A Scottish summer and the guests from hell

You and your big mouth, said my husband after the ordeal, and for once he was right

APART FROM drowning, poisoning or battering them to death with a golf club, there must be a simple way of getting rid of unwanted house guests. Don't misunderstand me. I love having people to stay. I once heard Elizabeth Maxwell, widow of the late, unlamented Robert, talking about the endless trouble she took to make her guests comfortable. In my modest way (unlike the Maxwells in their heyday we don't have 40 bedrooms and staff) I try to do the same.

What I chiefly remember about Mrs Maxwell's thoughts on hospitality was her claim that the success of a visit stands or falls by what the hostess puts on her guests' bedside table. Flowers, naturally, but please, no spray carnations - only home grown sweet peas preferably pink, purple and white in a tall narrow-necked pottery jug. The devil is in the detail, advised Mrs M and you have to admit she knew a thing or two about devils.

Next to the flowers she would place an ornamental tea caddy full of almond biscuits, a box of tissues, an ashtray, a small pair of scissors, a notepad and matching pencil, an antique bibelot of some kind and three books. The bibelot didn't have to be flashy like a Ming dragon, which in any case took up too much space, but it should have a certain curiosity value. A pair of 18th century egg cups attributed to the Catherine the Great with scenes of the Winter Palace painted on them would do. And if you had a couple staying you could put one on either side - such fun.

The first stumbling block is that there are no bedside tables anywhere in our house in Scotland, the one to which I'm always inviting friends for the summer. It was designed by student architects who believed in "spatial integrity" and "shadow gaps" and "sleeping areas" rather than conventional bedrooms. People often get lost trying to find it and, though we say it's at the far end of the island by the lighthouse, they return to the phone box by the ferry and call us.

"Where are you, we got as far as the telephone exchange," or "are you anywhere near that fish factory?" We are the exchange, we are the fish factory, we explain - but that's another story.

In any case it's not the lack of bedside tables or bibelots that daunts friends from visiting us up here. It's the distance - and the weather, of course. "I'd love to, Sue, but I simply can't face that journey. We used to have a house on Islay," says my best friend in Battersea, who takes her family off to the Club Med in Tunisia instead. People on the way to climb mountains in Skye or fish in Orkney come and see us and, because Skye climbers and Orcadian fishermen are essentially interesting people, I wish they'd stay longer. It was the Biggins family, the guests from hell, well Maida Vale, who came one summer to collect their son Barnaby who've made us wary of ever having people to stay again.

We didn't officially invite them. We said we could put Barnaby on the sleeper at Fort William but Mr Biggins said, no, they'd never been to Scotland. They'd drive up to collect him. Fine, I said, come and stay for a couple of days. You and your big mouth, said my husband viciously after the ordeal, and for once he was right.

To be fair, it wasn't all their fault. That was the year the pump packed up and we had no water. We had to get it in buckets from the burn but, since there were other kids staying - there were 12 of us, variously packed into the sleeping areas - it didn't really matter. Two more Bigginses wouldn't make any difference. Wrong again. There were four Bigginses waiting on the jetty. Mr and Mrs, Barnaby's older brother Ben and the Spanish au pair girl. "It'll be a bit of a squash," I began, but Mr B cut me short. He'd been a scout master. He could cope with anything. Mrs B immediately rearranged my cupboards and Mr B had all the children in teams hammering wooden stakes into the ground to carry an extension lead to the outside shed so that he could rearrange our tools after dark. All I saw of Ben Biggins was his backside as he bent to forage in the fridge for food. "It's an island you know, Ben, there's only one shop," I began. But Mrs Biggins would bustle in and say she'd get the kids to cycle to the shop, buy a load of food and put it on my account.

After a week I told the Biggins we had other friends coming and 16 was about as much as the house would hold. "Don't worry we can sleep in the shed," said Mr B. After 10 days my husband remembered we'd been invited to a wedding in Sutherland and we left for three days. When we returned the Biggins were still there. Fortunately soon after Barnaby broke his arm falling off a cliff and they took the next ferry to Oban. "Why is your number four iron behind the bathroom door?" I asked my husband. No idea, he said.

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past