Surprise! Unexpected Guests and a Sleepover

I had four days off in a row this week. Four days in which there was nothing urgent that had to be done, so I planned a whole check list of those niggly little jobs I’ve been putting off for ages. It was quite a long list comprising of emails to answer, phone calls to make, and letters to respond to. Earlier in the week I’d received a letter from H.M. Revenue Customs & Excise informing me of a completely unexpected small tax refund! Whoop whoop! Which if I did nothing about, I’d receive in two months, but if I went onto the website and claimed it, I’d receive it straight into my bank account in five days. Hmm, which option shall I go for? So, I had that to attend to as well, because obviously I’d rather get that money in five days.

I also wanted to do a complete sweep of the house, going through every drawer, cupboard, storage basket and box dividing everything into three piles – rubbish, so throw it away; good enough to sell, so eBay it; and not good enough to sell but too good to chuck, so charity shop it.

I was quite looking forward to it, finally decluttering the house would make my mind feel more at ease, I thought. And, of course, I had my blog to write, so would leisurely put that together over the four days. Pacing my few tasks nicely, it would leave me with lots of time to pootle about in the garden, read and spend time with Miss F.

I should have known really, shouldn’t I?

Have you ever been in that situation when you grandly make the statement – “Oh, if ever you’re in my neck of the woods, do drop in” – and then they do! Well, that kind of happened this week. Obviously, being an author with public social media sites I have a lot of friends and followers on both Instagram and Facebook. Some stay mere acquaintances, whereas others become more than that, they become friends, even though you’ve never actually met them, and they tend to live on the other side of the world. One such friend has been following me on Instagram for I guess two years now and when she announced that her and her husband would be touring the UK and Europe for a year, I uttered the above statement.

A few weeks into their trip, she messaged saying they might be passing by at some point but would let me know. Then a week ago we had quite a long discussion about the possibility of them staying locally, but prices for accommodation in the South of England are quite high, so there was a question about whether her visit would happen or not, and she ended with promising to keep me informed. She then vanished off radar for a week, and despite a couple of enquiry messages from me, remained MIA.

Sadly, I concluded that the cost of staying had rendered their visit impossible, and assumed I’d hear from her at some point when they’d left the UK and were touring Europe. So, I made my plans as above, and got home from work Tuesday evening looking forward to my long weekend and enjoying a much-needed glass of wine as I relaxed with Miss F after dinner watching Netflix and chilling.

So, you can imagine my surprise, when a notification pinged, and it was my friend. Surprise surprise! They were staying in the AirBnB next door and were at that moment having dinner at a restaurant just around the corner and when could we meet up?! Gulp!

For a moment I panicked. Like most of us oldies, once my plans are made, I dislike anything that upsets them. But I rallied my Dunkirk spirit and issued an invite for coffee next morning, thinking we’d figure everything out then.

And it was fine. Of course, it was fine. I really liked them, they were a delightfully kind and quirky couple. I hope they liked me. I took them on a tour of Bury St Edmunds, we had lunch in the cathedral garden and the weather was on its absolute best behaviour. It was beautifully warm and sunny, and my town put on its best “company” face. Wednesday evening, I cooked a traditional English roast dinner for them, and a fun evening was had by all.

Thursday the weather was even hotter, with skies of the bluest blue, more than enough to make several sailors several pairs of trousers! So I loaded them into my tiny car and took them to Ickworth Park, which is a lovely stately home and garden only a five-minute drive away.

It’s a beautiful place, with acres of parkland, ornamental gardens, a café and a stumpery, and of course there’s the house itself. Built in the Regency period, it has a stunning rotunda which sadly is being renovated at the moment so is covered with a very impressive amount of scaffolding, but still gave hints of how magnificent it is.

We got “lost” in the woods, picked and ate wild blackberries as we walked, had a very large lunch in the orangery and I introduced my friend to sticky toffee pudding, which judging by the happy noises she made whilst eating it, she enjoyed very much.

We wandered around the inside of the house, looking at all the fabulous artwork and antiques, and finished with a stroll about the garden and stumpery. Before clambering back into my car and trundling home after a full day of walking which had left us all exhausted.

Amazing fungi seen in the woodland

Thursday morning, I ran them to the station, and we said goodbye with promises to stay in touch and meet up again. The staying in touch bit I’m sure we will, but as to whether we’ll ever meet again, who knows if they’ll ever be in my “neck of the woods” again, or if I’ll ever be in theirs. But, like I said, who knows. Life is large and full of surprises.

