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Perfect September 20, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Oh god. I’ve got guests coming. For three whole nights. And the Russian isn’t here. And I can’t cook. And we’ve only got one set of keys, and you can’t just go and get keys cut in Germany as, when you walk into a key-cutting shop to ask for them to cut keys, they look at you as if you are a criminal. Presumably the shops are there as part of a non-work work-creating scheme. Or for the key-cutting man who can’t cut keys to practise his skills just in case.

My guests are Finns, so at least from the nicest nation on earth, and my friend, the he in a couple, is perfect. Actually perfect. When I play that game with my old lady friend in England, you know, where you answer the questions that some famous person that you’ve never heard of has been asked in The Guardian, like when did you last have sex and what’s your greatest fear and how would you like to be remembered and there’s the question whom do you most admire, I always answer this Finnish friend. (My old lady answers her daughter. And sniggers at the when did you last have sex question.)

I’m not joking about the perfection. This friend is happy and can do everything. Academically he did something obscure and clever, partly in London (where I met him). He can speak a hundred languages (having a head-start in multilingualism by being a Swedish-speaking Finn). He can sail and do all sorts of clever sports. He can play piano (to the level where he gives concerts, even though it’s something he probably learnt one Thursday evening between rescuing people from an avalanche and finding homes for the indigent). And guitar. He can cook. He can sing. He adores his family and they adore him. He probably adores his new girlfriend and I suppose she adores him. He is charming, kind and modest. He’s got a job which I don’t think he loathes. And, to top it all off, he is tall, wiry and muscly and quite grotesquely beautiful. Who knows? He’s probably hung like a horse and a wizard in the sack too. I don’t know why he’s friends with me at all.

But what do I do with guests for three whole days? I’ll have to feign normality and go to bed at a normal time and get up at a normal time to provide a perfect breakfast. I’ll have to clean the flat so that they don’t catch diphtheria the moment they walk in. (Hopefully they’ve had their jabs.) And I’ll have to cook. Oh god, and I so can’t cook, as I have been reminded with stunning clarity while the Russian’s been away. The problem’s in the herbs. Whatever I cook, I always use the same effing herbs. Oregano, basil, tarragon and thyme. If I make a creamy pasta sauce, it’s oregano, basil, tarragon and thyme. A tomatoey one – oregano, basil, tarragon and thyme. Cheese on toast – oregano, basil, tarragon and thyme. A cup of tea – oregano, basil, tarragon and thyme. Every single dish I make ends up tasting precisely of washing-up liquid.

Oh fuck, and the flat stinks of smoke. Their bedroom – the living-room – is where I do my best smoking and more cigarettes have been smoked in this very room than in a Greek taverna holding a smoking competition. I’ve flung open the windows for the last god-knows-how-long, in spite of the freezingness. I’ve lit the scented candles which stink of cat’s piss. All to no avail. It’s been such a worry that I’ve had to start smoking again – and in this room – to ease the stress. Scrabbled around in jacket pockets to see if there were any fags left over from a spontaneous two-for-the-price-of-one piss-up last night. Thankfully, an elegant sufficiency.

It’s awfully difficult having friends, especially ones who make you feel genetically inferior. It’s times like these when you need a husband. I’m psychically punishing the Russian by sending him texts and e-mails of woe. Thankfully, he’s bored stiff in Russia now – he doesn’t much care for abroad either, it turns out – and wonders if it wouldn’t be the most obscenely preposterous idea for me to actually join him on one of these never-ending Russia trips. Imagine.

Right, I’m off to drink myself senseless.



1. Billy - September 20, 2007

Alcohol would be my solution in a situation like this. I like Finns, they have the drollery down to a fine art.

2. Sylvia - September 21, 2007

I’ve got the Stepford Wife sister in law and company coming on Saturday. Am so not looking forward to it. At least your friend will be good company, unlike the inlaws who delight in taking the piss out of me.

I think I’ll create an emergency elsewhere and disappear for the day.

3. KMS - September 21, 2007

At least you know what the herbs are you use. I use the same ones, I suspect, but they’re all in nameless jars.

4. MountPenguin - September 21, 2007

If you want to save money on candles, I can arrange for copious supplies of cat’s piss.

