly inexhaustible number of friends, who were constantly ‘sleeping over’ and making a ruckus whilst I was trying to read my book) and the ‘cleaning up after yourself’ and the daytime drinking of our caregivers, although I’m still waiting optimistically for Daddy Warbucks.

We were not allowed to watch TV, which has had the fabulous effect of making it impossible for any member of my family to sit in a bar or restaurant containing a TV and not give it our full attention. (It really matters not at all what the TV is showing. My Mother once missed me telling her I had been accepted into university because she was distracted by an advert for patio cleaner. In her defence, she does like things to be kept clean).

Our pocket money was dependent on good behaviour at Mass –  an endless forced, squirming seated silence which was only relieved by pinching our little brother until he cried so bitterly that we were allowed to take him out to “settle him”.* And said pocket money (which, I would hasten to add, was kept well below classmate-influenced inflation) was spent in the corner shop, on the only sweets we were allowed all week. (It was not until I was regularly invited to other people’s houses that I realised ‘pudding’ could denote something other than a piece of fruit).

I have almost forgotten to mention one of the most strictly-enforced rules: No talking about my birthday til my little sister’s birthday is passed. Which makes today, June 17th, the last day before we can talk about my birthday. Also, in unrelated news, here is a photo of a birthday cake.

*Tips for keeping an under-5 hyped up in order to prolong delicious freedom outside of Mass include endless rounds of dizzy dinosaurs (spinning around until you fall over), it, stuck-in-the-mud and hide-and-seek in and amongst the parked cars of the more virtuous.

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I’m so fancy

I’m not a huge fan of fancy dress. I tend to get it wrong, somehow –  to go either too far or otherwise not far enough, and invariably in the wrong direction. A few examples that come to mind: turning up to a black-tie birthday in jeans and a hoody, as a ‘drug dealer’, and handing out skittles to people before I spoke to them. Turning up to a black-tie birthday in a burqua. (The theme was black-tie with a hint of Arabian Nights). Turning up to my Mother’s Christmas party as a hooker.*

However, I have decided that this is the year I finally crack social codes (once and for all, guys, so this blog will soon be over), so I am approaching an upcoming fancy dress party with enormous** enthusiasm. The theme is ‘Toga party’. I am in charge of buying the sheets. (“We can just use our own sheets,” I pointed out, initially. “All my sheets are fitted sheets,” my friend replied. “How unnecessarily fancy,” I thought, until I looked at my own sheets).

Along with the extraordinary advances in hand driers in public bathrooms (the improvement curve on this is the steepest I have seen, in any thing, so far in my own lifetime, and I wish I had one of the older public hand driers to show my children, to explain that they ‘don’t know they’re born’, in a similar manner to when my Father would laboriously remove his wooden tennis racket from its press), it seems that the world has turned its back on the cumbersome yet multi-purpose flat sheet, and enthusiastically greeted the future.***

Which is all well and good, and as a still very young and not-at-all-wedded to the 2000s sort of person, I wholeheartedly approve. It does, however, mean that I remain not a huge fan of fancy dress, and will spend much of today traipsing round Homebase, looking for the elusive ‘perfect toga sheet’. (I thought I’d done well on my first trip there, yesterday, but arrived home to discover I’d bought 6 cot sheets, rather than 2 adult sized sheets). It is looking likely that this blog will continue for some time.

*This one wasn’t entirely my fault. The theme was Bond, I think, and I thought my dress looked lovely until I overheard my Mother asking my Godmother why I had decided to come dressed as a hooker. To be honest, I was so thrilled that my lack of costume had been misconstrued as making an effort with the fancy dress that I began telling people that was indeed my “costume”.

**The socially appropriate amount of enthusiasm.

***Signs we are in the Future: Fitted sheets, excellent hand-driers, a slimline Chris Pratt and Turtle from Entourage.

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Where’s my invite?

I am a huge fan of invites. To anyone reading this, who is concerned that I will view that invitation to their dinner party/ wedding/ honeymoon as a terrible burden and inconvenience, be immediately reassured. I am delighted to receive invites to any old thing at all. Honestly, I recently went along cheerily to Homebase, to purchase some flat sheets. (In the spirit of full disclosure, no-one had actually invited me to do that, but I thought it would lend an aura of cheery insouciance to the trip, if I made myself a little e-invite to “GET TOGA PARTY READY”. Spoiler alert: it did).

