Veronica Zundel admits her house is not tidy, but she still makes an effort to ensure people feel welcome in her home

Last Sunday we had friends round for dinner. I’ve been to their house for lunch; it was spacious and tasteful with a luxuriant garden and the lunch was delicious. So just to forestall any raised eyebrows, I said as I opened the door to them: “Welcome to our tip.” Our house is navigable, it’s not like poor old Polish refugee Edmund Trebus’ whom you may have seen on the TV series A Life of Grime in the late 90s, where he had collected so much clutter from tips and skips that he could only get in by using a ladder to a first-floor window. However, there are piles of books nearly halfway up the stairs, and nothing has been decorated for at least 15 years – some areas not for 35 years since we first moved in.

As for the garden, well I can only say that we have rewilded it. Hedgehogs, butterflies and enemy cats should be doing well. An interesting fact about our garden: while the house and three-quarters of the garden are in one borough and constituency, the bottom quarter of the garden is in another, demarcated by an old railway sleeper jammed in the border with a rock in the top. I decided early on in our era here that a wild area at the bottom of the garden, where nettles and brambles flourish, should be called ‘a Haringey’. This is where you can make your – never used – compost and pile up pruned branches, left-over wood from carpentry and other detritus for burning once a year on 5 November. Every garden should have a Haringey.

Not a housewife

The thing is, I have never been a housewife and I don’t intend to start now. One of the things that keeps me from retiring (and do writers ever really retire?) is that there would be no option left but to become a housewife, and I’m not prepared to. It was different for my mother. She had been unceremoniously thrown out of her medical degree in Vienna for the crime of being Jewish, and though she had two opportunities to complete her studies after the war, she didn’t take them up. Homemaking was her career, and she devoted herself to it. Plus, having grown up continental-city-style in flats, my parents had never had a garden before and took to it with gusto.

Jesus was more concerned with the quality of the welcome than the state of the home

Feeling welcomed

Now I know a well-tended home and garden can be a lovely haven for the distressed or simply stressed. The Quiet Garden Movement ( provides mini-retreats for people who don’t have time or money for a full retreat to simply spend a day in a beautiful outdoor space, usually with a prayer hut to retreat to if the weather is uncooperative. And it is delightful to be hosted in a really artistic or unusual home. But I still sometimes feel quite uncomfortable when welcomed into a house that’s picture-perfect – as if I’ve stepped unawares into an interiors magazine and ought to take my shoes off even if I haven’t been asked to do so. A bit of mess makes me feel more at home and relaxed, though I might draw the line at putting my feet up on the coffee table…

Jesus was welcomed into many homes, especially into that of his friends Martha and Mary (were these sisters single? Unlikely – maybe widowed) and their brother Lazarus. Was it wealthy and full of ornaments? I doubt it. Martha clearly wanted to make it tidy and presentable and get the dinner on the go, but it was Mary whom Jesus commended for abandoning the traditional role of women altogether and instead sitting in the position of a rabbinical student at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42). It seems Jesus was more concerned with the quality of the welcome than the state of the home:

“Then he turned towards the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little’” (Luke 7:44-47).

So, although I would like to make my home less tip-like (and I have many ambitions for our other house, which we plan to move into once the tenants move on) I will continue to hope the quality of our welcome makes up for peeling wallpaper and carpet stains.