Saturday, 5 July 2014

Staying overnight

What's your attitude to offers of overnight hospitality? Do you gratefully accept them, or insist (for whatever reason) on Being Independent and Going Home Regardless? I get such offers regularly, and always decline them gracefully but very firmly.

The commonest situation is an evening with friends in Brighton. This usually involves a jolly good meal; but with it, two or even three glasses of wine. And especially if the meal is in someone's home, an offer will be made for me to sleep comfortably overnight on a proper bed, or at least on a very inviting couch. With the implication of a nice breakfast in the morning too. And no worries if I want to doze a bit before facing the day.

It sounds pleasant, doesn't it? And I fully believe that I would feel royally treated. But I always refuse.

If the offer rests on a concern that I may have imbibed a little too much alcohol, or it's so late that I must in any case be very, very tired, then it has to be resisted - it's just nannying.

I am not a child. I do have mature judgement. And I am very self-aware. I know exactly when I have become too tired, and must go home and get some sleep. I know just as accurately what my alcohol limit is. My HRT has made me measurably less able to drink the quantities that I once could. I know what is tolerable for personal comfort. I should perhaps mention that I drink only wine, gin-and-tonic, and the very occasional liqueur. Nothing fancier. And if a doctor forbade me from having alcohol ever again, I would comply without protest. It's only a social oil. That said, I do like sipping wine during good conversation. This seems to me the best use of wine, the Greek use. It's positive, life-enhancing, but hardly vital for a full and meaningful existence.

I hate the bad things about alcohol. Alcohol as a drug, to soften emotional pain or loneliness or worry. Alcohol as a stimulant, to release the inhibitions. The alcohol that makes you feel out of control, forgetful, clumsy, crass, and gives you a headache.

It must be donkey's years since I was tipsy, but I do remember what it was like: that dreadful sensation of not being mentally acute, of feeling off-balance; bumping into things, dropping things, and not making complete sense when speaking. There is no way I would want anybody to see me in that state, nor any state approaching it. It wouldn't be fun, or cool. It would be embarrassing. I'd feel I was letting myself down badly.

So if I really thought that I was heading that way, or (thinking ahead, as I habitually do) I had seen that it would be unavoidable - as it might be if I were attending a hen night - then I would have arranged nearby overnight accommodation, fixed up in advance. And for preference, accommodation that was impersonal, in case I woke up feeling stale and dishevelled. I don't want anyone seeing me bleary and not at my best. The world must understand that I plan my social life so that I am never too tired, nor too mellow, to get home safely. If I had any doubts about that, then I would accept whatever congenial overnight hospitality were offered. The nightmare and consequences of losing sharp focus while driving home are too awful.

Another reason for politely refusing hospitality is my independent streak, and the cluster of considerations that bolster it.

A refreshing night's sleep is something I look forward to, and it's best achieved in familiar surroundings, with one's own standard bedtime routine. I want to consume a small bowl of favourite cereal; drink a glass of cold milk; clean my teeth; and then have a good wash after hanging up my clothes properly. I want a glass of water by my bed. I want to say goodnight to Ted or Rosie, or both. All these small elements in my bedtime ritual help to prepare me for slumber. Even when away from home, in my caravan, the routine is exactly the same.

And of course I like my own firm bed, and just-so pillows. Even the subliminal little whirring, hissing and creaking noises my house makes as it settles down for the night play their part in relaxing me. These noises are different and fewer in the caravan, but there is still a characteristic range of sounds - the odd click from the fridge, the breeze outside - that soothe, and gently close the eyelids.

Deprive me of my routine, and all the familiar sounds of night in my own home (or home-on-wheels), and I will not get to sleep so readily.

Waking up somewhere other than my own house or caravan would, I know, be confusing, unnerving and potentially awkward. I very often wake during the night, and (although I may not strictly need to) I will grope my way to the toilet, then to the bathroom, before settling down again. This is almost without conscious thought. It relies on familiar surroundings. With things like light switches and doors and taps in their proper place. I don't move around in total darkness, but it's not unlike how a blind person might get around. I don't want bright lights - they would wake me up. An unfamiliar environment would force me to wake up, and then it might not be so simple to get back to sleep.

And then in the morning, certain issues will arise. I always wake up early, before seven, making no distinction between which day of the week it might be. I want an immediate cup of tea, and an early breakfast. I must urgently take my blood-pressure tablets. I don't want conversation. I don't want TV. I want to wake up quietly in the course of half an hour, and then get on with stuff. So a household that doesn't get going before eight would be awkward for me. Or one that, once alive, is going to detain me, and stop me getting on with my own plans for the day. I will have a list of Things To Do Today on my phone. I'll be eager to start ticking them off. Morning is the time of day when I get things done, and make progress. I hate wasting a good start. Even more, I hate being housebound if a fantastic sunrise is begging a photo.

I know, I'm inflexible and a pain. Take note then, and don't risk a rebuff by offering me hospitality that I am bound to refuse except in unusual circumstances. Or if I do accept, be prepared for me to show signs of polite haste to fly back to my own little world.

And don't, above all, think that I dislike driving at night. I love it. Who wouldn't, in a car like Fiona? Even if it's an eighty-mile journey. A short hop from Brighton is nothing. Trust me.


  1. I do understand where you're coming from. But for me, it's a positive joy to have overnight guests. And as I'm a late riser and the guest room is downstairs, you have the run of downstairs to yourself till I stir! so making a cuppa and waking slowly is both easy and private. I do hope that if you're up my way you will make an exception to your rule and stay with me - I'd really appreciate it!

  2. I can't promise, Sarah, despite the charm and warmth of your offer.

    And I can't, full stop, if caravanning because of on-site fire and flood regulations which debar anyone from leaving their caravan unoccupied overnight, except by special arrangement with the wardens. I imagine that means surrender of caravan keys to allow their entry; switching off alarms, unlocking all physical anti-theft devices, and winding up the corner steadies, to push the caravan off-pitch in an emergency; and possibly disconnection from the mains electricity, thus putting one's frozen food at risk of defrosting. What a palaver!

    Sorry. But I do want to visit Newcastle, not just pass through, and am happy to be your daytime guest!


  3. There is a long tradition of me waking Sarah at 8.30am precisely with a cup of tea, whenever one of us visits the other. You'd hate it; my wife scarcely believes it; I feel a warm glow of contentment and Sarah loves it.

    This same service may well be available at your chosen campsite, but I make no promises.

    Yours (tongue-in-cheekily),

  4. Oh, nobody has brought me a cup of tea, let alone breakfast in bed, since I left home in the 1970s. Sundry girl friends, my divorced spouse, and my ex-partner who followed, scorned to do so. Well, I can't recall a single occasion, and I tend to have a long memory for such things. I did it for them, of course. One of you always does. It becomes one's official job.

    8.30am? And still asleep? If caravanning I've dressed, breakfasted, and emptied the toilet cassette by then...


  5. If ever you came my way then you could park the caravan on the driveway and do your own thing. I would be up washed and dressed and looking out of the window making sure you got up at 7.30!

    Shirley Anne x

  6. I am very lucky to have such warm friends. But honestly I must do my own thing, and remain truly independent. You can say 'stubbornly independent' if you like, but I insist on as much space as I need, and certainly my own arrangements.

    Some people I know can't see why I crave so much solitude. One or two are going crazy from lack of a special person to share their life with, and consider me very odd. To which I say: we are all different.



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