Tag: housesitting

English summer, why Brits can’t make coffee, good reads and no quick fixes

The English summer

It is August. In England. It is raining and cold enough for the central heating to have kicked in.

This time last year I was in Melbourne, their winter, weather about the same. But that was Melbourne and that makes everything better.

Housesitting

I am house sitting and dog sitting in the countryside in the UK. There are similarities between the last two years house and dog sitting in Melbourne and this house and dog sit. The dogs are delighted to have company, love cuddles and a lot of fuss, and while they can be left for a few hours (which is rarely), greet us like long lost friends on our return.

The Melbourne houses were beautiful, in lovely suburbs. The house in England is luxurious, very quiet, and comfortable. There is a cleaner, a handy man and a gardener. And yet – I would rather be in Melbourne.

I miss the rattle of the tram at the end of the street. I miss the Greek food. I miss Melbourne.

Melbourne versus the Worcestershire Countryside

I miss the coffee, the burgers, the graffiti and going for brunch and knowing that the eggs will always be perfectly poached and the coffee good. Don’t waste your breath and tell me that poached eggs, barista made coffee and smashed avo are increasingly available in England. Tell me, can you ever add the prefix ‘good’ in front of these menu items in England? Quite frankly, all a bit hit and miss and frequently a disappointment. In so much now that I have but all but given up on brunch in England and opt for a bacon sarnie and a cup of tea instead. That we, us Brits, can do.

Take for example the ‘barista made coffee’. Somewhere along the line cafes in the UK have started buying in expensive coffee machines  –  in the mistaken belief that they by owning one they can miraculously make good coffee.

The same cafes have added poached eggs to the menu while having no idea how to cook them and smother them with shop bought hollandaise to disguise the poorly poached egg. A £1000 coffee machine does not make the operator a barista. It is a practiced skill. And yes I like pretty pictures on my coffee. I do.

If you can’t make good coffee or serve perfect poached eggs, don’t put them on the menu. Just don’t. And smash the avo please because sliced avo is nasty and slimy and the reason why I never ate in the UK before I became ever so slightly addicted to it in Melbourne.

I put all this whinging pom behaviour down to the summertime blues. Seriously, August, rain, confined to barracks and I am wearing a fleecy for goodness sake.

I am a city girl

Yet the countryside here is beautiful and green (the rain). There are canal walks and good pubs with excellent food. There is an Arboretum a few minutes away. Cities with cathedrals and Tudor buildings. The Commandery in Worcester is a few miles away and there are heaps of old buildings and gardens managed by The National Trust within driving distance. It is lovely here. My sleep is uninterrupted by light pollution, the traffic noise is minimal. The Severn Valley Railway is close by as is Bewdley and the River Severn. I need to get out more. And stop whinging.

Filling the time

The upside is that I am reading my fifth book – the downside is that I am isolated as it is 30 minutes brisk walk to the village that has one shop and one pub. My husband is at work four days a week so for 9 hours a day it is me, the dogs and the 3 acres of woodland and some rabbits.

For five weeks. Week Three. I am bored now. I had great plans – one was to start running – couch to 5k – but then I had a fall and that came to a standstill. The other was to finally treating my blog seriously, move hosts, increase SEO. That did not go well. Post fall injuries make sitting at a desk for more that 30 minutes painful. I have too many photos stored that I have not edited properly. I almost threw in the towel.

And in the end I wonder if I care that much. Do I want to be that person who has adverts on her blog to make some money? I am not sure that I do.

The book

What about the book I keep saying I will write? What about? The reality of decluttering? Will people be interested in a book to tell them that actually you can’t do it in 7 days and your house won’t be sparking joy in 5 days? No – the hoarders all want a quick fix and when it doesn’t work – whatever method they choose, Kon Mari or Peter Walsh – and they ‘fail’ they say that that method is crap and move on to the next one. Of course they do – have you seen how many self help books there are on decluttering? If they worked there would only be one book needed. Instead there are hundreds and all give conflicting advice.

Don’t follow decluttering groups on social media

I do because I thought I wanted to write the book about decluttering. Seriously the people who whine about their kids rooms and the Lego depress me. They are the people that bought all that bloody Lego. ‘My children have seven pairs of shoes and five pairs of jeans and twenty thousand t shirts’. They do? Who bought them? A mother despairs and says ‘I tell them to tidy their room’ yet they themselves don’t have the energy to do more than watch re runs of Hoarders and shop for storage containers on ebay. “Lol.” The child can’t get in the room because the Lego covers the floor.

