Our parents are elderly, our friends have busy lives and elderly parents of their own to look after, so babysitters are thin on the ground.
When our older children were little we would gather with friends at each other’s houses on weekend afternoons, so that we could all take our children along with us. That doesn’t happen so often now that our children are growing up.
Although one or two of our friends still have young children, and still entertain in this way, it is more difficult for us to participate.
Freddie has no sense of danger, is inquisitive, mischievous, and an enthusiastic absconder.
We have to keep all outside doors, and all windows locked, and the gates bolted. Our friends houses and gardens do not have to be as secure as ours, and it seems rude and presumptuous to start imposing our needs on them when we go to their home – could you lock this and close that, and could you put those away?
Although we do enjoy their hospitality, we can never fully relax and it’s exhausting.
The solution was obvious.
For years I have wished we could entertain in our own home, where everything is already arranged to suit our needs. But my house is not fit for company, and I am not a good hostess.
My mother was ahead of her time – her house was ‘Pinterest-perfect’ forty years too soon.
I was an only child, my parents both had well-paid jobs and free live-in childcare courtesy of my grandmother.
When my mum wasn’t working she was cleaning, decorating, or shopping for the perfect accessories.
Her taste was expensive, solid, restrained, and obsessively co-ordinated.
Entertaining was a ceremony. A white lace cloth was laid, the ‘best’ Doulton dinner service was brought out and filled with food from Marks and Spencer, best clothes were put on at the last minute and kept clean.
I gave up work when I had children, and as both the youngest and eldest have additional needs, I have not returned.
In my house there are three children, two adults and one income.
The furniture is mismatched, accessories are cheap and cheerful. On the bookcase, alongside one or two ‘coffee table’ books, are piles of paperbacks that have been dropped in the bath, and Freddie’s collection of plastic dinosaurs and diggers.
After twenty years of marriage the matching wedding-present crockery sets have long since degenerated into a randomly assorted selection of different designs and shapes.
We’ve never had a ‘Dinner service.’
Then I read an article about ‘Scruffy Hospitality’, that is, opening up your home, and yourselves, honestly to your friends, inviting them to share what you have and accept you as you are, without worrying whether your home is ‘picture-perfect.’
I realised that, even before Freddie came along, I could not have told you whether or not my friends had dusted before hosting us, whether their carpets were new or threadbare, or whether their crockery matched, or contained food that was home-made or store-bought.
What I could tell you is that the food was tasty, and the company and conversation were excellent.
So I decided to take the plunge, and invited friends over for Sunday lunch.
I did worry what they’d think about this informal approach to entertaining, but I needn’t have.
One friend turned up having done some shopping on the way, and asked if he could put the perishables in our fridge.
My mother-in-law turned up unexpectedly and we had to grab an old chair out of the garage, plonk a cushion on it, and squash her in at a corner of the table.
I didn’t plate up, everyone just helped themselves from a variety of containers placed in the middle of the table, and there was little left at the end.
Our rag-tag crockery attracted no comment, but we were complimented on the roast potatoes.
Freddie played on his faded plastic slide while we enjoyed coffee and cakes in the garden.
When he’d had enough he went inside and put on a DVD, we could see him through the window and knew he was OK.
I thought ‘If we invite them back and they don’t come, then we’ll know it didn’t work’.
But arrangements were made even before our guests, our friends, left.
We felt so much better for having had the company. It turns out scruffy hospitality is not a shabby idea.