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 these days it feels a lot like I’m b, 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: middle-class people 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 do we do it? 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 suckers, those crowd-followers with their kids-go-free deals.
Cannot think of anything worse
And on paper it sounds so right. “I mean, it seems sooo crazy spending money on accommodation, when we can just swap our house for someone else’s!” I have been known to guffaw smugly over the bruschetta, at any given dinner party.
But while it works in theory, what the theory doesn’t account for is all the fucking hard work you have to do just to get out of the fucking door. Anyone who has ever been on a family holiday knows that just leaving the house is no mean feat. Chuck in the added pressure of house guests for a week, while you’re not even there to divert their gaze from the carpet stains and the smudges that may-or-may-not-be actual child poo on the bathroom walls, and you start to get the picture.
I remember this downside to house-swapping every year. Usually the week before, when I’m clearing my bedroom drawers so that my friends can leave them empty and live out of their suitcase, just as I do at their house, where the drawers have also been arbitrarily cleared by the woman of the house.
The holidays start here, you guys
And as I stand knee-deep in odd socks and accessories I can’t seem to throw away from one year to the next, like that fluffy teal Kangol beret, I think to myself that ‘house-swap’ is a brilliant piece of branding. The copywriter who came up with that shit was on fire that day. It sounds so simple and carefree – who wouldn’t do a house-swap? But those of us who’ve seen real house-swap action know it’s way darker, and more complicated than that. So here, for anyone toying with the idea, are some other things we might also call it, 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 baroque door handles)
- Housework-swap: failing at the domestics in someone else’s house
- 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
- 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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