Honestly if I write the book I will call it ‘first get off the sofa and stop whining’. Chapter One ‘turn off the TV’. Chapter 2 ‘Turn off Facebook’. Chapter 3 ‘If they can use a mobile phone they can use a washing machine’. I may have my outline now.

Some have got it tough – ill health, unemployment, family break ups –  and there is great support in many of the groups. And that is good.  But it is nearly all women who pick up constantly after kids and husbands and think that this is OK or whine about it.  It is not OK. Which is why decluttering and the process is personal to each of us – we cannot give advice. Just do it for ourselves. Offer support and empathy but not advice. And stop buying the Lego.

Be yourself

The vicious cycle of depression

Hoarding is a mental health issue. Like depression you cannot snap out of it. Indeed, anxiety, depression and hoarding is often part of the same vicious cycle. But please don’t project your issues onto your kids. And quit asking how many towels a family needs, justifying why a crafter needs 7 million bales of material, and buying more plastic storage to keep the beanie babies because you know you will never make that quilt and one towel each is enough and Beanie Babies will not be your pension fund. And then I remember how many towels I had. And I still have those Nat West Piggies and ‘vintage’ teddy bears.

Diets work, people don’t

Like diets – join WW and lose 7lb in the first month or your money back. And most people do lose 7 lb then by month two or three they plateau or gain and say it’s crap. As a former helper at WW I heard all this. “I stuck to it. It doesn’t work”. In reality we all know they have a stash of chocolate in the car and choose that over a salad.

Three months later they are a stone heavier and join Slimming World and lose weight and after 6 months get disillusioned as their once size 18 body is now size 14 and they wanted to be a size 8 by now so the diet is crap and they leave. They put on weight and in 6 months are on the next fad diet.

If I wrote a diet book called ‘Losing Weight isn’t Easy’ would it sell? Because no one want the unpalatable truth that is you have to work at stuff. Paying £5 a week to be weighed won’t make you thin. Eating healthily will improve your health, exercise will make you fitter and  improve your well being. You know this.

Gaining back control

When I announced my couch to 5k intentions I had a lot of support from friends and genuine sympathy when a fall the first day put me back on the bench. I also had some people say that the NHS have no business advocating a running plan and should concentrate on making people better. Going for the burn and running through the pain was the only way to gain. Not for me it isn’t. I know my body best.

And as I decided to do this to get some control in my life as other aspects seemed to be out of control and some people offered support there while others told me I had made a big fat mess. Yes a big fat mess of my blog, my attempts to run and therefore everything in my life right now that keep me sane, the temptation to crawl into a hole and hibernate in this autumnal summer was overwhelming.

Instead I read

Bloody good short stories in The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon. Writing that makes you wonder where they find the words. Writing that make me think I can never be a writer if I can’t write like this. I read some not so good books, with the over and unnecessary use of the words really and literally. When did everything have to be really amazing or literally the best thing ever?

Writers like Mark Haddon and Bill Bryson make me feel it is not worth my time picking up a pen and writing ever again. Then I read a poorly concocted tale that gathers four 60 something women in a villa in Italy. Five hundred words about forgetting a passport that add nothing to the plot, a dig at Investment Bankers and a millionaire property developer. Add to the mix a stereotypical young Italian gardener, a husband bonking the intern from Essex and an English bounder art stealing hotelier and some lemons. And I think, yeah, I can can write.

Be the Change

To get something done, to make a change to your life you have to make a change in how you live. Losing weight isn’t difficult. I have done it before, half a dozen times. What is difficult is committing to the things you need to do to lose weight. And you know you did not put on those pounds overnight so why do you think a diet that promises losing a dress size in a week will work?

I spent my teenage years (skinny teenage years) watching my mom on one diet after another, putting vile artificial sweeteners in her tea, PLJ in her hot water then eating a whole loaf of bread, butter and cheese in one sitting. Or going to the carvery and having all of the meat, three types of potato, followed up with a Black Forest Gateaux.

At 15 I was adding sweeteners to my tea, eating baked beans out of a tin (the baked bean diet was a thing) as I thought I was fat. I wasn’t. I was 8 stone (51kg). It was just that did not fit into clothes made for the typical English figure with curves. Only mens trousers fitted me. Thank goodness for Levis.

At 18 I lived on cottage cheese and bran flakes. I was a student and still a beanpole. I cycled or walked everywhere which offset the beer.

At age 25 at full term with my first born I was 61 kg. I was not fat. I got fat. Only I have the tools to reverse this. No one else.

So where did all the stuff come from?

