Danielle Murray: Want to bring me happiness? Be my guest

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

My friend Diva and I are discussing the exact rules of etiquette for houseguests you have never met. At what time should they arrive, and more important, when should they leave?

It's a problem because I have recently signed up for one of those "sure you can stay in my house for free" websites - this one targeted to overseas cyclists - and I am expecting my first sponging couch surfers the next day.

"But hopefully not before 4pm," I tell Diva. "And I want them out by nine in the morning. So I can have my life back."

I know nothing about Olivier and Clementine, only that they are French, maybe a bit old and are travelling New Zealand by tandem bike. Which means they are either gutsy or stupid.

Diva believes there are no proper guidelines to this sort of thing and I need to go with the flow.

"But just make sure you tidy up first - your lounge room floor resembles my fur coat," she says as I'm sure her nose scratches the ceiling.

"And hope they don't kill you in your sleep."

Actually, it's one of the reasons I've signed up - not to be topped in the night but incentive to clean. I need the extra push since the people who live in my house permanently (especially the ones I gave birth to) are no longer reason enough. So I look to Olivier and Clementine to provide inspiration.

It's like a self-induced intervention.

And it works. The next day I rise at dawn and wash, sweep, polish and vacuum. I sing as I scrub floors on my hands and knees and dance as I dust. I am Cinderella minus the mice. I do not stop for lunch. By late afternoon, my hands are chapped, my hair is a mess, I probably smell and I am hungry but my house is clean, my soul is cleansed and I have peace.

The children come home from school and are confused by their new shipshape surroundings. When I tell them about Olivier and Clementine's impending arrival, Julz says, "Wow, we've never had guests before," and I realise she is right - we have plenty of minors overnight but no adults. There's nowhere to put them. But with kid #1 now away at uni, we have an extra room during term time. And I'm sure Jack won't mind.

Not that it matters. I've decided this is a good thing. As long as my guests keep to my rules.

Alas, protocol and propriety prevail - Olivier and Clementine show up just before dinner. The table is set and we acquaint ourselves. My husband insists on a proper Kiwi barbecue. We have wine.

Their English is not so very good but I speak French and am translator. Olivier tells me he is fulfilling a childhood dream to cycle through New Zealand. There are many laughs and no awkward silence. The evening passes quickly.

They do not seem to mind we won the Rugby World Cup. Or the fact their room for the night is plastered in All Blacks posters.

They go online and email their children. I tell them I do the same thing on kid-less holidays. And just before we all go to bed, we wonder how we ever managed to survive (or get up in the morning) pre-internet.

My life does not end in the night. Nothing goes bump, nobody dies. But Diva calls at sunrise just to be sure. Breakfast is bacon and eggs - Olivier and Clementine have 80 hilly kilometres to cycle before they plump themselves in somebody else's spare room. They need substance.

Bang on nine o'clock, right on cue, they are off. And I have my life back.

But not for long. Hot on their wheels, I receive another request from a sponging couch surfer - 18-year-old Rolph from Munich. Once again I provide the necessities of life - food, shelter and free wifi to a cyclist in need.

Rolph is on his gap year and it is his first overseas trip. Like Olivier, he is in Aotearoa because it is a lifelong ambition (even if it's not been that long a life) - courtesy of the Lord of the Rings movies. He plans to cycle the whole of Middle-earth, top to bottom. He does not plan to kill us in our sleep. I know because I ask.

I decide I am liking this whole "sure you can stay in my house for free" sponging couch surfer thing. I may even relax the rules a bit.

It is a fair trade for a bit of my life. Because not only is the house clean (and my soul is cleansed and I have peace, blah blah blah), but we are all a bit richer for the experience.

Danielle Murray is a freelance writer and keen cyclist. She has since hosted over a dozen overseas visitors travelling New Zealand by bike.

- NZ Herald

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