Ellis Island (Thatcham branch)

Image: Bryce Reynard/Flickr Image: Bryce Reynard/Flickr
Image: Bryce Reynard/Flickr
Image: Bryce Reynard/Flickr

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’d make a terrible B&B owner. If, as former Prime Minister Harold Wilson so astutely said, “a week is a long time in politics”, then it’s also a long time to have visiting relatives living under your roof.

It’s been quite a week or so. Other than my own immediate family, now that we have three kids – and virtually all of our friends are similarly child-laden – we don’t often entertain house guests.

Truth be told, we don’t make particularly entertaining hosts either. 90% of our topics of conversation revolve around kids. We consider anything much beyond 10:30pm to be ‘a late one’. And the only all-nighters we’ve pulled in the last five years have been to deal with ill or insomniac children.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses

So, of course, like buses, we don’t see any friends or relatives from far-flung places for ages, then three come along at once. Seriously, it’s been like Ellis Island in Thatcham this past week.

First up were my uncle and aunt from Malaysia, who were over on holiday and visiting their daughter – my cousin – who works up in Hull. They stayed with us for the weekend and everything was straightforward enough. They’re good company, courteous guests and it’s lovely to be able to repay the hospitality they have given us whenever we have travelled over there.

We took them out for lunch in Oxford. I took them shopping at Bicester Village (where it’s entirely possible I may have outspent them). We cooked dinner and a Sunday roast for them. And then they headed back to London with my parents. Job done, with no undue stress.

As soon as they’d gone, I headed into London to meet up with an old friend who now lives in New Zealand, who was back in the UK competing in the World Triathlon Grand Final. A couple of beers, some good food, and six years’ worth of catching up, all in one evening. (That excludes approximately 3,500 Facebook updates in the interim, that is.)

The innocence of youth

Monday was free, but then from Tuesday to yesterday (Sunday), we hosted Heather’s half-brother and one of his friends, who are embarking on the Great Australian Round The World Adventure – although they’re not living the full cliché and buying a beat-up old VW camper van. They’re both nice guys but – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – it was a bit like having Beavis and Butthead over to stay.

Australians? Travelling round the world without one of these? What is the world coming to?
Australians? Travelling round the world without one of these? What is the world coming to?

They’re about the same age I was when I graduated university (i.e. half my age, *sigh*) but with the narrowness of perspective and worldly experience which results from having never lived on their own or even so much as departed the state of Western Australia.

Plus they live on the outskirts of Perth, one of the most remote cities on Earth. To put into perspective quite how remote Perth is, the nearest city with a population of at least one million people is Adelaide, 2,139km away. Give or take a stone’s throw, that’s the same as the distance from London to Kiev.

At 21 or 22, I’m sure I was similarly naive and nowhere near as worldly-wise as I am now – which, obviously, is *very* wise – but at least I had the head start of growing up in London, spending three years away at university to pick up some basic life-skills and with a number of overseas trips under my belt.

Poor kids. They’ll never know what’s hit them – but then that’s all part of the big adventure for them too, right? I didn’t know whether to laugh or be slightly envious of them as they head off into the unknown with the innocence of first-time travellers. But at least we acted as a kind of staging post for them to get their bearings before sampling the delights of a new world.