As far as the smoke goes, something in an environmentally hostile can (30,000 km² of biomass equivalent) like Febreze might be of help; I was once forced into a short term apartment previously occupied by lung cancer fetishists, and amazingly something very similar applied in liberal amounts did the trick (apologies to anyone in the 3rd World who lost their low-lying island).

5. Marsha Klein - September 21, 2007

Just as I decide to take a break from blogging/commenting, so oppressed am I by my multiple imperfections and insecurities, I wander over here only to find you beset by worry and insecurity galore!

OK, we both know Finns are the most perfect race on the planet. Mr K.’s (actually, I think I might start calling him Brian to) Brian’s sister-in-law is beautiful, highly intelligent, kind and my only real friend among my in-laws. However, it seems to me that your visitors are friends with you because you are also beautiful, highly intelligent and kind . Add to that good company, witty, well-mannered and entertaining and I’d say that was a pretty attractive combination. I could go on, but I fear I may have done too much of that in other quarters already!
Now it is perfectly possible, of course, that this post is entirely tongue-in-cheek and you’re not worried in the slightest and are now roaring with laughter at my gullibility (although I don’t think you’d do that because of being such a genuinely nice person). Just in case, though, you are even remotely serious in your insecurity about what they’ll think, can I just say don’t dwell on it. There’s absolutely no sense in getting all knotted up about things like this. Your friends are coming to see and spend time with you, not interviewing a housekeeper. Take them out to eat or buy food that doesn’t need cooking (does Berlin have the equivalent of the M&S ready meal?) Or rope in a friend who can cook to help you out in advance. They sound like lovely people, so relax and enjoy their company.

6. engelsk - September 21, 2007

Hilarious post – I think I laughed out loud at the end of each paragraph!

On the subject of perfection, a former friend of mine (Finnish, in fact – but far from perfect himself) once said: “Let’s just face it – maybe some people really do have everything.” A fine quote, of course. The bitter and twisted part of me, however, consoles itself with the thought that maybe these perfect people have inner demons that gnaw away inside them. The thought makes me happy, at least! (Gosh, I’m so evil…)

7. wyndham - September 21, 2007

I’m sure your Finns are lovely, but I once attempted to chat up not one, but two, Finnish ladies in a bar. They were, how shall we say, of a melancholic nature, and I’m not quite sure who came out of the whole experience the more depressed.

8. narrowback - September 22, 2007

as a long term smoker I’ve found that nothing truly eradicates the lingering stench of cigarette smoke…however a good airing – several hours of windows flung wide open – followed by copious amounts of sandalwood in multiple forms (incense, candles and even a dash or two of sandalwood oil) can mask it in the short term.

it seems our knowledge of herbs is pretty much the same combo tho’ i’ll often add garlic

I’ll echo the others and advise that we all often think our friends have higher expectations of housekeeping and culinary skills than they actually do…they’re not the local health board nor the landlord’s agents looking for a reason to evict your butt.

9. Valerie in San Diego - September 23, 2007

My next-door neighboess (is that a word?) is a Finn, and she has a perfectly manicured garden, which we find terrifying. (Fortunately she and her American husband are quite pleasant as neighbors.) Ack, I’ve typed the word ‘neighbor’ too many times, while ruminating on the American vs British spellings, and now all I can think of is horses.

Anyway, I often entertain such visitors by taking them a tour on all the good restaurants in the area, to mask the fact that I avoid cooking and have no real housekeeping skills. Keeping the lights dim is useful too. And lots of wine…

10. Valerie in San Diego - September 23, 2007

WHY oh why do I always typo on your blog, darling BiB? Of course neighboess isn’t a word. Neighboress might be, though. But WordPress doesn’t think so.

11. Blonde at Heart - September 23, 2007

No need to worry. If he is so perfect, then he would probably wake up before you and conjure a perfect breakfast out of the two eggs and one slice of bread you have in the fridge, and will make you feel like a bad host, but hey, you do not have to feed him – he can do it himself. Seriously now, you really do not have to worry. If he comes to stay for such a long time he comes not for the food but for YOU so you do not have to worry. It will all work itself out and it will be lovely.

12. Tim Footman - September 23, 2007

Hugh FW suggests ringing the changes with rosemary and sage:


But Narrowback’s right – garlic with blimmin’ everything. And it kills intestinal parasites.

