RURAL RAMBLINGS

With the Japan trip over we faced the next self-imposed hurdle in our lives. Last year (at a funeral, no less) someone asked me to open our house for a hospice fundraiser.

We decided it would make us get on to some much-needed repairs and maintenance of our 13-year-old home – and trust me, there's nothing like the prospect of dozens of eyes peering into every nook and cranny of where you live to motivate plenty of scrubbing, dusting and cupboard emptying.

All the efforts on and around the house bemused the farm staff: "When is this thing actually happening, it's starting to look like the Taj Mahal up there," one grumbled.

The first morning dawned gloomy and overcast, but our chocolate lab Milo was thrilled to have visitors – at first, anyway. He ambled to meet each person, tail wagging and nose hopefully sniffing for food.

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But after the first 10 groups his enthusiasm waned. Not only was nobody bringing food, but he was worn out from heaving his aged body upright and over to the doorway. He lay in the entrance, tripping at least three people up.

He carried on sniff testing just in case food appeared, but by early afternoon he collapsed into deep, exhausted sleep, an immovable, snoring object.

The cats were horrified by the invading hordes. One fled to a flax bush in the garden for the day, while the other decided to pretend none of it was happening and napped intensely in the living room. His twitching ears signalled he was less relaxed than he looked, but he was still once mistaken for a cushion, to his utter disgust.

The next day he retreated to Bruce's undie drawer, his black fur camouflaging him so well that nobody seemed to notice him.

Our house was the last tour stop on the way back to town so in the last hour dozens of people tried to fit in a quick visit. The shuttle van running them up from the paddock parking area was filled to overflowing, people spilling out the doors.

A couple of visitors even commandeered the farm ute, when Paul our "fix-it" man drove up after finishing work for the day. They flagged him down and when he asked if they were okay, he was slightly bewildered when they opened the doors and climbed in.

Realising they'd mistaken him for the shuttle, he gave them an elaborate farm commentary on the way up. They enjoyed their hijacked ride so much that on the way back down they puzzled the shuttle driver by telling her their ride up had been much better.

We met some lovely people, had a lot of fun, our house is all set for summer – and we feel quite virtuous about helping to raise a lot of money for hospice.

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Numerous homeowners turn the invitation down, but I'd recommend the experience. It nearly ended in disaster, though. We were enjoying dinner with the other tour homeowners and organisers at a particularly fabulous house and appreciating a spectacular lightning storm when our 17-year-old son called, indignant.

Where were we, he wanted to know, because he had arrived home after a stressful drive through the storm to find his younger brother cowering on the living room floor, clutching the dog for comfort (Milo, apart from being stone deaf, is the only dog I know who adores thunderstorms, so was quite relaxed).

Furthermore, the teenager thundered righteously, his terrified brother had packed his bags and was about to head out into the storm - so we needed to stop having fun right now and get home.

I was reluctant to leave the dessert table but Bruce managed to drag me away. At home, after another dressing down from the teenager, we praised our youngest for unplugging all the appliances and reminded him that it wasn't a great idea to head outside when there's a storm overhead.

The next morning we could see just how close it was – the large macrocarpa on a hill about 200m from the house had exploded from a direct hit. No wonder the poor kid was terrified.