When I told friends I was visiting my in-laws they gave me the look. You know, the one that says, oh you poor thing. But visiting my in-laws is awesome. It’s like staying at a five-star hotel with no nightly tariff*.
The in-laws have a spanking new house in Albury. I think they designed it with us in mind. There’s a separate guest wing that – within five minutes of us arriving – looks like rampaging elephants have crashed through it. Our luggage spontaneously explodes on arrival, sending clothes, toys, books and toiletries flying in all directions. The in-laws are fastidious housekeepers and I think they realised that if they had a separate wing (with a door they could close), they could almost forget the abominations lying behind it. Otherwise they might weep and have panic attacks.
The in-law’s house has all the mod-cons. There are little slots in the skirting boards to sweep crumbs into. All the bits get miraculously sucked away. Apparently it’s called ducted vacuuming. It rocks. There’s a light in the walk-in pantry that switches on automatically when you step inside. It keeps the Sprogs amused for hours, attempting to sneak in without triggering the switch. The floor in the toilet is warm. Warm! The whole house has underfloor heating and overfloor heating and towel-rail heating and every other sort of heating you can imagine. It may be 3C outside, but inside is kept at a constant 21C. There is carpet in the garage. Carpet! The bits that don’t have carpet are so clean you could eat dinner off them. (What is it with older people and clean garage floors? My folks’ garage is exactly the same.) The garage is filled with bottles of nice wine and kiddie treasures such as Richie Rich comic books and plaster painting kits. My father-in-law emerges at regular intervals with craft projects for the Sprogs and wine for me and everyone is happy.
When we arrived on Sunday night, the in-laws cracked a bottle of 2006 Leo Buring riesling and served us lamb tagine for dinner. My mother-in-law apologised for not using orange flower water as instructed in the recipe, but she couldn’t find any, so she substituted Grand Marnier. Somehow I coped. Last night there were oysters and a 2003 Tamberlaine riesling, then barbecued salmon fillets and served them with champagne. Tonight, Husband and I are wandering around the corner to the local Thai restaurant for a romantic dinner a deux. The in-laws, bless them, are babysitting. The local Thai restaurant is apparently quite servicable. I am indifferent to the quality of the food. All I care about is that it is cheap, it is BYO (we’ll take a nice bottle of white from the in-laws’ cellar), the Sprogs won’t be there and we won’t need to pay a babysitter $20 an hour.
Tomorrow, we’re heading to the vineyards for a spot of wine tasting and a gourmet lunch. There will be the usual arm wrestle over who pays for the gourmet lunch. My father-in-law will invariably try to secretly settle the bill immediately after we place our order. He even insisted on paying for us to go and see Brave yesterday. He just can’t help himself. I’ve made my peace with it and just say thank you a lot.
The cinema is a 10-minute stroll from the in-laws’ house, as is Jones The Grocer, Target, JB Hi-Fi and The Essential Ingredient. Within a 40-minute driving radius are the Millawa wine region, the Rutherglen wine region, the charming hamlet of Beechworth and endless other scenic/culinary/alcoholic delights. Albury really is an undiscovered treasure in my books. Especially if you are staying with my in-laws.
I think I could move to Albury quite happily – and regularly avail myself of the in-law’s wine cellar and babysitting services - if it wasn’t seven hours drive from Sydney and nine hours drive from the city of birth, Newcastle. But, as Albury is seven hours drive from Sydney, I’ll just have to settle for five-star visits to the in-laws every year. God love them.
* Husband says five-star hotels don’t have retirees noisily unpacking dishwashers at 6.45am behind your bedroom wall, but – as I rise at 6am – I reckon he’s being a bit picky.