September 22, 2012 by benmblackman
George Michael should think himself lucky if the only downside to cottaging for him, a decade ago, was 80 hours community service in Beverley Hills. That sounds like a holiday compared to what I’ve had to endure on a regular basis.
Like all yuppies we often use the muddle class (those of us who don’t quite understand which class we’re in – really working class but there are no coal mines round our way and actually I drive a 4×4 and have a fancy job title these days) alternative to owning our own holiday home – renting somebody elses. Of course this gives the advantage of not having to pay for the thing the other 51 weeks of the year we’re not there, not to mention the damages we are sure to leave behind our wake.
First we search the plethora of websites dedicated to showing off the types of houses you would love to live in, if only you could ever afford to (how guiling it is to realise that those who do own these abodes also own their own ‘normal’ house too). Some use agents and fancy websites that process your payments online, others cut out the middle man and leave the ghastly task of negotiating terms to yourself with the owner (albeit through the avoidance of ever talking to the person – emails, probably hundreds of the things before you’ve organised the whole affair). If you’re really unlucky they will only accept a cheque, which is bound to bounce, even if you have some money in your account for once. It’s just the way it is.
Once payment has been agreed successfully (often via faithful promise of cash on arrival – how I love to exchange bundles of bank notes with middle aged women in country streets in return for a key) you just have to find the place. Having opted for a remote hamlet deep in the Brecon Beacons, never trust the standard assurance of ‘you can’t miss it, we’re just past the post office and turn right down the lane.’ Can’t miss it? Perhaps not if you’ve lived there for 14 years. For
the rest of us, your only hope is if you can secure full Ordanance Survey Co-ordinates and agreement that flares will be set off to guide you in at the allotted time. Better if you happen to be travelling with an International Orienteering Champion (rather than the white collar working wife and toddler I have to make do with).
Policies & Procedures
After completing the equivalent of the SAS Selection process to find the place, there is nothing I find more relaxing on beginning a long weekend away in the quiet countryside than reading a handbook of rules and regulations. ‘Make yourself at home,’ but be under no illusions it is not your home and please follow all of our overburdening mandates.
I run an organisation employing 21 people, providing multiple complex services, achieved through budgets of over £700,000 a year but I’m damned if I can ever understand what you’re meant to recycle, where, and when. I prefer the handwritten grandchild’s school project variety of handbook (with annotations and real cut & pasted pictures) rather than the far right printed pro-life propaganda variety we once encountered. ‘We kindly ask you please refrain from using birth control methods whilst in our home.’ I’m not sure how many children have arrived in the world, named Lynton, as a result. I assume few due to the fact there were no curtains in the bedroom which overlooked the village high street. I guess this was no oversight on their part.
Heating & Water
I am lucky that my wife lived in a number of questionable housing situations before becoming accustomed to the luxury we now have (Combi Boiler). Due to this, Boiler’s Bernie, as we call her on holiday, can get any boiler up and running within a matter of minutes, which is lucky because my coal fire has usually gone out by this amount of time. Heating and hot water sorted, my only mission is to ensure I know where the fuse box is for when the electric, inevitably, cuts out. When stuck in the middle of nowhere this could cause all manner of catastrophe if not remedied forthwith. Especially if Strictly Come Dancing is on at the time and they don’t even have Sky+ in the 19th Century thatched cottage.
I usually opt to cook whilst away, I don’t know why. The thought of cooking for pleasure, with time on my side and a proper country kitchen is always countered with the reality – the equivalent of an under resourced Home Economics department. Next time I have a job interview and I’m asked the inevitable, ‘could you describe the last time you used your initiative?’ I will have to refrain from going into my whole rant about the unenviable task of preparing steak with peppercorn sauce, for 3, with roasted potato cubes, broad beans, mushrooms and tomato. Not ideal with no frying pan or roasting tin, 1 (blunt) knife, 3 saucepans but only 2 working hobs. I’m not sure how much Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall swears or drinks whilst cooking in the country – I did both, a lot!
It’s usually for this reason that for the rest of our break we ensure we are well fuelled via external sources. Café’s and pubs ply us with all the coffee, cake, scones, bitter, cider, lamb shanks, scampi, chips and onion rings we require to survive the weather. ‘It’s only a bit of drizzle, it’ll pass,’ she’ll say. It’s not and it won’t but 4 pints of coffee and bitter down, my legs almost walk themselves out for a stroll. It’s not big and it’s not clever, by day 3 I’ll need a ‘straighter’ (double espresso & pastry) before I can face the day. Even the toddler needs a hot chocolate before we can contemplate hitting the local steam railway.
But it’s not all doom and gloom is it? I’m just showing off really. Of course we go on these breaks for the adventures. You can’t get them at home, it’s just not the same. Like the time she rang me to tell me ‘I’ve got the car stuck on a boulder, can you come and get me?’
‘Where are you?
‘I don’t know, I’m on a bolder.’ Or the time a horse came into the kitchen. Yes a real horse, in a real kitchen (well if you can call somewhere with only 3 mugs and no potato masher a kitchen that is).
Still, it beats work doesn’t it!