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On a Personal Note: Getting out of hand.

We’re expecting visitors next weekend, which means that we are currently engaged in Cleaning The House. For someone like me who spent many years as a bachelor, this is a fairly traumatic experience.

I can no longer get away with gathering together all my junk and hiding it in a cupboard. Neither can I use all those time-saving techniques I developed because, of course, I am now married and so I have to do everything the way my wife would do it. This usually means second-guessing my wife, because when she says “Just put it anywhere,” the last thing she wants me to do is to put it anywhere. The unspoken second half of the sentence is: “…as long as it’s the right place.”

Our multimedia paradise

Of course, although I am partly responsible for all the clutter in this place, my wife does have to accept the major part of the blame. It is she who is incapable of walking past a second-hand bookshop without going in and saying, “How much for the lot?” and so it is entirely her fault that we have more books than our local library. And not just books either: cassette tapes, CDs and vinyl records also feature heavily in our household, along with a random cuddly toy here and there. Recently, we’ve also been acquiring DVDs at an alarming rate but not, sadly, anywhere to put them.

We’ve created a monster!

It’s not just the tidying and cleaning that’s occupying our thoughts at the moment. We’ve created a monster — a metaphorical monster, but a monster all the same. In the time-honoured out-of-controlled-snowball fashion, what began as an inoccuous idea has grown into something that makes organising the Olympic Games look childishly simple.

The original idea was to invite my family, my wife’s family and a few friends to a barbecue and hope that everyone gets along. That’s all.

It is a nightmare. At the top of the list is the big question of how you actually organise something like a barbecue when among your guests are some vegetarians, someone who gets allergic reactions from red meat and monosodium glutamate and another person who can’t cope with wheat. But that, as it turns out, is the least of our worries.

The sheer scale of things became apparent when we sat down to write a list of people to invite. “Just close family and friends” somehow mutated into “half of Germany and a sprinkling of other nations”. It is a little-known fact that merely printing out the guest list would endanger an area of tropical rain-forest the size of North Carolina. This was even before we got to the stage of “if we invite them, then we’ll have to invite him as well”.

Of cheese, soccer and rain-forests

Even fixing a date proved a real problem. We selected a weekend in the middle of June only to discover that there was a soccer match on at Frankfurt. Not just any soccer match either: Portugal versus Iran in the first round of the World Cup. Two days earlier, England play Trinidad and Tobago in nearby Nuremberg. The upshot of this is that my family would only be able to make it on that weekend if they mortgaged their souls as well as sharing a plane with increasingly drunk England fans, which was clearly out of the question.

The new date is at least workable, but has the slight disadvantage that it’s also the date of our village’s cheese festival. Instead of sharing a plane with drunk England fans, my parents have to share a guest-house with smelly cheese fans. And why can’t we put them up in our house? Because we don’t have room for them. We only have room for my sister, as long as she doesn’t mind being folded into a space between Breakfast at Tiffany’s on DVD and a collection of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

All that is bad enough, but of course we managed to have a misunderstanding and now I discover that my family are arriving a day earlier than I had thought.

Shopping lists and to-do lists have been drawn up (another rain-forest gone) and scribbled on, local farmers alerted, barbecue grills borrowed and local fire brigades put on stand-by. The list of things to organise and think about grows daily. Just the other day, my wife came back, wild-eyed and in a cold sweat, from a quick visit to her aunt. “Tablecloths!” she exclaimed. Apparently, auntie had casually asked what sort of tablecloths we were going to be using, something which we hadn’t even begun to consider.

All this, I keep telling myself, will be over soon. It will all be in the past, with only photographs to remind us of the great event. Until then, I think I might just go temporarily mad. Not, as my wife would be quick to point out, that anyone would notice the difference.

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