One of the challenges that comes with housesitting and moving around so often, is the variety and level of comfort one gets from sleeping in strangers’ beds. At times you’ll be offered the guest bedroom. At other times you’ll be staying in the homeowners bed and will need to adjust to their sleeping preferences, however challenging those might be.
On arrival in the UK in March 2015 we did what many antipodeans do on their first visit to London – we crashed on the couch – or sofa as they are more likely to be called here. Thank goodness this is a temporary arrangement as these dual purpose bits of furniture were never designed for horizontal use. If you’re like me you’ll find yourself contorted to get all your limbs supported. I can’t imagine how anyone over six foot manages to get a wink of sleep on these things.
Teresa and I spent our first week on our friends fold down sofa, far too small for one person let alone two. We both like a firm bed and this felt like sleeping on concrete. However, we were so tired from the flight over we both slept soundly and no doubt would have done so sleeping on our heads, in the broom cupboard.
We moved on from London to Glasgow. Here we were treated to the guest suite, containing a futon bed. It was the height of luxury and comfort compared to the London sofa. A street lamp placed perhaps 10 metres from our bedroom window and shining through the thin drapes was annoying, as well as the sheer length of a summers day in Glasgow. Even at midnight there was enough daylight left to clearly see across the street.
In late July, and as the English summer finally took hold, we traveled south to our next destination – a five week housesit in the small Surrey village of Chidingfold. Quite a change from gritty Glasgow. We were now in the wealthy south-west, or as one friend described it, the land of state-your-business.
Of course it makes sense that we should expect a very fine sleeping experience in such salubrious surroundings.
We were warmly welcomed by the home owners and their two young children. The first night we were put up in one of the children’s beds. This was a clever Ikea invention where a single tuned itself into a double by pulling out the bottom, then lowering the original bed in behind to form a complete double base. This all seemed to go to plan when setting the bed up. However, not long after we’d adopted a sleeping position the slats fell out, the bed sagged and we were tipped onto the floor. Not quite the refined sleeping experience one would expect in the stockbroker belt.
Thankfully we were instructed to use the owners bed if other options failed, so, upon waving farewell, we happily adopted that option – and a very comfortable bed that turned out to be.
Possibly the worst bed we slept in was the one we experienced in Milton Keynes. I’ve blogged previously about our experiences in Milton Keyes, but the sleeping experience here deserves a special mention.
Milton Keynes was a last minute solution, after we extricated ourselves from a horrible housesitting experience in Yorkshire. We had to find somewhere quickly. Teresa managed to scout the available options and, before we knew it, we were 300 miles south looking after two tanks of tropical fish.
That’s housesitting – you never know what you might get.
The owner agreed to leave the key out for us, so there was no meeting prior. From first impressions this was a single guy’s house, not untidy but just somewhat lacking in creature comforts or a woman’s touch. There was a very large TV in the lounge, various bike parts scattered about the house, and two large tanks of tropical fish in the kitchen.
The bedroom was equally male-orientated, empty of furniture apart from the bed and one bedside table. On arrival we sat and bounced on the bed a couple of times. It seemed a bit soft but didn’t think more of it until it came to retire that evening.
This was late summer and the nights were quite mild, so, albeit a nice thought to hold your dearest closely through the night, the bed was so soft we were both scrambling to hold onto the outer edges of the mattress to keep our space, and our cool.
And so the adventure in other people’s beds continued.
In October 2015 we went west to a three week housesit in Bath. Well, I went there. Teresa had put out feelers for work while we were in Milton Keynes and she found herself a London job that she just couldn’t refuse. We found Teresa a place to stay in London and I went to Bath.
The was the first time I’d slept solo for a number of years. I remember it being quite fun the first night, stretching out and having all that space in what was a very luxurious guest bedroom. But you get so used to having that other person beside you that the novelty of having the whole bed soon wore off. I was very glad to have Teresa back on the weekends.
I did have some company in Bath. Here I looked after Sasha, a brilliant dog with a bedtime routine that included fetching me at 10:30pm each evening and leading me upstairs to where she had her own, luxurious sleeping basket. Sasha renewed my faith in dogs after our bad experiences in Yorkshire.
Finally, in this discussion on beds and sleeping experiences, I’ll quickly recall the experience we had in a block of flats. This block was on an estate. An estate is the term commonly applied in the UK for a group of flats that were originally built for social housing. There are a huge number and variety of these estates across London. However, since Margaret Thatcher brought in her Right-to-Buy scheme in the late 1970’s, including substantial discounts for those long tenants, flats in housing estates have become much more mixed in their makeup, now often including a number of flats that are privately owned. The crux of the matter is that, what were once solely occupied by council tenants who were often on benefits, estates are now made up of people from all walks of life.
The estate we stayed in was located in Highbury, North London. It was a large estate, made up of perhaps 20 blocks of flats, each block being four storey and containing 12 flats. The blocks were separated by meandering paths, lawns and a large number of mature London Plane trees. In the middle of the estate was a large recreation area that included an all-weather sports court, picnic tables and a community hall. Our flat was on the third floor and overlooked the recreation area, so we got a great view of all the communal ‘action’.
This action included almost daily basketball or football matches, mothers with their babies or young children soaking up the summer sun, the weekly invasion of the community hall and grounds by the local scout group, and the regular just hanging-out and smoking a few joints that the male teenagers enjoyed around the picnic tables. It really was an interesting insight into London community living. The hall was also used as a voting booth for the EU referendum.
Our sleeping experience here was equally educational. Teresa took to the windows in an effort to block out as much light as she could. Being summer the light lingered late into the evenings and this combined with a significant level of streetlight in the area. The solution that finally worked best was tinfoil over the bedroom windows – I think we went through a roll of it to give us enough darkness.
We we guardians of two cats in this particular sit. They were accustomed to sleeping on the owners bed, but, after experiencing two nights where we literally woke up with cats sleeping on our heads, we banned them first from the bedroom, and then when they worked out that leaning on the door would miraculously give them re-entry rights, we banned them to the living room, where any complaints were stifled by two doors and leaning on the door was only going to help keep it closed.
With this type of community living you always get the characters you remember.
These characters often have wildly differing body clocks to your own. To wrap up this wee conversation on sleeping arrangements I (fondly) remember the young chap from one of the neighbouring flats who left for work at about 5 am each morning. He was very punctual and, obviously, a reliable worker that most employers would probably be happy to have on the payroll. I just wish he would have spent some of his hard earned wages on a decent muffler for his motorbike.