In days of old, when nights were cold, when the internet and Airbnb hadn’t been invented, we had things like English Country Cottages to provide holiday homes for the self-catering type.
So, to set the scene: When I was young, there was a distinctly snobbish pecking order in the holiday stakes. Country Cottage renters were a cut above Caravanners, who towed their tiny mobile homes behind them; or Campers, who carried their homes on their backs. However, both of these groups had some kind of idiosyncratic credibility which was not shared by the Hi-de-Hi Holiday Campers, The Billy Butlin-ers, The Pontin-eers, or even the seaside Bed and Breakfast merchants. As for the static caravan park people, well, the least said about them, the better! The one thing they had in common was that they were all searching for a bit of British sunshine, usually by the sea.
The idea of an overseas packaged holiday was yet to take-off, so to speak, and these didn’t really get going until the mid-1950’s, so it was more a case of “Bognor or bust” than “Magaluf 18-30” for lusty youngsters aiming to escape parental shackles and exercise their newly found teenage freedoms.
Interestingly, all of these classes of trippers still exist and more. From the Caravan Club types who obsess about towing their little homes behind them as they block roads around the country, lurching from one “approved” site to another in search of the companionship of like-minded souls; to those seeking some kind of pure Outward Bound, Bear Grills experience, who can construct a dwelling space from two matchsticks and a sharp downpour.
Strangely, even “posh” camping has its adherents these days, in the world of Glamping where luxury yurts are more likely to be fitted out with a sauna or jacuzzi than the average suburban home.
But, back in the day, only the well-off stayed in hotels, the rest of us wouldn’t have dreamt of it. I was 17 years old before I spent my first night in a hotel, on business, at The County Hotel in Newcastle, and I had to be shown the ropes by an older lad who was in the same work team as me. It was quite magical in those days. Rooms had no en-suite arrangements, there were shared facilities down the corridor; if you left your shoes outside your room at night, they were whisked away and returned, beautifully cleaned, in the morning, and you ordered your newspaper and morning call at the reception desk before going to bed.
However, I do remember spending one night in a room in a pub as a very young child with my parents somewhere in Dorset as a special treat during a touring holiday in my dad’s firm’s plumbers’ van. There was me, my mum, my dad and my even younger brother, and I remember we took in the ruins of Corfe Castle on that trip. It may have been more comfortable if we had slept there! But I guess we must have spent the rest of the time either camping out or sleeping in the van, but I’m not sure. It was probably a memory that my tender young mind chose to blot out.
So, to return to The English Country Cottage idea, some bright spark put together a catalogue of properties for rent, complete with booking forms and rental prices for each week. They took a commission on every letting and provided a platform for people who had houses, cottages, flats, etc., to rent. This was probably the heyday of the catalogue world when there were catalogues for pretty much everything that the undiscerning purchaser might want to buy. For holiday lets, you made your choice and then phoned up to confirm that the dates you wanted were still available and then sent a cheque or postal orders to firm things up. Quaint eh?
Then along came Airbnb…
Of course, these days it is so much slicker and you can check out thousands of rentals on line, look at tens of thousands of photos, read hundreds of thousands of barely literate reviews until brain death sets in …and then you make your final, sometimes excellent, but often flawed choice.
Now, having stayed in many establishments I am reminded of one or two constants. Firstly, whoever said that the camera does not lie, was clearly having a laugh! I suggest that the camera is usually stretching the truth. Clearly its focus is on sales rather than accuracy.
However, my own particular gripe is the equipment that people provide, particularly kitchen equipment.
Imagine the scene: I’ve rented a place on the coast, or in the country for a week. The owners have left me all sorts of information about things to do, places to go, places to eat and so on. They get it. I’m on holiday. So far, so good.
So, now imagine the conversation between a couple planning how to kit out their holiday rental. This is clearly not going to be easy for them.
“Obviously we won’t just dump any old kitchen equipment that we have kicking around at home onto our prospective tenants, will we?”
“No, that would be stupid wouldn’t it? I mean, just because we’ve never managed to find a use for that huge pan, or that truly tiny milk saucepan, it wouldn’t be good to assume that it would be just right for someone else would it?”
“But, what about that really scruffy set of pans you’ve been meaning to replace for years?”