Talking of surprises, this is the conversation I had with Miss F on Wednesday afternoon as I was cooking the meal for us all.

“It’s lucky they’re coming tonight and not Friday.”

“Not really, why? It wouldn’t have made any difference.”

“Sure, it would, I mean, it would have been awkward, what with having all my friends over for a sleepover.”

“Wait! What? Sleepover? What sleepover?”

“The one I’m having Friday night.”

“Well, when were you going to run it past me?”

“Mum, I did, ages ago, and you said it was fine.”

Now, Miss F is always doing this to me, springing a surprise on me and claiming we’ve already discussed it at some length, and I’ve agreed to it. And whilst it’s true I do have vague memories of chatting about a possible sleepover, nothing had been concretely agreed and it hadn’t been written on the calendar. My calendar, which hangs in the kitchen, is like the Bible to me. If something is written down on the calendar then it is real, it is actually going to happen. If it’s not, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s still only a vague concept liable to the whims of life.

like something out of pre-history – the stumpery at Ickworth Park

So, Friday rolls around, I run my friends to the station and then immediately have to start thinking sleepover. How many girls? What time are they coming? Where are they all going to sleep? We had to rush up town to buy a new blow up mattress as our old one had sprung a leak and kept deflating. Miss F’s old sleeping bag had finally been thrown away the year before, so a new one of those had to be purchased as well. Then there was the question of food, like most parents of teenagers I’ve given up on the trying to get healthy food into them all the time shenanigans, so I just gave Miss F £15 and sent her to Iceland (cheap frozen food shop for all non UK residents – I mean, I didn’t send her to the actual country of Iceland – it would have cost a lot more than £15 for a start) to buy all the pizzas, ice cream, fizzy drinks and snacks she felt one small group of girls could possibly consume in one evening.

Then we were occupied with blowing up a reluctant mattress, trying to find enough pillows for everyone and clean bed linen. Miss F’s suggestion that they occupy all the bedrooms and leave me on the sofa bed downstairs, I nipped firmly in the bud. It’s not very comfortable, and I didn’t fancy the chronic backache sleeping on it would cause, also, as I had no idea what time they’d finally hit the sack, the thought of not being able to go to bed until they did was not an appealing one.

So, a compromise was made, I would sacrifice my bedroom. Two of the girls could bunk down in my big bed, with a third on the now blown up mattress – luckily numbers had been whittled down to just four including Miss F, so that would leave her in her own room, and me on the day bed in the office. It’s actually a really sweet and cosy little room at the back of the house. It’s overlooking the garden so it’s quiet, and as it’s over the kitchen and set back from the other bedrooms, I was hopeful I wouldn’t be disturbed too much. The day bed turns into a proper single bed with a very comfortable mattress, so I felt I’d be better off in there and could go to bed whenever I wanted to.

Dragon bones?

It all seemed to work out very well. They completely trashed the kitchen putting extra toppings on the basic cheese pizzas Miss F had bought and cooking them, and I then cleared it all up once they’d vanished back into the lounge to stuff their faces, watch films and play games. I made it until midnight, curled up on the sofa in the dining room so out of their way, but on hand if needed. Happily settled with my kindle and my tablet, I finished a book and caught up on notifications on social media until the clock struck twelve, my coach turned into a pumpkin and I toddled off to my little bed, which looked very inviting in the lamplight. I read for a few moments, but the excitement and exertions of the past few days finally caught up with me and I fell asleep, not hearing a thing until I woke next morning at 8.30am, an unbelievably late hour for me! The length of my sleep proving just how exhausted I was.

Nobody else emerged until an hour later, and it transpired they hadn’t gone to bed until almost 3am! This made me doubly glad I’d turned down the offer of the sofa bed!

Question: Why is it called a sleepover when nobody actually gets any sleep?

But they all seemed to have had a good time, eating enough carb crap food to clog their systems for a week, and drinking enough fizzy to launch the Hindenburg!

Fabulous antique desk used by the housekeeper in days gone by

And now it’s Saturday afternoon again, and I am writing my blog at the last minute, again! One day I will get organised and write my blog earlier in the week, maybe even prepare several blogs in advance. This is not that day.

And what about the tax refund claim, I hear you cry. Next on the list, my friends, next on the list.

Slightly shorter blog this week, but at least I’ve made up for it with some pretty pictures of Ickworth Park, which I hope you enjoyed seeing.

And don’t forget, if you’re ever in my neck of the woods, we really must meet up!

All the best

Julia Blake

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