In my teenage years and life as a student I could pack up my belongings in a couple of bags. I did use a van to move to London – I had a moped by then, a few more books and possibly two pairs of shoes. How did I go from this to a 6 bed house full of stuff? Because those magazines sold me a lifestyle of swags and Roman Blinds and shabby chic and collectables. Like weight, clutter is not something you acquire in a week. It takes years to acquire it so you are not going to lose it in a week. The link between excess stuff and excess weight is there to see for all – almost everyone is hoarding clothes three sizes too small for them. Wish clothes. That mock us all.

Magazines perpetuate the myth of perfection

If you hoard magazines, go look at them now. If you don’t have a backlog to 1985, leaf through them at the newsagents or supermarket. A good 50% of the content will be advertising. You are paying £5 to read adverts.

Every spring there will be a ‘spring clean’ article. Early summer the ‘bikini diet’ – interspersed with chocolate feasts for Easter and the best ever Christmas by Nigella/Delia/Jamie. Next month will the January money makeover. You are broke, of course, because you were told by the same magazine the best gifts to buy for Christmas that cost a fortune and no one needs. Made to feel guilty by a helpful account on why experiences count for more than stuff. The February edition will be the pre spring clean decluttering advice. It will delight in telling you it is ok to donate that expensive unwanted gift. The one you were told to buy for the man in your life.

Sell the family silver as your family won’t want it will appear after last months article on why using the silver for the best table decorations will make your Christmas party sparkle. The digital detox guide will be on the same page as the must have gadgets for this year. Frugal food articles fight for space with sumptuous feasts with impossible to source ingredients.

No wonder we are all confused.

I need a flat white.

 

 

Housesitting – why I house sit and why you could too

Have you considered housesitting?

I am currently housesitting (with my husband) and looking after two delightful dogs. We are staying in an amazing house in the Worcestershire countryside that is straight from the pages of an interior design magazine. With the use of a well equipped kitchen we can cook what we like and not spend on eating out. We have access to a library of DVD’s that we can watch in the cinema room. The bed is comfortable, it makes getting up a tough decision. The bathroom has a rainfall shower and a big tub that if I were so inclined I could bathe in with glass of champagne that the house owners thoughtfully provided, stargazing through the skylight.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

And it is. Not all house sits assignments are so luxurious of course. This was a lucky find in so many ways, right time, right place. And a bonus of some loving dogs to care for in a lovely home.

This is our sixth house and dog sitting assignment and the second house sit booked via Trusted Housesitters. The third via Trusted Housesitters assignment is already confirmed. The houses are all different. What they all have in common is that the dog and house owners want to be able to relax in the knowledge that you will take good care of their home and pets while they are away.

There are lots of resources out there – I particularly like We Love House sitting – lots of information for prospective and active housesitters.

Housesitting as an alternative to renting

The DH and I are housesitting as an alternative to renting accommodation or living on a building site whilst the builders knock part of our house down.

We have emptied the ground floor and sold or given away most of our furniture.

Housesitting on our doorstep

At the moment we are limiting our sits to assignments within 30 minutes commute to Birmingham. We need to be close to where we live as the DH has to work and we need to pop back to keep an eye on the building work.

When we have applied for the sits we have been upfront and honest with the clients as to why we are housesitting. They need to know that the DH won’t be at the house all of the time so that it is mostly me looking after the home and pets.

We will need to go home occasionally and so sometimes that will mean their pets can come with us is they are happy for that to happen, or be left for a couple of hours in the house. This honesty may mean that some people will decline us and that is just fine. It is about finding the right match for you.

What has been good about sitting houses and pets locally is that we have had the opportunity to meet the dogs and the house owners before agreeing to the sit.

We are new to Trusted Housesitters and so far all the people we have sat for are using the service for the first time. It has been reassuring for the people entrusting their home and pets to strangers to meet us – and we have had a chance to check that the assignment is the right fit for us. We have seen where the house is, how to use the appliances and be shown where and when to feed the dogs.

Housesitting far from home

Our first house sits were in Melbourne. These were arranged privately as they were for an old uni friend. We must have done something right as she asked us back to look after the dogs on two further occasions. Then her work colleague booked us too. Read more about that here.

How do you know the sit or sitter is right for you?

Using a service like Trusted Housesitters gives you a lot of assurance. Regular users of the service will have built up a portfolio of references and levels of verification. After an assignment both the house and pet owners and the sitters are encouraged to feedback on the experience.

Read the reviews. Look at the photos of the house and the pets. Make sure you are confident with the requests of the house sit and the needs and types of pets. Will you need a car or will you be able to use theirs?

