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Hornets, broken boilers and the hard grind behind your holiday

1st August 2012

Source: Telegraph 1/8/12 Ever taken a holiday in France? I wonder if you realise how much effort goes into making sure your stay is enjoyable, or the extremes that caretakers and gîte owners sometimes need to go to, to ensure your break is successful. Properties used commercially for holidays take on a life of their own: on a busy day, it can feel like they have a personality too, a sort of wilful independence reminiscent of a teenager in a mood, showing you up just when you need them to behave. Let’s look at a week in the life of a caretaker in France... Monday dawns, and a new lot of holidaymakers are in several of the properties we look after. Notes of our contact details are in each property and the mobile is with us at all times. A whole new week is about to unfurl. Am interrupted by a call from a lovely family who are on their way out but have seen some big things buzzing around the living room of the open-plan farmhouse they are renting. I pop in after lunch and there are several of the things which, yes, are hornets and I do need to do something. I ring a contact and he can come tomorrow. The family are charming and understand: the only room with a door is the small kitchen, but they will spend the evening in there. I detour as I return home and borrow a TV from an empty client’s house and drop it off as promised for a family who arrived yesterday, who had thought there was a TV (for playing DVDs on) at their gîte. Having met them I realise their adult child is quite severely handicapped, and I understand that their holiday would be very different if they could not have her watch some TV, so that’s another issue sorted: it makes me feel better. Tuesday Off to meet the pest controller: another hot sunny day, so the holidaymakers are OK about needing to be out. I loiter around the church at 2pm as agreed: the view is great but no sign of a pest controller. I ring their office: there has been a car accident en route and they can’t come. They are very apologetic, the last thing they thought of was to inform me. This is not good. I leave a note in the house for the returning guests, and retreat home to source an alternative. RELATED ARTICLES No cream, no bramleys 22 Feb 2011 The shy and enchanting pupils who loved to call me madam 15 Feb 2011 Paris was mine 31 Jan 2011 Welcoming in Chinese New Year 08 Feb 2011 An expat family's history recorded as it happens 31 Dec 2010 The unpalatable truth about French cuisine 13 Jun 2012 This is August, so people are either extremely busy or on holiday. The only joy I get is someone whose wife says he will ring me when he gets home tonight around 8pm. When the holidaymakers get home I get a phone call: now they are not so happy, a second evening huddled in the kitchen and the children are getting scared. I apologise and explain that I will speak to them tomorrow: for the first time, alternative accommodation is discussed. I ring a friend who has just finished renovating a house which they intend to let next year. Is there any chance they would let it to my hornet family for the next 10 days, because by now I can see the solution is not going to be quick. Yes, they will: and I ring the owner of the property with the hornets to recount what is happening. They are not at all happy. Wednesday The second pest control person still can’t meet me today, the distances are just too great, but can be there tomorrow. The guests really cannot face going out again knowing they will be facing a third evening in the tiny kitchen and it is their youngest child’s birthday. We decide they had better move: even if the appointment tomorrow comes off, and I cannot guarantee that, they are feeling like refugees and not holidaymakers. They will make a claim against my client for the cost of the rental for the alternative property, and I need to make sure my client is happy enough with me, as I realise I am racking up a lot of hours which he needs to pay me for, solving “his” problem whilst he has lost the rental from this family. Not easy. Thursday It’s beginning to feel like a not very good week. I meet the new pest control man who is charming, tells me not to worry at all about the hornets, then proceeds to climb into a suit reminiscent of Neil Armstrong on the moon and go up a ladder, returning triumphantly with the remnants of the hornets’ nest, which he wraps up in newspaper and presents to me with great ceremony. I need to pay him 80 euros for this – so what the client owes me is mounting up. Friday All I have scheduled for today is a meeting at 6pm with a plumber, to check on the dodgy boiler for a property which has guests arriving on Sunday. I thank my lucky stars that I have passed a lot of other work to this particular plumber, and he is delaying the start of his evening to have a look at the beast, having understood my sheer panic when I explained that the guests arriving in 48 hours are three families with very young babies. After much pursing of lips and switching of levers, the boiler is pronounced past its sensible repair date, plus almost undoubtedly not large enough in any case – a point totally overlooked by the owners. I ask for an idea of cost if we went for replacement. A pencil and pad are produced and some rapid calculations. About thirty one thousand, he suggests. I sag against the wall, my client’s probable response to this news passing in front of my eyes in full Technicolor, like a man drowning viewing his previous life. Trente et une mille I repeat weakly – after all, numbers are the most difficult thing to grasp in French, so maybe I have heard wrong. Yes, he confirms. Tired as I am, something suddenly occurs to me – this plumber is not an old man, but rather old-fashioned. En francs? I suggest. Mais oui, is the reply. Thank God, he thinks still in francs: the actual cost in euros is about a tenth of that, a mere bagatelle in comparison to the news I thought I was going to be breaking. So, if I get a response from the owner this evening, what can we do? Well, he suggests, he could go and get the new boiler early tomorrow morning and fit it by the end of the day. I know I am getting a huge favour because of the work we bring his way – will the owner realise I have used up a whole chunk of goodwill on their behalf so their holiday guests will be content? I doubt it. So the client is rung, approval is given, the plumber is faxed. It means the property cannot have its final clean until either Saturday evening or first thing Sunday morning – but there’s no such things as weekends when you are involved in the tourism business. Saturday is relatively quiet – the family I borrowed the TV for have cleaned their property themselves before they left, the house with the hornets in was not stayed in long enough to need a huge amount of cleaning, and except for checking that the planned boiler replacement did indeed go ahead, it was a day for catching up on administration and trying to make sense of the last week. Sunday I am able to go and clean the property with the spanking-new boiler, ready for guests this afternoon, although I am worried about the guests who have just texted asking where the nearest supermarket is which is open on a Sunday. This is rural Brittany: Paris is probably the answer, so I text back – tell me what you need and I will leave you what I can from my own store cupboard... That was the week that was. Sally is the founder of www.lbvfrance.com and www.thegitedoctor.com