“No, they really do look too disreputable, don’t they? It wouldn’t be right to pop those into our customers’ cupboards would it?”
“I know, how about all that mismatched cutlery? It’s a golden opportunity to replace all our stuff with a decent set and offload the old stuff. Oh, maybe not.”
“I’m sure they wouldn’t notice a set of mismatched glasses though. We’ve been using them for years. Now, how many does the place sleep? Four. OK lets give them three wines glasses of various sizes and two tumblers. That should do the trick.”
“No? Well I think you’re just being difficult.”
“Do we have to get new plates and stuff, do you think? Or can we make do with some of our old stuff?”
“I guess it will be pretty obvious if we have mismatched plates and mugs and stuff like that. Let’s get some cheap crockery from IKEA or Wilkos. We only need four of each after all.”
“That should do it. There’s no point in dumping our old toaster on them is there? We’ll only have to get it safety-tested and its bound to fail.”
“How about that rusty looking cheese grater? and those knackered old chopping boards? No? OK. I guess they would bring the tone down a bit.“
Ready, Steady, Bake!
“I know how we can differentiate ourselves though…I bet they’ll be suffering from baking withdrawal symptoms. Life’s just not been the same for people since The Bake Off started. Everyone sees themselves as a master baker. So we can leave them those biscuit cutter shapes that we’ve never used, some cake trays, a mixing bowl, and a rolling pin. That should do it. They can have the other old cheese grater – the one that doesn’t look too bad, and a balloon whisk too, for good measure, I’ve never found a use for it.”
“Talking about measures, what about scales and a measuring jug though? They won’t be able to bake anything without them, will they?“
“Look, if they are that serious, they’ll bring these things with them, won’t they?”
Thoughtfully…”We could always put a couple of aprons in the drawer though, to go with the single tea towel we’ll be giving them.“
Meanwhile in the realm of technology more mysteries are afoot.
It was so much easier when there was just radio and analogue TV. These days people expect to be able to communicate, even when they are on holiday! What is the world coming to?
So how would an ideal set-up work?
I know, a TV, set up in a bedroom, cunningly placed so that it can easily be watched by one person only provided they had a permanent deformity requiring them to hold their head in an “Eyes Right!” position.
Maybe couple this with another wide screen TV in a cosy living area that only acts as a DVD player.
You could double-up on the effect of this arrangement by putting the most comfortable chairs in the darkest corner of another room so as to inhibit relaxed reading.
You could provide WiFi to the house to allow folk to access the net on their phones and tablets but only make that possible in restricted areas of the house. Who needs internal signal boosters when you have thick stone walls? People can go and stand in the kitchen to use WhatsApp, Facebook, or read emails. The exercise will do them good.
You could have a central heating system that seems geared up to people who like to get up and showered by 7.00am – I mean what are holidays for? Certainly not lounging around all day – although I guess chilling out may not be an inappropriate description for a morning spent in some of these places.
And so it goes….
Spartan holidays – without leaving our shores
The problem is that things that would have been fine when I was a child are no longer good enough. Unless you are intent on holidaying in Sparta, you expect your holiday accommodation to be at least as comfortable as home. Sadly, so often it is not. Your Superhost is toast! The freezer is so deeply in need of defrosting that there is scarcely room for a bag of ice, the work surfaces that look clean enough, feel as though they would provide a forensic science field day if some kind of serious crime went down, with traces from clients going back years, the bathroom was clearly built before seats or shelves were invented, thus rendering the floor as the most important temporary storage space for toothbrushes, shampoos, etc. Maybe the owner had never tried to use the bathroom? Maybe they should?
Back to basics – even the Jazz was Traditional!
Ah! Life was so much simpler when the world was young, when we stayed in spider-ridden tents that were made of bloody heavy canvas and often leaked, and the poles were made of wood. None of this self-erecting nonsense in those days, three stout blokes wielding mallets bashing in huge wooden tent pegs was the order of the day. No such thing as fitted groundsheets either. The whole thing was a cold, muddy, bloody, heavy and, in this country, generally wet experience.
Character forming, I think they called it.
A bit like climbing the Matterhorn in shorts and a tweed jacket. Whatever happened to traditional values eh?