The fact that Billy had chosen to wake Dougie to raise the alarm about something at that time was in itself interesting.
Dougie is 12, Billy is eight. Billy had bypassed the three eldest members of the family: his parents and his 14-year-old brother Jed, and taken this issue straight to Dougie.
As the second son Dougie sometimes feels overlooked and undervalued but Billy – who is often locked in his own private power struggle with Doug – took this particular problem straight to him.
Dougie apparently investigated it, decided it was above his pay grade and did the right thing. He brought it to us.
It was relayed to My One True Love (because I was at that stage un-wakeable) as follows: “There is a strange man asleep in the dining room.”
I started gaining consciousness just as this statement was being tested for melodrama and ill-advised attempts at humour.
“What do you mean a strange man?” My One True Love said in her early-morning voice.
“A strange man . . .” Dougie explained.
“What kind of strange man? A stranger?”
The mounting tone of horror in her voice might have been what actually woke me up.
“Yes, a strange stranger,” I heard Dougie say.
“What strange man?” I demanded, throwing back the covers and suddenly dynamic with panic, but they were on their way downstairs.
You could hear the snoring from the hallway. You could smell his booze-pickled breath from the hallway too. I did a quick check on my way to the dining room, the front door was closed, the back door was closed and there were no open or broken windows.
It was alarming to find him there but more than that, it was magically weird.
There was no sign of entry, no trail of broken stuff and he had picked one of the least comfortable places in the house to bed down. The next room had two sofas in it. He had opted for a pile of school bags on an old futon.
I joined My One True Love and the boys gathered around The Strange Man. He was in his early 20s with short fair hair, about my size and snoring in a very committed way.
“I’ll get the boys out of the way, you’ll have to wake him up,” My One True Love explained.
My only thought was getting him out. He wasn’t particularly threatening right at that moment but the protective cocoon we like to imagine surrounds our children had been pretty badly compromised.
Our four-year-old daughter Bonnie had bypassed the whole drama. Not thinking there was anything odd about early morning snoring in the dining room, she had gone straight to the kitchen for breakfast.
Thankfully she didn’t find him first. The least disastrous consequence of that scenario would have been The Strange Man ending up covered in felt tip pen “make-up”.
Jed was still in a teenaged sleep upstairs but we also had one of Dougie’s friends staying over, so we were not only responsible for our own children’s safety but also someone else’s.
I used the internationally accepted form of address for a strange man asleep in your dining room.
It took about five minutes to get him upright and out the front door. He looked like he had had a couple of falls on his travels but seemed capable of making it to wherever he needed to be.
He mumbled something Eastern Europeanish and then said “sleep” and tried to come back in. He spat into the hedge and tried again but his heart wasn’t in it.
Eventually he went on his way.
Letting him out we realised the front door had been accidentally left on the latch all night. It would only have taken a shove and a twist of the handle to open it.
He must have come in by accident in a drunken haze. I would be more amazed by it all but we live in Semilong and in a slightly scary, slightly bizarre, kind of way it is precisely the kind of unexpected thing we have come to expect from the area and I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way.
I’m checking the latch tonight though.