Lisa Markwell: For a happy holiday, borrow a house

Staying in their homes while rich friends are away is marvellous
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The Independent Online

The word "staycation" has quickly become tiresome. Like eating "al desko", or having "frenemies", it's a pun too far. We don't use the word vacation in this country these days – apart from in archaic university lingo – so it's a dud bit of wordplay. Although, although...

There are plenty of us for whom summer is made manageable by the vacating of friends from their homes. It's thanks to the dismal weather, which has been useful as the reasoning for just about everything else this summer, from swine flu to Jude Law's impending love-child (OK, not that).

Affluent folks who would otherwise be spending August at their charming little coastal cottage are legging it to the airport for some sunshine. And those left behind without the bank account to facilitate either a second home or a last-minute jet escape are able – in return for promising to feed the fish and/or keep burglars at bay – to get a free holiday.

Staying in their vacant homes while rich friends go on vacation is marvellous. And everyone's at it: whether at the top of the celebrity pecking order – George Clooney is forever lending out his Lake Como villa to friends – or down among us civilians. Even in the drizzle, a week in Dorset is preferable to a week in Kilburn.

There's sometimes a domino effect at work – a talented artist friend has just returned from delivering a commission to a fabulously wealthy client in New York. He's offered her, as an extra little thank you, the use of his staggeringly luxurious beach house in Brazil.

While she's there, dipping a toe in the infinity pool with apple mojito in hand, another friend will be eating ice cream and crabbing with her kids at the artist's home on the Kent coast. No one's yet snapped up family number three's north London terrace, but it's only a matter of time.

This pursuit requires brink-manship – those desiring a free holiday from their better-off chums must hold fast, resist the siren call of cheap Ryanair flights to Europe and wait for the offer. They might end up with nothing – there can hardly be a shortage of willing "tenants" – but they might just find themselves in charge of the Aga and the sit-on mower.

I'm the beneficiary of an act of largesse by a better-off friend this summer. My "Go and stay"-cation is in Cornwall, at a rambling farmhouse complete with gypsy caravan in the garden. Its owner is off to rock around some European festivals and, well, that wisteria won't water itself, will it? (Don't answer that.)

The go-and-stay element is crucial – so much easier than come-and-stay, which requires a top-quality holiday wardrobe, witty repartee and a clever way with a barbecue. There generally isn't time to read the Booker longlist titles and have insightful thoughts about all of them before joining your host at the Pimms jug and besides, being nice all the time is exhausting.

Far better to toast absent friends while wearing that forgiving if slightly baggy old swimsuit, and reading one reliable potboiler. And don't forget to pack a pair of rubber gloves. Rubber gloves? Yes, indeed. If you can occupy someone else's vacant home you, like I, will be spending the last day of your holiday scrubbing the place from top to bottom. Well, you want to get invited back next year, don't you?