I was recently approached to look after a house and two horses. I declined as I have no experience with horses. Another sitter told me that they had declined an assignment after meeting the dogs. The dog were very boisterous and she suspected they could be aggressive with her if the owners were not there. To test this she asked the owners to come out of the house with her and give her the house keys. She then went to the front door to open it and the dogs barked very aggressively and threw themselves at the door. The owners were shocked. And lost a sitter.

Some assignments ask for you to clean the house and look after the garden. Do you want to do this? Others will have a gardener and a cleaner as does my current sit. It goes without saying that we keep the house tidy  and water a couple of plants in pots but I don’t have to, nor want to clean a big house and mow a lawn.

One of the motivators  of selling a big house was so I didn’t have to do these jobs. The DH and I concentrate on keeping the dogs happy and I use the time catching up with my writing and reading. I don’t mind watering the plants and cleaning a small house. I do expect the house to be clean when I arrive.

Write an amazing profile

Read other profiles. What stands out to you and makes you want to be a sitter for them or ask them to sit for you?  If you want to be a house and or a pet sitter think what you have to offer that would make people feel happy about you staying in their home and looking after their pets.

If you are looking for sitters, why would someone want to stay in your house, your town, city or village and look after your pets?

Sell yourself. Say what have you done in the past and why you want to house and pet sit. Bring some personality into the profile. Be honest.

Sell the house and the area. What is there to do in the area? For example if I was selling Birmingham I would say it has an emerging food scene with 5 Michelin star restaurants in the city and amazing street food events. I would mention the indie coffee houses, talk about the Museum and Art Gallery and the Staffordshire Hoard, the parks and surrounding countryside,  National Trust Properties, Grand Central, John Lewis and The Balti Triangle. I would also add that it is near to Stratford upon Avon and the Cotswolds, because potential overseas sitters will be familiar with those and rarely realise that Birmingham is so close.

Take photos (with permission)

The DH and I take lots of photos of the dogs we look after and share them on our Facebook Page (not profile).  I suggest that you do check with the owner first that they are happy for you to do so. Never share any photos of the house. If the owners prefer we would also email photos. Owners love to see their happy pets. I sometimes tag Trusted Housesitters in the posts. Again, make sure the pet owners are happy for you to do so. Some of my photos of the dogs we have looked after are at the bottom of this post.

Welcome them home to happy pets and food in the fridge

And leave basics for the sitters, especially if you live some way from shops. Milk, bread, tea at the minimum. On our last sit we cooked dinner and made a crumble for the house and dog owners. They had been to Australia and we knew from experience how exhausted they would be. We also met them from the railway station. This time we are leaving some fruit and salads and some chicken and cheese so they can make up a light meal when they get home. They have a long drive from the airport and we are sure they will stop for a meal on the way home.

Complete and read the housesitting welcome guide

This is where all the important information is. About the house, the animals, the responsibilities and the area. It is the housesitters bible. And it guides the house owners as to what information they need to provide. As a housesitter, read it before the assignment starts. This way if you have any questions you can address them beforehand.

Write a review

Once the sit is over you will be asked to feedback on the sit or the sitters. Please remember to do this. For a sitter like me it helps me get more assignments. For the house and pet owner it helps sell the sit.  And if it was dreadful talk to Trusted Housesitters first before writing the review.

And enjoy looking after lovely dogs like this

  • footballing dogs

 

 

 

 

 

Housesitting in Melbourne and other travel plans

Housesitting is the lifestyle plan for me and Phil, my husband, going forward

Eventually we will sign up with an agency, probably Trusted Housesitters. We have not needed to as yet as we were fortunate enough to land our first housesitting assignment through a uni friend.

I hadn’t seen my old uni friend for over 20 years and as part of the round the world trip Phil and I  did in 2011/2 the plan was to go visit her in Melbourne. Our dates clashed with her planned visit to England, which was disappointing as I was looking forward to seeing her again. Then she mentioned that all they needed to organise was a house and dog sitter and I proposed that we could be those sitters. Surprisingly she said yes, having only met my husband at our wedding. I had never met hers. However they entrusted us to look after Mac and Poppy while they were away.

And so it was in November 2011 we got to Melbourne and panicked when questioned by passport control about where we were staying in Melbourne.

‘I don’t know.’

Having since watched Border Control I now realise this was not a good answer to give.

‘My friend is meeting us’

I had realised by then to say ‘a friend I have not seen in over 25 years and just recently got back in touch with through Facebook’ would not have been a good idea.

‘Do you have a phone number for her?’

‘No, I don’t and I don’t have a phone that will work in this country yet.’

‘What if she doesn’t meet you?’

‘She will.’