Last week, I received not one but two invites. “Hello!” my friend texted me. “Want to come to a spin class this evening?” What an excellent suggestion, I thought, wondering if my flatmates would notice if I purchased a power pressure washer. (It was on special offer, and I think we’ve all seen those absurdly satisfying patio-cleaning adverts. I don’t currently have a patio, or any outdoor space at all, but if I let things like that hold me back, I would never have purchased my tyre swing).
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I was about to accept, when I received the second invite. “Come to a gym class with me? The instructor is insane.” Initially, I was a little confused. I forwarded the text to my little sister, who is still avoiding boring family events by being a doctor in Africa, and therefore has endless time to help decode all of my social snafus. “What do you think this is?” I asked her. “A text”, she replied helpfully, before making spurious excuses about “being on call” and “in charge of an A+E department”. “A text inviting me to a gym class?” I asked. “Or a set-up?” “What on earth are you talking about?” My little sister replied, referring, I assumed, to a technological problem her side which had prevented my extremely clear and rational text from being properly received.
I had neither deciphered nor decided which event I was going to attend, when, as I was leaving Homebase (sans power pressure washer, but only while I move some monies around), a woman handed me my third invite of the day. “Want to get ready for Summer?” her leaflet asked me. Ignoring my initial panic (what is Summer going to do to me that I need to prepare for? Was this a stealth marketing campaign for the power pressure washer?) I read on. “Join us on Hampstead Heath for a fun, social way to get fit.”
Now, as an extremely perceptive and observant person, by this point I had begun to notice some sort of pattern. “Isn’t it nice,” I thought to myself as I walked home, eating a reduced-price bag of malteasers, “that everyone thinks of me as such a sporty and active person?”
This evening, my Mother has invited me to dinner. (I’d like to pretend to be cool enough not to count an invite from a family member as an actual invite, but it’s a numbers game, and I’m here for quantity over quality). She emailed me a few minutes ago. “I’ve booked the cinema. See you at 7.40pm. Don’t be late, and don’t bring anyone else.”* “When will we eat dinner?” I emailed back. “We’re not,” she replied. I’d like to retract my earlier statement: I am a huge fan of invites, but not at all a fan of this secret and unpleasant plot to only invite me to things where food is not present. Please don’t let my supermodel-esque body fool you: I love to eat.
*You bring 8 people to one family dinner, and suddenly you’re the person who “brings too many people to things without asking”.


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Risky Quizness

As a child, I wasn’t very good at reading. (That’s a lie. I was always very good at reading, I just had a much more sketchy grasp of geopolitics in the 1990s, so The Times held less interest for me than it does now). Faced with the impenetrable wall of my parents’ newspaper blockades over breakfast, I would beg, therefore, to be allowed to do the ‘quizzes’.*

Until I was 11 I could tell you, with a conviction and surety that belied my weedy frame and oversized glasses, a great number of absolute facts about myself, such as What type of Conservatory I needed or What my Home Decor Personality was. (My parents took the actual parts of the papers, but generously shared the Homes & Gardens supplement). Entering big school initially threatened to disturb my by then fully-formed and adamantine personality, with it’s pursuit of independent thought and scientific discovery, but luckily I found a copy of Cosmo in one of the older classrooms.

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My love for quizzes has continued, unshaken, into my adult life. (I was initially tempted to write “well into my adult life”, but remembered that I am a mere slip of a girl who has scarcely left university, and certainly not had sufficient time to achieve any of life’s major milestones, despite my peers’ evidence to the contrary). It was however shaken abruptly yesterday, when, in a brief moment of levity as respite to my usual schedule of worthy deeds and career-advancing diligence, I stumbled across an online quiz. I happily answered questions on ‘my favourite diva’ and ‘my idea of a perfect day’, and let them know that I would describe my clothes style as ‘glam glam glam’. (This was one of the options. If asked in real life, I would simply say one ‘glam’).

I couldn’t wait to re-confirm my Secret Celebrity Soul Sister or establish once and for all My Perfect Wardrobe Choices. It was somewhat of a surprise, therefore, when this was the answer I was given:

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*Despite being good at reading, I was not at all good at recognising what constituted as a ‘quiz’, and regularly wasted valuable time laboriously answering the rhetorical questions posed by magazine adverts. Is she born with it? Is it Maybelline? I am yet to get a conclusive answer from anyone.

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Unconventional Sexual Pursuits

An internal memo from B&Q has been leaked, advising employees that “in light of the box office opening of the film of the popular novel 50 Shades of Grey” (I wonder if EL James now simply writes these press releases herself. They certainly have the same robust indifference to being succinct), “customers may be asking for certain items intending to fulfill unconventional sexual pursuits”. The memo urges B&Q’s employees to remember “B&Q’s commitment to assist customers in a polite, helpful and respectful manner.” It finishes with a helpful quote from a B&Q Spokesman*: “Customer satisfaction is always our number one priority.”