13. Arabella - September 26, 2007

It’s ok to laugh like the proverbial drain at your plight/s?
I’ve only known one Finn, years ago, a fellow student at The Really Bad Drama School in London, and I’m afraid he was very creepy.
As for herbs, I’d ditch the tarragon. Use oregano on its own with different things and it can show its versatility. Rosemary too, but be careful – too much and the dish can end up tasting like petrol. Fresh parsley on most anything apart from breakfast cereal. I think I might be bossy. Moving on.
Smoke pong? Would fresh flowers and an open window help? Or you could simply re-do the room to resemble the cafe scene in ‘An American in Paris’ and use the smell as an extension of the decor.

14. pleite - September 26, 2007

Arabella, thank you. Please do laugh. And I’ll bear in mind ditching the tarragon. I’m wondering if thyme is also the devil, potentially.

Tim, thank you too, and I need to befriend sage, which I think I love, more. I think my only domestic major oversight of the stay was having no garlic in the house, which I’d remembered I’d forgotten to buy, but didn’t remember to remember to buy any.

BaH, you’re right. And, do you know, he did cook. He contributed to breakfast – including throwing out the mouldy jam I’d happily placed on the table – and cooked the whole meal the last night which was, it goes without saying, utterly perfect.

Valerie, do you know, with the perfect dinner, on the last night, white wine was deemed the order of the day as salmon was the dinner’s chief ingredient. (I hate having to pretend to want white wine with fish, but anyway.) We all sensibly had a glass and naturally I suggested lashing the rest of the bottle into our three glasses once we’d eaten our fill, but my perfect guests refused, so I had to pretend I didn’t want any more.

Narrowback, and of course you are right that the friends weren’t here to make me pass an exam in my own life. They were lovely and perfect and very easy.

Wynders, my Finns are post-morose. Or just happen never to have been it. And I love a bit of moroseness. I was once chatted up by a Finn in Finland and he was scarily unshy and forthright. I cried and said I’d kill myself by overeating salty liquorice if he didn’t leave me alone.

Engelsk, I’m not sure this friend has any inner demons. There are things he hates about living in Finland – chiefly the climate – but I don’t think he is ever tormented. I wonder if one day he’ll go on the rampage and kill half his home town? No, he couldn’t.

Marshypops, no, honest guv, I really was shitting my pants. Chiefly because of having to do it all alone. And because I have no domestic skills. And I had/have a ton of work to do. And I just have to worry about everything, which is trying. But it all passed off well, though the friend is worryingly perfect. (Don’t go anti-blog. The blog world is being depleted enough as it is.)

Penguin, I am so far going for the dreary old open-window system. Though as coldness now seems to have become permanent, my smokarium’s about to become very stinky and closed-windowish again. Is your cat hypoallergenic?

DZ, sticky labels, sticky labels! Sniff and label. The wrong herb can be disastrous. I’ll never forget the time I had coriander with pasta and it was all just too damned wrong. And the French guests who also partook couldn’t help express their surprise.

Sylvia, bad luck. That sounds terrible, and I hope you survived it. How dare visitors take the piss? I hope you did escape, actually. Livid on your behalf.

Billy, alcohol is, indeed, a very good friend. As I’ve said, they refused a second glass on one occasion – imagine, three people, dinner and half a bottle left over! – but otherwise were happy to swig away.

15. MountPenguin - September 26, 2007

Is your cat hypoallergenic?

No, just somewhat hypo.

16. pleite - September 26, 2007

In that case I think I shall have to stick to artificial cat-piss air-freshener.

17. Arabella - September 27, 2007

Oh, sage. I’m a late-comer to being adventurous with it and got all excited by toasting it and adding it to risotto. Very good. What do you do with yours?!

18. pleite - September 28, 2007

I’m not sure I’ve ever dared sprinkle it myself, actually. But the Russian has been known to put it into meatbally things he makes (which the Russians call ‘kotlety’ and the Germans a ‘Bulette’ or ‘Frikadelle’, i.e. a little burger). Stuffing was the only thing on the UK Christmas menu he found vaguely interesting – couldn’t even get him to fall in love with Christmas pudding – so that got sage on the agenda.

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