Thursday, March 3, 2016


The winter seems to be ending before it began, one sign being the preparations now underway for the tapping of maple syrup, which requires freezing temperatures at night and warmer temperatures during the day. Another harbinger of spring is the announcement of the annual itinerary for the visit of the guest from hell. I won't go into great detail about him, since he is the father of a household member, but I think I am entitled to say a few things, considering that, given the otherwise ideal living conditions to which I have become accustomed, Norman, relatively speaking, is the bane of my life.

Norman lives in Bridlington, UK, and has been visiting his daughter in the U.S. annually for decades. In earlier years, when he was less ancient and her children were young, he was less obtrusive and even helpful during her post-divorce period, because he could cook, do household chores and watch the children, and he assisted her when she moved from her house to a condominium. For many years the standard visit was six weeks, which was fine until I became a household member and the children grew up.

Initially the problem I had was simply that I felt uncomfortable and disrupted by having a guest in the house for such a long period of time. Otherwise it seemed to make sense that he would spend Christmas with his daughter and grandchildren. However, the grandchildren have long since grown up and moved out, and he usually doesn't see them on his visits. Moreover, he is now 85 years old, legally blind, overweight, and requires far more assistance than he used to, though he is still somewhat independent. On a typical day he will have all of his meals prepared for him, and unless an activity is planned for him he will spend the day sitting in an armchair reading popular novels with a magnifying glass. This would not necessarily be problematic if he were sensitive to the interests of others, socially alert and a good conversationalist, but he is not.

Over the years he has been given hints that his long visits were not appreciated by all. Some years I have gone away on trips by myself during his visits. He has gradually been pressured to reduce their length, first to three weeks and currently to sixteen days. We have avoided directly confronting him and telling him that I don't like having him around, but any sensitive person would have readily noticed that a problem exists, given my absences and increasing lack of participation during his visits.

If I were not forced to live in close quarters with Norman, he would be easier to tolerate. He isn't stupid, only poorly educated and lacking in curiosity, and he appreciates opera, though I don't. Unlike most Americans, rather than being overbearing and assertive, he is timid to the point of dysfunction, which makes a change. However, he doesn't follow world events or watch movies, and there is little to discuss with him beyond the decline in recent years of public transportation in Yorkshire. His lack of awareness and insensitivity were major contributing factors to the ill-conceived visit that he engineered for his granddaughter, Victoria, two years ago. In short, Norman has almost singlehandedly transformed me from an Anglophile to an Anglophobe.

For better or for worse, my personality is such that I closely watch things that capture my attention, and when it occurs to me that something is wrong I can't rest until some sort of solution is reached. In the case of Norman, the problem is that he is either oblivious to or takes no responsibility for the disruptive effects of his visits. He probably hasn't ever given a thought to how much time I have spent with him. I am a private person who likes to be alone, and I have involuntarily spent more time with Norman than I have spent with a combined total that includes my mother over the last 34 years of her life, my sisters since 1973, my son since 1985 and my daughter since 2006. Over the last ten years there is only one person who has spent more time with me. He may not think anything is wrong, but I do. Although the length of this year's visit is a significant improvement over previous years, and he may not be around much longer, I am suffering from the cumulative toxic effects of his visits and am seeking ways to make myself scarce in June.

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