A while ago I subscribed to a website which advertises housesits. Every now and then I visited the site and spent a pleasurable moment viewing house sitting opportunities in various countries. There were so many options to choose from. During the Christmas holidays, for instance, there are lots of choices. However most of them are for shorter periods of time, varying from only a couple of days to two to three weeks. Although it would have been fairly easy to find a housesit then, I was going home for Xmas. At some point I suddenly noticed a little line on the website saying: looking for a longer housesit? Somehow I had overlooked that section up till now. Upon clicking it I found a few longer term options. One was a two month housesit in the Cotswolds, another was a two month housesit in Wales, near Hay on Wye. Both started around the 19th of January 2015. It was just before Xmas when I dropped them both a line. The very next day I got an email back from the Hay housesit. Edward and Laura were looking for someone to sit at theirs while they were off to see family in Australia. They needed a pet sitter for their cat and collie. They had never used a house sitter before and were a little nervous about the concept. They asked me to visit them so we could get acquainted and see if we were right for each other. The next day I got an email from the Cotswold housesit asking whether I had a phone number they could call me and when they rang we also got along great. This lady was looking for someone to take care of her elderly cat while she was off to South Africa. I told her I would first go meet the people near Hay because they had contacted me first. So one Sunday morning I drove up to Wales and met Edward, Laura, their cat Minnie and collie Jock. I immediately fell for Jock. He reminded me of my own dog which I got in France years ago. Whereas my dog had been a mixture of nature turned out looking like a collie, Jock was a true one, slender and fit. I had missed having a dog all these years so I took an instant liking for him. Minnie was a beautiful tortoise shell cat. Like any cat she was self contained, friendly when she felt like it, very much independent with fur as soft as silk. Edward and Laura seemed to want no further ado: they liked the look of me and happily offered me the housesit. They had only heard of the website one day before my response to their ad. And they were astonished at the rapidity with which they had found a house/pet sitter. They had been looking for a person in their own village and among their friends, but found no one willing. The one person who was offering to take the dog was found unsuitable because they lived in an apartment on the second floor. Edward and Laura were chuffed to bits with the website. So now all I needed to do was inform the lady in the Cotswolds that unfortunately I had obligations elsewhere and that was that. Now I had an agreement to housesit from the 19th of January to the 19th of March. Perfect opportunity for writing and painting and walking miles in the lovely Welsh countryside with a wonderful dog. I was pleased as punch.
I had done some housesitting before. In the Netherlands I had sit with a cat. Very nice. A cat is obviously easy. They are independent, you don’t have to walk them and so you have lots of time for yourself. Another sit I had done in the south of France. That was not so much a sit as an elderly lady wanted someone to help her out with clearing out stuff which she had accumulated over the years. We had spoken on the phone and she was friendly enough. She said I could stay as long as I liked if we got on well. Sounded good. However it turned out to be not a succes at all. The lady had issues. She was very wealthy having built a fortune in America. She owned houses and apartments in 7 countries, yet she was lonely and not very fit. She was also very suspicious and worried that people wanted to take advantage of her and the first thing she said upon collecting me at the bus station in Cannes was: ‘We agreed you would not get payment, correct?’ Even before saying hello! I set her mind at ease and we drove to the house. It was not in Cannes but very near it in an even more luxurious seaside village. Her house was absolutely magnificent overlooking the Mediterranean and of course there was a pool in the garden. She asked me to help her with watering the plants, clearing out her stuff and keeping her company. She would provide food and lodging. The lodging was an independent studio in the garden. I was to live there, it was small but had a kitchen and a bathroom. She said, upon arriving, ‘The little studio needs cleaning first, and I thought you might want to do it yourself the way you like it, so you cannot live there right now. You will get a room in the house for the time being. The room she gave me was fine. It had an entire wall which was a wardrobe which was closed with padlocks. One day she needed something in there and she showed me what was inside: five meters of wardrobe filled with designer clothes, shoes and handbags! It was worth a fortune. She said: ‘I keep it padlocked because you never know what temptation may do to people’. I thought this a very rude remark, but kept silent.