Although I can think of nothing I would rather do, had I made more money than anyone else ever, other than write tongue-in-cheek press releases for home improvement stores, in many ways E L James has once again opened things up for the rest of us. For a start, I had entirely forgotten that Valentine’s Day is naturally an opportunity for everything in the world to remind us that it is sexy. No longer will we have to make do with candles and chocolates and actual, real-world sex. Nowadays we can slog around IKEA, or B&Q, or buy a “commemorative” washbag or “sultry lightbulb” or whatever.

Listen, it’s not just me/ E L James. (The more I think about E L James, the more I feel convinced that she is a fully-formed AI media invention, sort of the author-version of Damon Albarn’s ‘Gorillaz’)

One of my friends is having her wisdom teeth out today, and I’m off to collect her afterwards. “Is everything going OK?” I texted her. “Yup,” she replied. “I’m in a private room with Angela. Angela has just told me I don’t have to put on the gown and funny pants yet, because I would be “too much sexy”.

Wisdom teeth removal: for those of us who just want to make an effort, this Valentine’s Day.

*E L James


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Gym-buddies and other new hobbies

I’ve returned from the Australian Open, which is a tournament where extremely drunk people watch extremely fit people play tennis.

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“It is time,” I told myself at the wrap party, where 3 of my colleagues were so drunk they missed their flights home the next morning. “That I moved myself to the other section.” With that in mind (and jet-lag that saw me awake from 2am this morning), I headed to the gym. I hadn’t meant to go to the gym. I had meant to go for a life-affirming, head-clearing, boast-worthy run, but it’s approximately 35 degrees colder in London than it was in Melbourne, and I had failed to convert my usual drinking habits into running alongside a helpful St Bernard, so I ran to the gym. (Total imagined time of future run, whilst warm in bed: 1hr. Total actual running time, whilst scouring the pavement for rogue brandy-bearing St Bernard dogs: 5mins).

I was pleased I went to the gym, as it turned out, because I now have 2 new hobbies. The first is going to the gym, and the second (and far more durable), is eavesdropping on other women at the gym. It was my first day there (no-one asked me for my membership, which makes me fear that some of us have been spending huge monthly sums for years purposelessly) so I limited myself to merely listening, and occasionally nodding or shaking my head subtly in response.

Here are some choice extracts. (I’ve put my inside-my-head but extremely visible on my face responses in italics):

  1. “Yeah, she’s called Sarah. They were together for 5 years, but it didn’t work out, because she was way too into her job.”

Oh my god run away from this dreadful man, gym stranger.


  1. “No, I mean, he’s 49. So it’s just on the cusp of what my parents would find acceptable.”

You’re at the most 25 years old. Your parents would find someone who was 29 at the cusp of acceptability. This is going to go so unbelievably badly; let’s be friends so I can invite myself along when you introduce him as “slightly older”.


  1. “I wasn’t that into it, but then I saw his car.”

I wish you a long and fulfilling life together.

  1. “I think it’s the perfect Valentines Day activity, don’t you?”

“What?” (this is not in italics, because I said it out-loud, by mistake).

“Seeing 50 Shades of Grey.”

“…oh, bloody hell, ouch.” (I was so busy staring at her in horror that I forgot to run, and fell off the treadmill)

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Oh, Thanksgiving

I went to two thanksgiving dinners this weekend, and I have a luncheon with my grandparents this Wednesday, which means that I’m not eating anything for the next 48 hours. This is because my grandparents are the only people in the world who think that I am ‘too thin’ and also ‘have a lovely singing voice’, and if I get through the lunch without them mentioning both, 2014 will be ruined.

Thanksgiving is a relatively new phenomena (for me. I am aware, hazily, that it’s been a longer-term thing for some other people), and as a newly-minted expert, here are the things one needs to do to enjoy it:

  1. Develop the sort of generous and reliable reputation that means when items are divided amongst the group (stuffing, vegetables, pies etc) you are asked to bring ‘some jars of cranberry jelly’, and then informed that this is because ‘you are the type of person who wouldn’t show up if given something difficult.’
  2. Arrive late.
  3. Make a huge fuss about the fact that you have remembered to bring your item.
  4. People love people who are good at conversation, so be able to talk on a wide variety of subjects: how long it took you to get there, where you went to buy the cranberry jelly, how vital cranberry jelly is to thanksgiving dinner.
  5. Find a chair and sit on it. As people walk past you, they will stop and chat; bring you beers; look enviously at your comfortable position. If you appear truly ensconced, other people will ‘make a plate’ for you, at which point you realise that the only person who has had it all figured out, all along, was your grandfather, and resolve to emulate him in all things from now on.

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