My family was at the time of my birth both large and convoluted. The families of Welford, Walsh, and Moore over many a number of years and generations connected, intermarried, intertwined, to become as fine an example of interbreeding as could be found anywhere in the United Kingdom. Nothing obviously incestuous you must understand, although long balmy summer days and chilly winter nights in the bosom of family and distant cousins no doubt lead to any number of highly questionable opportunities for more than cursory acquaintance.
Festive occasions, holidays, anniversaries, and the many other celebratory circumstances ever available in such a prolific grouping invariably involved a dinner, lunch, late breakfast, high tea, feast, of some variety or other. Traditionally two tables would be set for such gastronomic delights, one large running two thirds the length of the dining room to accommodate adults and a smaller one set for the waifs and strays, amongst whom I was the third most senior.
The high table places were ever set in a very particular way, a space for each named guest and an extra place set for the unknown stranger who would invariably arrive at the last moment, often as food was being served to the already seated company, unannounced and unexpected.
This most bizarre of happenstances had been a consistent component of such get togethers for as long as could be remembered, which in the case of my maternal grandmother meant back into the late nineteenth century. So predictable had become the tradition that the saying of grace was held back until the mysterious arrival finally took their seat.
The unquestioned acceptance of the uninvited, the expectation of the unknown, the first-hand observation of serendipity, are lessons that has regularly proved most useful and providential. That chance cannot be predicted yet must be allowed for is knowledge more precious than any gold bullion.
To this day I still have an extra place set at my table, some joyous happenstances are ever worthy of a little wishful thinking.