I don’t think they checked if we were met, but I guess they could see that we had a flight booked out of the country so we reckoned they did not consider there was a big risk of us overstaying our visa. We were let into Australia. Also as it was incredibly busy in the arrivals hall, I think they just needed to get us out of there.

My friend was there at the gate.

And I got to spend two weeks with her as she had to change her dates due to some big music awards thing (Aria is pretty big) she had to attend. It was great because it gave us the opportunity to reconnect, and she and her husband got to show off their city. And we got to see Dolly Parton in concert, for free.

The next time we went in 2015 I had the addresses, emails, phone numbers all ready if I got questioned. Although we had no idea where we were staying in Sydney.  As one of our hosts was a barrister I reckoned she would get us out of the airport if detained.

‘Don’t mention housesitting, I have heard they have a dim view on housesitting.’

I must have said this to Phil a dozen times.

The arrivals hall was empty and we were made to use the retina recognition machines (always a challenge to those of us who wear specs) and sailed through border control in a matter of minutes.

Up until that moment I was convinced we would get the same questions, especially as I had a different visa than I had in 2011. But that is another story. I really must stop watching Border Control.

And now Phil and I are going back for the third housesit at the same house with the same dogs and I am getting all panicky about the visas again. This time it is because we will be in Australia for just under 3 months, the maximum time the e visa allows us to stay.

The reason for the longer stay is that we have two house sits booked now, both in Melbourne, with a gap between them.

Travel plans

The plan was to zoom in, get over jet lag, dump excess luggage in Melbourne and then fly to Darwin, travel over land to Alice and see Uluru. In 2 days, since beginning to write this post, plans have changed. We will now be arriving in Melbourne the day before the sit begins.

This is because Carole King is playing in Hyde Park, London. To make the most of the three-month visa restriction I have had to change our plans. Do you see how complicated and random my life is? Fortunately nothing was booked.

I have three itineraries in front of me and numerous tabs open on the desktop.  Australian Border Control, Viator, Tripadvisor,  tour companies to help decide on tours we can make in-between and after sits. I want to use an Australian based company to tour with, not some big multinational company based in Canada. It is hard to tell with some of them and if you book via Viator I have yet to find out if you can see who the tour operator is.

There are other things to consider.

Do we drive from Sydney to Brisbane? Wait, didn’t I just say we were going to Darwin, Uluru and Alice? Yes I did. That is still the plan between house sits.

We have to go to Sydney as Yum Cha is a must with our friends there.  I wanted to go to Tassie to but no time to fit it in and it will be cold in August. Darwin and Brisbane will be warmer, although the tour operators warn that temperatures drop at night in the NT. I am taking thermals.

So far the itinerary looks like this

10 July Birmingham to Melbourne via Dubai

13 July arrive Melbourne

14 July house sit until  22 August

23 August fly to Darwin

24 August 10 day Kakadu to Uluru tour

3 September fly from Alice Springs to Melbourne

4 to 21 September house sit in Melbourne

22 September fly to Sydney

22 to 25 stay at Rocks YHA Sydney – may do a Bridge climb, will go for Yum Cha

26 September drive to Brisbane using this itinerary

1 or 5 October  Five day Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island tour (dates to be confirmed by operator) the trip gets great reviews although it is expensive

11 October fly Brisbane to New Zealand (tbk) or home or……..

With just two days left on the visa.

I am panicking that something will go wrong and we will overstay the visa and be banned from entering Australia for 3 years (Border Control again).

The other issue I have is packing. What to pack and what in? I still have my back pack but my back is not good. On tours you need to take minimum, yet in Melbourne we will be city slickers and need at least one good outfit. My Dubarry boots with a dress sufficed for Melbourne casual dining but those boots will not be suitable for hiking around Uluru and scuba diving at Lady Musgrave Island. They will not fit in a back pack.

DSCF1379 - Housesitting in Melbourne and other travel plans

And if we go to New Zealand, do we get a camper van again? We had a love hate relationship with our camper in 2011. Do we fly into Christchurch and see more of the South Island? Will it be too cold? It is often cheaper to hire cars and campers in Christchurch if going to Auckland as the companies want the main stock on the North Island.

After New Zealand I would quite like to visit The Cook Islands. Those Dubarry boots will be of no use there either. Men don’t have these problems.

Oh, did I mention we have a friend working in LA ? We would like to go see him too, and maybe drive to Las Vegas, maybe San Francisco and we always said we wished we had spent more time in Pismo Beach.

img 2241 - Housesitting in Melbourne and other travel plans

Maybe one big road trip across America?

Decisions, decisions.

And then there is the insurance to sort out….. our annual policy will not suffice. The to do list is getting longer.

Where do you think we could go?