Thursday, 5 November 2009

Fish and Visitors

This article was first published by The Bournemouth Echo on 26th October 2009 and also by The Blog Paper on the same date.

Benjamin Franklin once said “Fish and visitors stink after three days”. I would agree with that.

I have just had my aged, spinster cousin to stay for two weeks. I usually have her to stay two or three times a year “for a week” which invariably organically grows into a fortnight or three weeks. A fortnight, on this occasion, was at least (if I’d have actually taken note of the Franklin quote) eleven days too many. I returned her to her own home on Saturday and believe that if she’d have stayed just one day more, I would have had to have been sectioned.

The people who follow me on Twitter were becoming used to my references to “Fanny in the corner”. My cousin’s name is not Fanny but it would have seemed rude to have used her real name – and, anyway, Fanny suits her. The line “Fanny in the corner” was, of course, on Twitter open to many interpretations – NONE of which did I understand!

My cousin is a frighteningly skinny Fanny. I’m fairly convinced that the only time she eats a square meal is when she visits us although she insists that she is very independent, goes out shopping every day and “takes care of herself”. How, then, does she always manage to look healthier and heavier after her visits to us than she does when she arrives?

She is very, very deaf and barely understands a word that anyone says to her – unless the word “food” is mentioned. Her ears suddenly clear at breakfast, lunchtime and at dinner. And although she doesn’t speak very clearly either these days, she speaks clearly enough to say “Oh, okay then” when I ask her if she’d like extra toast at breakfast time, two rounds of sandwiches rather than one at lunchtime and double portions of everything at dinner time.

She doesn’t “do” much when she’s with us. She’s an early riser, enjoys a leisurely breakfast which “has to be digested” properly by sitting in her dressing gown in one corner of the sofa until at least 11.00am, after which she goes back upstairs to perform her ablutions. She manages to get back downstairs just in time for her two rounds of sandwiches at lunchtime.

Several attempts at conversation are started but not finished. I am hoarse from responding to her fangled speech and however loudly I speak, it is never quite loudly enough. Fanny’s afternoons are spent “reading” which involves opening a book and then falling asleep and dribbling on the unturned page.

When I start to prepare dinner, Fanny follows me into the kitchen and manages to stand exactly where I need to be at any one given point in time. I am not a patient person. After about ten minutes, I gently say to her ... “You’re on holiday – why don’t you go and sit down” which she does & falls asleep again until dinner is ready.

After dinner, I think she enquires whether I’d like any help in clearing up in the kitchen. Last time I said “Yes”, she not only attempted to empty the scraps from the plates into the waste disposal but also the cutlery. These days, I say, “No, you’re on holiday – why don’t you just relax” – which she does, once again installing herself in the corner of the sofa.

She is of the belief that as my son and I spend a fair deal of time on our own because my husband works away from home quite a lot, I am in need of adult company which means that she will stay up until I suggest that it’s “probably” her bedtime. She’s probably right ... I probably would appreciate a little adult company but she isn’t able to provide this as mainly, once the TV is switched on she, I think, tells me that she’s finding whatever happens to be on, very interesting and promptly falls asleep and dribbles on the open TV guide.

Occasionally I ask her if she’s still interested in what we’re watching which causes her to sit bolt upright and tell me that she IS watching the television and that she’s NOT asleep, the exertions of which cause her to fall asleep again almost immediately. She does, however, wake up when I mention that I’m going to make a cup of tea and she also manages to speak clearly enough to respond to my enquiries regarding biscuits. The answer never varies – “Oh a few of the ones I had last night, would be nice”. Once refreshments have been consumed the sleeping and dribbling resume quite quickly again.

At about midnight, I say to her that I’m thinking of going to bed. I am lying. I turn the television off & Fanny prepares to go upstairs. I am to be kissed goodnight. This isn’t a pleasant experience but a small price to pay to have my sofa to myself for an hour or two before I actually DO go to bed and, I can wash the dribbly kiss off in the downstairs loo once I can hear that she’s at the top of the stairs.

I’m about the only member of my family who bothers with her and she does seem to enjoy her stays with us. But three days WOULD be enough and, at the risk of appearing on some Age Concern hit list, I’m prepared to admit that I am truly not a very nice person!


  1. So when are you spending a month's holiday at her place ? :)

  2. Just read this it made me laugh. It summed up what happens in so many households during the course of a year. My old Aunt did much the same when she stayed with us but she always had a little bottle of "Magic Juice" which helped her through the day. Like you I must be a horrible person because to be honest I could not wait to see the back of her when she went home. When she passed away 3 years ago my house seemed very quiet for those 2 weeks in June when she use to visit. But it has meant I get to see the start of Wimbledon without the tutting that use to accompany it!