Summer is the time of year when the number of unexpected and uninvited guests increases. People are in an expansive mood and may decide to go on visiting rounds. If you are like me, this can cause anxiety. Borer Towers is never ready for surprise visitors. The magic that makes people love our house requires five hours of sparkling conversation and thirteen bottles of wine (any kind).
Over the holidays, it becomes blindingly obvious there are two types of people in this world: those who like to pop in, and those who prefer to arrange their visit in advance. Before we go any further, let me make a confession. I live a double life. To the outside world I am polished, organised, groomed and refined. However, at home, I like to relax. A lot. I am sometimes so relaxed, it is a state closely resembling coma.
But back to popping in. The economist thinks its pretentious to schedule a visit, “as the Queen might,” plus, he loves the pop in because the person he feels compelled to visit might not actually be there. “I'm all about the gesture,” he says. Personally, I enjoy the arranged visit. Unlike an arranged marriage, both of you know what you're getting, and when. Participants have got their game faces on and, more important, their knickers.
These variant visiting behaviors say much about a person. The pop-inner is prepared to leave things to chance, to risk disappointment and an unsettling glimpse of friends at their worst. “Its exciting,” claims the economist. “As you put hand to knocker, you wonder, will it be answered, and by whom? Its the Russian roulette of social intercourse.” An arranger or book-ahead-er, on the other hand, takes no chances, isn't prepared to see people au natural – enjoys life staged, curated, pristine. Life with its buttons done up. Arrangers can't handle the truth.
Short of moving and not telling people your new address, there is no way to avoid uninvited and unannounced visitors. They are a fact of life and a reason to buy biscuits. And the truth is many New Zealanders were raised in areas where spontaneous descent with kids in tow is quite the norm, towns where boasts are frequently made of doors always being open (there is nothing wrong with this. It is lovely – proof you are not dangerous). However, because of this, they know the etiquette of the pop in: there is no obligation to entertain and no hurt feelings if you are genuinely busy or just not in the mood for company. With this in mind, it is best to think of these rat-a-tat-tatting randoms as roaming herds of tea-and-conversation-seeking buffalo. Placid, aimless, ultimately harmless.
Dropping in frequency depends a lot on a persons' age. As you get older, life gets more complicated and quiet time-out from myriad commitments increasingly rare, so rates of popping in decrease. Because I work from home and am most industrious in the mornings, my friends and family know not to visit before 2pm, or face a blank stare and confused lack of recognition during a prolonged and irritable return to focus.
So it was that, having long been a fan of planning and set receiving hours, it was strange to last week discover the arranged visit is not without its health complications. A fine Dunedin summer's day, the economist and I were out at the bach. Himself, surging with testosterone, was busy fixing things while I did nothing (actually, I was trying to get through The Bone Clocks and having a Luminaries moment of implied imbecility). Out of the corner of my eye, a man who looked a lot like my boyfriend trotted past, stripped to the waist, carrying a wood splitter. I read the same line four times before a meaty thud roused me from my divan in time to witness the economist trudging back up the path, sporting a finger closely resembling a squashed tomato.
“Its broken,” I said. “You'll have to go to the hospital.”
“No its not,” he said, gritting his teeth with Presbyterian stoicism and fear of stitches. “And anyway, we've got guests coming for a BBQ. We can't just leave.”
Two days later, finger now papal purple, the waiting room of the urgent doctors was filled with staff from the School of Business, illustrating just how dangerous holidays can be for academics. No appointment was necessary.