Hello everybody, and what did you do in the holidays? I took the kids on our annual Easter house-swap. Every year I exchange my house on a little lane here in Bridport, for a cool 1960s townhouse in Dulwich, home to my old friend Dave and his family. This was our sixth consecutive year, and we’ll probably keep doing it every year until we’re really decrepit. It’s becoming one of those annual things old people do, because they just do.
But it does also work well for us all: I get to live in London again for a week and see all my old friends without having to sleep on their sofa beds; tick the art box; eat in restaurants that have people I don’t know in them. The kids get to go on buses and see people dressed in brands that are not Fat Face or White Stuff.
Meanwhile in Bridport, Dave and his family get to pretend they’re in Broadchurch and eat locally sourced produce that has actually been sourced locally. They also get to linger by the estate agents’ windows and fantasise about doing a River Cottage. This, before they realise there are no actual jobs here, and that to own a house you mostly need to either be: a) posh, and magically come to acquire a crumbling pile that you can let to groups of other poshos for five grand a week, while you live ‘more simply’ in your shepherd’s hut by the lake; b) so old that you are basically dead; c) self-employed and broke, and live in an ex-council house. For those who hadn’t guessed, I’m c, although b is an option, too. Anyways, I digress, bitterly. The point is we all get to swap not just a house, but a lifestyle, and they say a change is as good as a rest.
But a rest is good too, right? Ain’t that so, knackered mothers of the world? And therein lies the problem: people like us have come to wear as a badge of honour, going on a holiday that isn’t actually a holiday at all. Like camping, and walking holidays, and yoga retreats – all forms of mild torture. Why? Probably because we think we are getting one over on the evil travel companies, with their sunshine and their sangria and their buckets and their spades.We like to feel we are outsmarting those crowd-followers with their kids-go-free deals.
Cannot think of anything worse
And on paper it sounds so right. Why spend money on accommodation, when you can just swap your house for someone else’s?
But the theory isn’t watertight, my friends.The big gaping hole being the punishing housework programme you have to complete before the holiday. All the tasks you put off and inconveniences you learn to live with, because no-one ever sees except you – these are the hurdles you must jump before you get that first massive holiday wine down your gullet. That fudgey stuff on the shelves in the kitchen cupboards has to be scrubbed off. All those kamikaze petit pois in the freezer – they have to be rounded up. The dishwasher sprinklers that are full of indiscriminate matter, so that nothing ever gets clean – they need unscrewing and water running through them and fiddling about with. The fridge needs cleaning, people.
If, like me, you’re looking for some physical pain as well as the mental and financial burden that going on a family holiday presents, you may even decide to re-decorate the living room 24 hours before your guests arrive. Except they’re not even guests. You’re not even going to be there to divert their gaze from the carpet stains, and the smudges that may or may not be child-poo on the bathroom walls. You start to get the picture: it’s not as innocent as it sounds.
So here, for anyone toying with the idea, are some other things we might also call a house-swap, if we were going to be honest about things:
- Cleaning your house for two weeks, so someone else can enjoy it for one
- Spending a week in the grip of chronic house-envy (vowing to colour-code your books more rigorously)
- Spending a week in the grip of chronic house-shame (vowing to finally change those swirly gold door handles)
- Spending a week hoping no-one finds your vibrator
- Spending a week in a quandry about whether to mention the people you had to stay/the plate you broke/the heating you had on full blast for seven days/the cat you neglected to feed
- Seeing your own house on Facebook and wondering who those people are in your kitchen
- Confirming your children’s suspicions that other kids do in fact have a bigger room/more toys/better life
- Not packing any of the right clothes because you were too busy cleaning the house
- Bringing the right clothes but for the wrong season, because it’s Easter and the weather is so unpredictable, and this is why rich people go skiing at Easter
- Spending more money in M&S Simply Food (because, hey, you are on holiday) in seven days, than you would if you went to Mallorca on an all-inclusive for two weeks
Anyway, we’ve got the dates booked in already for next year and we’re all really looking forward to it.
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