The small crowd waiting at Arrivals turned and stared as the voice boomed out: “Is this Tom?”
She was just 5 feet, slim and muscular, her tiny frame buried beneath an enormous rucksack, yet the voice was deep and rasping, like rusty hinges on a heavy door. She must have been well over 50, with lines of care etched into her sundried face, yet she wore the short leather skirt, boots and tight lacy top of a teenager. This was Maria from Venezuela, and she had come to stay.
It was an innocent enough comment in a Californian gym that brought her into our lives. She was a personal trainer, and the woman being trained was Jo’s distant cousin. Maria was planning a trip to Scotland: did she have any suggestions?
“Gee, you must go visit Tom and Jo – they live in Scotland.” A pardonable error: even friends in London think Newcastle is near Aberdeen. Innocuous emails were exchanged: Could we look after her dear friend who was such fun and wanted to see some Scottish countryside? Of course we could, but we’re not actually in Scotland. Never mind, she’ll come for two nights. Oh dear.
On the short drive from the airport, we had scarcely put the red gravel driveways of Ponteland behind us before she told me she was divorcing her husband, had just been through the menopause, and was going to seduce a Scottish landowner whose advances she had rejected in her 20s, but who was almost certainly still in love with her.
Her command of English was as rusty as her voice, but she substituted what she lacked in vocabulary with a rich mix of Anglo-Saxon expletives. She had flown all the way from Florida with some terrible two-year-old in the next seat, except she didn’t use the word “terrible”. She had wanted to shoot the child, and would have done so if she had brought her husband’s pistol -- she demonstrated by pointing an imaginary gun at my head. I hoped Izzy would be on best behaviour.
Safely home, she greeted Jo like her best friend, patted Izzy gingerly on the head and slumped into a chair. I offered her a glass of wine. She shook her head to say no, but her voice said “just a little”. I opened a bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc to make her feel at home (I know, but it’s close – well, as close as Newcastle is to Aberdeen), and mouthed at Jo “What shall we do with her?”
Then we heard the sobbing. We turned to see Maria, wine glass already drained, with red-rimmed eyes. “It was so good then,” she wailed, and then recounted, in details so graphic that I can’t begin to describe them here, her entire sex life from puberty to a fling with a minor Hollywood actor. Strangely, although I’d only poured a single glass, the bottle was half empty. An hour later I was restocking the fridge.
Jo and I went to bed early and left her mumbling incoherently at the dogs. Then, at around 2am, we heard loud thumps and bathwater running in her bedroom. “Oh my God, she’ll drown – do something”, said Jo. “I can’t go and see her in the bath”, I protested, so Jo padded upstairs and I heard a muffled scream.
“She was dancing stark naked with the bath overflowing”, said Jo. “I dragged her into bed and she passed out”. I think in my sleep I asked if she had a good body, because I remember a pillow hitting me on the head.
I’m ashamed to admit a host of important meetings appeared in my diary overnight, so Jo looked like thunder when she realised she’d be taking Maria to the Roman Wall herself. Somehow we survived another night and I poured her onto the Edinburgh train with a bottle of good malt whisky as a gift for her landowner. I doubt it survived the journey. Good luck, Scotland.