To say the studio was untidy was the understatement of the century. In truth it was stacked with stuff or rather it was bursting with it. Besides it was plain filthy the kitchen and bathrobe seemed to have been used for years without cleaning. The whole place needed thorough clearing out and cleaning. I soon became aware of the issues of the lady: she did not want to throw anything away. She turned out to be a hoarder. She said: ‘O no, better not part with that, it may come in handy one day. Better hang on to that, I don’t like to throw good stuff away’. But in fact she did not even want me to throw out empty cartons, empty washing liquid bottles, plastic bags, thrash. It was awful, she hang on to everything. Then she had a wardrobe in the studio which she opened and which was filled with stuff. She said that it would be good to take everything out and stack it elsewhere. Then she needed to see to some issue with the poolmanager. In the meantime I decided to shut the doors of the wardrobe, I would ask her what to do with the content later. But reader, as soon as I pushed the doors the entire wardrobe came apart and fell over me. The door hit the huge old television set which then fell on my leg. I was trying to hold the wardrobe back, because I was afraid to get crushed under it and also did not want to let it fall because all the content of crockery and whatnot would get broken. So I screamed as hard as I could for help. ‘Au Secours! Au Secours!’ I yelled. But they were at the pool and could not hear me. One of the doors gave way and fell on my leg. I was nearly at the point of giving up, because it was way too heavy. Imagine one of those huge wooden French cupboard! Luckily just at that moment the pool guy ran in and pushed the wardrobe back. I fell on the floor and cried my eyes out. My leg was throbbing. I feared it was broken. The old lady said: ‘That was not my fault, you cannot sue me.’ I was appalled she should say such a thing at that moment. She clearly was devoid of any feelings and in this American frame of mind where everyone tries to get rich by suing others. She did not even come to look at the leg. I could not walk so the poolman helped me to my room. My leg was in a sorry state, blood was running full length and it was terribly bruised. The poolman said: we had better go to the hospital, I will take you. However the old lady did not want me to go. She eyed me suspiciously. I told them I would try to clean the leg first and would decide afterwards. I wanted to be left alone. I felt so awful. Fortunately I had Arnica pills with me and Calendula spray to clean the wounds. The swelling and the bruises were really bad, but I figured no doctor could do anything about it. It needed healing. I decided I would wait and give it a little time first. The next two days I could not walk. I hopped around a little and did not do any cleaning. I was surprised to find the old lady never once asked me how my leg was nor how I felt. She did not show any solicitude nor concern. Let alone feelings of guilt. Furthermore, whenever I was in the kitchen of her house with her she commented om my cooking. She herself ate very unhealthily, huge pieces of meat and chicken with chips or crisps on a plate in front of the telly. I am an non-meat eater and so I usually made some salad. It was the end of June and the weather was lovely. The lady did nothing but commenting on everything. ‘I can see how you are so slim, you eat nothing but rabbit food.’ She had bought some lovely cherries which she ate all by herself not sharing any of them with me. She said: I paid those four euros so please do not touch them.
Yet she was clearly a millionaire. It was the time when Francois Hollande was about to win the elections. She was in front of the telly watching the political developments closely, all the while cursing the socialists and saying she would have to think about a strategy because if that man got chosen he would impose a tax on large fortunes and she would have to pay 40% tax on this her second house and her apartments in Cannes and Nice. She was horrified by the idea. I told her that surely it would not hit her too hard since apparently she seemed wealthy enough, but she said how could I, ordinary person, understand anything about money. Since she was 70 I never commented on her rude remarks. However it became very clear to me that we were not going to get on. I considered that I had taken on this house/company sit for fun, and until now I had had zero fun. Instead I was being insulted and treated in a way I would never ever treat a person. As she kept saying negative things about me even after I sat down with her and told her she should be a little more respectful, I told her I would leave. I booked a cheap hotel in Cannes and told her I would ask the gardener to give me a lift. But this she did not want. I think she was afraid of what I might say to him. First she tried to make me stay by saying she apologised. Saying she was planning on taking me to Italy for the day and so on. I did not fall into that trap, it was all words. I left. I went to the hotel. The manager asked me if I needed a doctor since I was still not walking properly. I told him I would see how I would feel after a good nights sleep. The old lady drove off in her expensive car. I felt sorry for her. She was lonely and rich. She had heart problems and her children did not want anything to do with her. How is all that money ever going to make up for that?
Another house sit was in an apartment in Brussels. It was a peculiar type in the sense that I was to be a counsellor to the owner a couple of hours a day. In exchange for board and lodging I was his private counsellor. It was a very nice arrangement. As a trained counsellor and coach this was a nice arrangement and the apartment I stayed in had just been refurbished so it was brand-new. Overlooking a nice little park in a lovely area of Brussels. Three weeks in the apartment was simply lovely. No pets to take care of this time. Brussels is a lovely city and I enjoyed working on an illustration project there.
House sitting is to me a very nice way of discovering areas while not having to bother about hotels.