There's a man in my lounge. It's 8.30am and I am being as quiet as I can be, so as not to wake him. I am sat on my red chair, next to my oven, silently drinking coffee. I do not want to disturb the man. His low snores and grunts drift around my flat. He is my houseguest, and so I let him sleep.
It wasn't planned. The overground from Dalston Junction was out of action last night owing to a fire at Brondesbury. The results were far-reaching and, on a personal level – owing to the fact that he was stranded while on my watch – I ended up with this man. He falls, I suppose, into the category of 'unexpected houseguest'. AKA, a bloody nightmare.
It's a funny thing having a man descend upon you, and not a situation I'm altogether skilled at coping with. One minute you're on the verge of zapping back to your pad and dealing with the night alone, the next you are unlocking the door with a man in tow and having lots of conversations about bedding. That's what we had last night. Me and the man falling into the lounge and drinking pints of Worthington's; him negotiating for something warm to be draped over him. I could see it from his point of view, of course. He is a man, so in order to sleep he needs warmth, but even so. I wanted to go to bed, not improvise nests. I rooted out a duvet and hid my disgust.
Of course, the style of the houseguest is crucial in these situations. If your houseguest is a 55-year-old businessman who prides himself on being "no trouble", then that is very different from taking in a drunken cousin, which in turn differs wildly from dragging home a barmaid/man. The chap currently in my lounge (and snoring like a gunman) is none of the above. What is through there is a big Scouse unit. I've known that snore for 13 years, and have had him as a houseguest possibly 25 times. Of all his qualities (brilliant theatre director, passionate Liverpool fan, more than useful lower-order batsman) being 'no trouble' is some way down the list. The discarded plates, half-full of an overambitious ginger and chilli risotto, "rattled up" seven hours ago and now balancing in the sink, are testament to that.
The problem I have is that storing a houseguest doesn't quite fit into the life of a working columnist. As a reader, you maybe wouldn't appreciate this, but filling this page is more or less a full-time commitment. I spend, on average, four or five hours an evening and a couple of full days pulling together a column.
If three of my allocated hours are spent necking peach schnapps, watching poker and hunting for sheets for the comfort of a man's back, my journalism inevitably suffers.
Fair to say, I am much better being a houseguest than taking one in. I'll really throw myself into the role with gusto. I'll impishly crack open rum, make a play for the host's bed and spend the morning plodding round naked and terrorising any flatmate, wife or tradesman who gets in my way. For a decade or so that was my bread and butter. I've slept on maybe 75 sofas over the years, as well as five armchairs, two stools and a potty. It's not as if I can't empathise with my man's plight. It's just... it's such a responsibility. You have to make sure they are hydrated, you have to tuck them in all nice, you have to constantly check they're OK. I popped in on my man at three and then again at five. I touched his forehead to check for fever. I was the perfect host.
My houseguest's stretch is almost done. Soon I will tip him back out on to the street, happy that I have fulfilled my social requirements. I have met his demands of warmth and fluid, and I have written a column commemorating his visit. Mi casa su casa, Clive. You're welcome any time (within reason).