BACK from visiting Beth in Newcastle last Saturday, and Ian had returned from collecting his train set – sorry, model railway – from Wales. So virtually no food in the house, but it didn’t really matter: we were tired and a quiet weekend loomed. Bliss.
Then – “I’m looking forward to seeing Iain and Dave tomorrow,” chirps Ian at bedtime. Tomorrow? I’d completely forgotten. The Iain in question is Iain Rice, Ian’s model railway hero who’s on a countrywide trip with fellow enthusiast Dave Doe from Holland, and calling in for a couple of days. I’m not feeling very hospitable or conversational, and apart from the usual boring freezer fare can’t think how I’m going to rustle up a meal or two worthy of guests. They arrive, with Iain’s Jack Russell, Lexi, who makes herself at home on the back of the sofa and barks at the neighbour’s cat as it slinks provocatively past the railings. Harry thinks she’s the bee’s knees and follows her everywhere. And slowly the realisation dawns – these are low-maintenance visitors. Meals are appreciated, and definitely not picked at; nobody asks for a recipe or manifests a weird dietary need; dogs are walked, trains talked, conversation flows – and they bring chocolates. They disappear into the model railway room for hours at a time, staying there until the early hours of the morning.
“Are the trains running ok, then?” is my innocent question. “There aren’t any trains yet,” says Ian. “I’ve only just set up the layout.” So what did they do for all those hours in the biggest room in the house? “We talked. And planned. And – well, that was it, really.” But why did that take so many hours? “They just couldn’t see how I was going to fit the finished layout into such a confined space, basically.” Well, funnily enough, I can . . .