Tuesday, 4 August 2015

West Country House-sitting.

As my last blog testifies, I am very much enjoying my jaunts to Somerset. Unbelievably – in what is usually a busy period in London, with holiday cover and so on – the phone is still fairly quiet, so I have been taking more and more jobs in Bath and Bristol. But I was beginning to get a little worried that being a houseguest at my sister’s for a long period of time might be a little wearing on a great relationship. 

Don’t get me wrong, I have been having the most amazing time staying with my family. My sister and I, especially, have exactly the same sense of humour and a tiny wheeze or giggle can send the other one into complete fits. Building an Ikea bed with my sister and nephew (and then my brother-in-law when things got too difficult) was one of the most hysterical evenings I’ve had in a long time (Note to Ikea: putting together a 200-piece double bed is not a one man job!). As I had a badly sprained wrist and a crap knee, my job was to read out the instructions. My sister and nephew (and B-in-L later) were the construction team. It really was a case of potty humour and being over-tired I think, because the littlest thing would set us off. For instance, ‘Oh noooo, the end has just slipped out again’ or ‘Don’t play with it Lucas, screw it in properly!’ or ‘No, that goes in hole A, not B’, had us rolling around on the floor, crying with laughter. It took almost 3 hours to make the damn bed but we had the best time doing it. As the weeks have gone by, however, no matter how much we enjoy each others company, it was time to think about a Plan B. My sister was obviously thinking the same thing when she pointed out that no matter how much she loved having me to stay, there were certain things they couldn’t do while I was there! The mind boggles!

A solution suddenly appeared in the form of a great friend of my sister’s, offering me her house for two weeks, while she was on holiday. She rents out the top floor to lodgers and was in between guests so it seemed the perfect solution. Wow. I was trying to get my head around such generosity (every day I am blown away by West Country kindness) and asked my sister how much it was? ‘£35,’ she replied. ‘Oh my God,’ I said, ‘that’s amazing, £35 a night is brilliant.’ My sister looked bewildered and said, ‘no sweetie, £35 a week!’ Haha. All her friend wanted was enough to cover the utilities etc. and said I was actually doing her a favour by being in the house while she was away. So… I have the most beautiful 3-bedroom house to stay in, just down the road from my sisters, an hour from my parents, and half an hour to Bath. All for a measly £35 a week. Ridiculous.

There are, of course, challenges with house-sitting. You have to work out where everything is for a start, and for someone who isn’t very technically minded, even turning on the TV becomes the most frustrating and bewildering thing I have had to deal with in quite some time. My television in London blew up a few years ago and I never replaced it. Instead I have a lovely Mahjong box where it used to be and if I do want to watch something particular, I just watch it on my laptop. So when faced with a huge flatscreen TV and multiple controls, I took a deep sigh and hoped for the best. I pressed all the on buttons and waited. The first thing that happened was a sudden blast of music but the screen remained black. I tried pressing the controls of one and nothing happened. I tried the controls of the other and the screen changed, but only with numbers flashing in the top left… still no picture. I realised I was going slowly up through the more obscure channels and gulped loudly when the remote control seemed to freeze on something called Gay Rabbit. Shit. Imagine if my sister’s friend came back, turned on her TV and thought I’d been watching some weird porno station (for I assume that is what Gay Rabbit is, unless my mind is depraved and it is in fact some frolicking happy cartoon!). Sweating furiously, I managed to turn the TV off, then on again a few seconds later, hoping Gay Rabbit had disappeared. But no, there it was. I pressed the up arrows furiously until, thank God, it came to a stop on Al Jazeera. Better a middle eastern news channel than porn anytime eh? After that I gave up and read a book. A real book, mind, not one with a screen, I was too traumatised for anything else electric.

The kitchen is always interesting in other people’s houses too. You think you are the most rational person alive when you put things in certain places in your own kitchen, but when you try and find them in others, it’s a bloomin’ treasure hunt. But as I opened every drawer and cupboard in my new abode, I kept murmuring things like… ‘ooh, well that makes sense putting that there,’ and, ‘hmm, that’s handy’, and something has finally dawned on me. I think I might be the strange one (don’t all shout at once!). I must now admit that my kitchen is a little oddly arranged. I can’t count the amount of times guests have cried out in frustration because they can’t find a bloody knife or a teaspoon!! So I keep them in a little wicker basket on the kitchen counter, not in a drawer, it’s not that odd. My cereal is kept next to my glass vases in a small cupboard above the cooker; candles and napkins are kept where most people would put their cutlery; salt is in an old Moroccan ashtray; sugar is in a flour jar; wooden spoon are in a biscuit tin; and you will find a hammer, balloons and a can of spray mount where most people keep their kitchen foil. Is this or is this not true… most people keep their cling film and kitchen foil in the third drawer down. Fact!

I have also had to get accustomed to being on the ground floor and having people see me. My flat in London, and in fact, all my flats for the last 20 years, have been on the first or second floor. I have never lived anywhere where people can walk past and spot me through a window. So you can imagine my surprise, on my first evening in the house, when two grinning faces appeared at the window. I had casually draped myself over the sofa in the sitting room whilst on the phone, the sun was setting and the curtains and window were open, letting in a beautiful summer breeze, when the heads of two little girls popped up below the window sill, blew a raspberry (I didn’t know kids still did that!) and disappeared. Moments later they were standing there waving at me as if it was perfectly normal. I really have been in London too long if I think being waved at by kids is extraordinary! My first reaction (and that of a Londoner) is to tut and get up to draw the curtains… but I had to remember, people are nice here, people live in a community and if I drew my curtains on two cheeky children, that would be plain rude. So I smiled and waved back, waited til they had walked off a few feet… and then drew the curtains!!