LIFE can be surreal sometimes can't it?

I found myself yelling down the garden the other day 'who's put pickled gherkins into my compost bin again?' A title I'm sure Alan Bennett would pay good money for to head one of his brilliant little plays. He could follow it up with 'Do you realise there's a dead shrew on the cistern?' and 'Mum, the cat's just stolen Ollie's chocolate muffin.'

Last Thursday, which is press day and not a good day to gain my full attention, a man called Frank rang from somewhere or other to suggest I might like to sponsor the Harrowbarrow Narrow Marrow competition next year.

Now I have a friend whose husband occasionally rings up and pretends to be such people as the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Prime Minister's press secretary, a ploy which has on occasions led me to being mistakenly very rude to a genuine cleric or public relations person, for which I apologise. Well, to the vicars anyway.

Even he, however, knows that press day is not a day to adopt a fake Scottish accent and tell me he's Sean Connery let alone initiate a conversation about marrows, so I thought Frank must be genuine and he was. He's fascinated with the name Harrowbarrow and thinks a marrow contest might become an international event. Over to you anyone in Harrowbarrow with a penchant for thin marrows and the time to organise a contest with worldwide interest.

Earlier this week a nice young lady rang up from London and asked me to read out the chorus of Trelawny so she could write down the correct words.

It says a lot for my colleagues that they didn't even turn a hair when their editor suddenly burst into a kind of half sung half recited rousing chorus of the Cornish National Anthem for no apparent reason. Nice of them really, because most people suddenly find an excuse to be elsewhere if I even look as if I am thinking of singing anything, such is my inability to hold a tune.

And so to today when I had a longish conversation with a man who insisted on calling me Melanie and I'd got past the point where I could correct him without embarrassing him.

Usually I get mistaken for man because I have a deep voice, especially over the telephone. One caller, having asked my name obviously thought he couldn't possibly have heard the word Mary and continued to call me Murray every time he rang up. I had to tell the receptionist that if anyone asked for Murray it was me, and letters kept arriving addressed to Murray Richards. I dreaded the day he ever turned up at the office and asked for Murray and considered that I might pretend to be Murray's elder sister standing in for him while he was out of the country. You can get yourself in all kinds of bother by not coming clean straight away.

I once had a colleague who answered the door to a total stranger who seemed to know him and he spent a whole afternoon desperately trying to remember who he was, just because he didn't like to ask. He thrashed around for a couple of hours, avoiding the sort of question that might inevitably end in a horrible silence and the words 'she's been dead for ten years' and became more and more convinced that the man had actually come to the wrong house and he didn't know him at all. They bade each other goodbye with a handshake and a promise to keep in touch, which of course they never did.

This kind of situation often arises if you are the sort of person who hands out your address without thinking of the consequences. Carried away by sun, sea, sand and sangria it seems an awfully good idea to swap addresses with that nice couple in the next villa when you are on holiday, even though you privately think their children could be better accommodated in the local zoo.

Sometimes it can be the beginning of a life-long friendship. But not always, especially if you live in Cornwall. The nice couple may not be quite so nice when they are comfortably occupying your spare rooms with their children, eating your food and taking over your living room for two whole weeks and are obviously not intending to spend one single penny more than they have to.

They are usually people who have very good training at spotting an opportunity. Not for them the advance telephone call earlier in the year. They will ring up one fine Saturday afternoon and tell you they were 'just passing' your area and thought they would drop in. Take that to mean they are parked around the corner with their mobile telephone and you can't even pretend you are just on your way out to begin a world cruise because before you can put your telephone down they are ringing the doorbell.

This kind of visit not only attacks your wallet, it causes a great deal of friction in a normally calm household. Couples will bicker over who actually handed out the casual and not entirely sincere invitation to 'come down and see us anytime'. Your children will almost certainly tell you they hate the couple's children like poison and won't share so much as a cup of squash with them and by the time the unwelcome family leave everyone is at each other's throats.

I once visited friends in California, by prior and pressing invitation on their part, and discovered a somewhat icy atmosphere because they had had unexpected visitors for ten days before I arrived who had sat up until the small hours drinking all their wine (including their special anniversary gift champagne which they had planned to keep for ten years), and not bought so much as a loaf of bread.

I was treated to a long list of complaints about their unwelcome visitors not making their beds, not cleaning the shower or bath, not paying for anything, criticising everything about America, getting drunk every night and not getting up until midday and so on. I spent my ten days with them refusing any drinks offered, buying loads of food neither I nor they wanted, hardly daring to use the bath and making my bed within seconds of getting up at the crack of dawn. Being the perfect guest was utterly exhausting and I was glad to go home.

It wasn't really their fault, it was the fault of two people I've never met who just happened to be passing one fine day and managed to ruin my holiday while enjoying theirs.

I did confess to my friend some time later how uncomfortable I had felt and he was mortified.

We both agreed that one day we will all be turning up at this couple's home, complete with all the family.

Just passing, you understand.