OK, own up: who took our matching taps?: Andrew James lets three summer cottages to supplement his pension. But when clean-up time comes, he and his wife often wonder why they bother

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The Independent Travel
Noting the catalogue of hazards that Frank W Fawcett, of Spalding, Lincolnshire, is quoted as having encountered in some self-catering properties (The Traveller, 25 July), I judge it fair to draw attention to the hazards that the owners of self-catering cottages frequently experience from some of their guests.

As private owners, we can fairly claim over the years to have seen it all: black, or sometimes red, hair dye all over bathroom walls; ignored and bored children left to their own devices with coloured crayons and felt-tip pens in a bedroom that once had white walls; electric kettles that smell rather odd - because mussels from the beach would appear to have been boiled in them. These are merely minor matters.

One set of visitors went out for the day and left butter and a breadboard on an electric cooker ring that they 'thought' they had turned off. The result? A hasty visit by the fire brigade and a ruined cottage. Thank God we were in residence at the time.

Following the fire, the cottage was completely redecorated and refurbished. New furniture and a replacement cooker were installed and fitted carpets laid. Before the end of the first week of letting, a full mug of coffee been spilt on the carpet in the bedroom and, what is worse, been left there with no attempt to mop it up. The graded oven temperature knob also was missing from the cooker. Perhaps they had a cooker just like it at home and had been unable to find a replacement knob anywhere else?

Within six weeks, car oil had been trodden into the rest of the carpets by a DIY fanatic who had obviously only come away on holiday for the chance to carry out vital works on his car.

All this is discovered after guests leave on a Saturday. This is the day when we have five hours in which to clean and repair the damage and devastation left behind.

Saturday is also the day when it is my job to search through the dustbins for that missing knife or spoon. Without it, yet another set of matching cutlery will be rendered redundant. In case they might be asked to pay for it, hardly any of the departing guests ever mention the broken wine glass, the pieces of which I discover in a dustbin: and upon whose jagged edges I cut myself. But this is a trivial matter. One family even blew up a central heating system and forgot to mention it.

It is on a Saturday that we discover the stained duvet left behind by a couple departing with their geriatric and leaking dog, or the pile of stinking wet bed linen stuffed behind the lavatory - our worst fears realised merely by sniffing as we approach the mattress, its plastic covers having been removed.

This is, of course, the same Saturday when, with two hours until the next people arrive, one of our hard- pressed cleaners announces she will need at least three hours to clean just one cooker.

As well as that, if you look carefully, someone has let their infant loose with mousse on the three-piece velvet suite. Naturally, the parents have inverted the cushions so that we do not notice - but we have become wise to these tricks. After couples leave, we check the pillows in the spare bedroom. And don't ask why] Our cleaners ponder the same old question: 'Do these people live like that at home?' 'Don't know,' we reply.

Things that could be put right on a weekday, when plumbers and electricians are available, are, of course, never mentioned until leaving on Saturday - when there is no chance.

The temptation facing owners to bodge it up, say 'it'll do' and lower standards is ever present. Many times I have heard other owners of self-catering properties say that it is extremely foolhardy to put anything of worth in a holiday cottage.

But fools that we are, some of us persist in our approach. There are some splendid folk who leave a cottage spotless, who return every year; people who have become friends, who recommend us to others, people who even leave a present of a plant for the

garden.

Unfortunately, these nice people have to bear part of the cost of the careless, the unthinking, the often downright filthy. Consistently high standards are difficult to maintain in self-catering properties.

Part of the problem is that the accommodation is not serviced daily. When a week or fortnight passes with sand being ground into the carpet every single day, with no sound of the use of the vacuum cleanerprovided, it bodes ill for that cottage over the rest of the season. To an alarming extent, new-arriving guests suffer from the sins committed by their predecessors.

Each winter we take stock. Redecoration is always needed. Items such as televisions, toasters, kettles, radios, fridges, chipped enamel baths and cookers may need to be replaced. These can be afforded less often because of the hike in business rate and the introduction of water metering. Fitted carpets invariably require shampooing or replacing.

Now is also the time when we consider next year's letting prices. Our cottages are not expensive to hire, costing from pounds 5.23 to pounds 8.19 per person per night. But multiply that up and quote a price for a complete week for a squeaky clean and carefully prepared cottage that will comfortably sleep six in three double bedrooms (with full central heating thrown in), and the cry from the caller on the telephone is

all too often: 'Oh, no, that's too

expensive.'

After we have put the phone down on this particular type of caller, my wife and I say to each other: 'Good luck]' By continuing to telephone around we know that he or she may eventually find a cottage that can be rented for about pounds 50 a week. May it come up to their expectations]

One thing has continued to baffle me over the years, however. When we originally converted our cottages from old farm buildings, we took the opportunity to install all the new bathrooms with identical taps and fittings. In one of the holiday cottages, I have discovered that the bath taps have been changed] Difficult to believe? Yes, but true none the less.

Whoever did it, please may we have our matching taps back?

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