No Room at the Inn
From: Kirstie, Stuart, Matthew and Cameron
Subject: No room at the inn?
Place: Timaru, South Island, New Zealand
Book a bed ahead
We had been warned that finding accommodation at Christmas could be difficult so we took the precaution of booking ahead. Three months ahead. Before we left the UK, we checked availability, confirmed our requirement and exchanged emails with our host Tuula, giving full details of our arrival. We were all looking forward to Christmas at Timaru, for some rest, recuperation and a visit from Santa. Kirstie wanted everything to be just right for the boys’ Christmas and Matthew and Cameron were really looking forward to a few days in a real house. We hoped Tuula would remember our booking and emailed her a reminder a week before.
Three men bearing gifts
On the road to Timaru, in accordance with tradition, we encountered three men bearing gifts. The first we met in Pleasant Point, 20km from Christmas, a town whose ‘name says it all’ according to the district council. There, a man took pity upon our bedraggled family and offered us a bargain rate for a little cabin in the woodlands where we could all dry out. The following morning, a second Pleasant man opened up his café especially for us when all the others were closed, and fed and watered us to fuel the final leg of our journey.
The third we found high on a hill in a suburb of Timaru, busy working in the garage at the back of his house in a grotto of stripy materials. Ken, the canvas specialist, had a quiet and gentle manner and took time out of his pre-Christmas canvas rush to help us out. In seconds he fixed a problem which had been bugging us for weeks. With a flick of his pliers and a careful tap of his hammer on a steel plate, he replaced a broken popper on the raincover of Matthew’s buggy. “No charge, just enjoy the holiday.”
Matthew was pleased to be dry again but there was no respite for us. We headed into Timaru a day early, to allow time for some Christmas Eve shopping. Our journey into town felt portentious; a strong head wind, pouring rain and increasing traffic clogging our lungs and our path. The flat road gave way to steep hills and we checked into a cabin for the night unable to face putting the tent up in the rain.
“Funny we haven’t heard back from Tuula,” said Kirstie, “I’ve got a strange feeling she’s not there. What will we do if she’s not?”
Kirstie drowned her fears in alcohol at the first Family on a Bike Christmas party. A buffet of crisps, nuts, and chocolates with a bottle of fizzy wine helped us relax.
Is there no-one at home?
“Her mobile’s also on answerphone,” said Kirstie the next morning, “Shall I leave another message?”
“No, you’ve left our number, she’ll think you’re stalking her,” said Stuart.
By now Kirstie was paranoid, “But what, if she’s gone away, where will we stay?” She was certain Tuula had gone away for Christmas, our booking forgotten in the three months since our last contact.
It was fifteen minutes before a suitable gap in the traffic allowed us to get on the road to Tuula’s place. Thirty minutes of cycling later we arrived on the edge of town. High on a flagpole next to a rose covered balcony a union jack was blowing in the wind. But there was no-one at home.
“But the door’s open,” said Kirstie feeling like Goldilocks as she wandered through the house shouting, “Helloooo, is there anyone home?”
“I look after you”
It took ten minutes to locate a beaming faced Finnish woman who spoke little English.
“Tuula on holiday, I look you after” explained Tuula’s mother as she gave us a tour of the house. “You be at home here, all things you need,” she said as she showed us our bedroom, the jacuzzi and sauna area, garden with sandpit and toys, home cinema TV with DVD’s, bar and kitchen, “I work tomorrow, make you dinner Christmas at one. OK?”
We beamed back.
“I babysit children for you shopping.”
We beamed some more.
“And pillow present later.”
Home from home: Spiderman, Tranny doll, TV and spa
Within the hour Matthew was helping Spiderman and Tranny doll drive the Barbie car and Basil Brush was entertaining Cameron while Stuart and Kirstie relaxed in the spa bath with a large Finnish vodka tonic.
“We be at home here” said Kirstie.
At bedtime, Matthew and Cameron stumbled across their pillow presents, curling up contentedly with a chocolate Santa to wait for the real man to deliver the goods, happy to be in a real house in a real bed for Christmas.