Retropost: West Byfleet

This is a retropost, looking back on our recent housesitting adventures.

It was late March 2016 and London’s winter was in its last throes. The mornings were still crisp but there were plenty of signs of new life springing forth.

We had been in South London since early January. Lots had changed in our time here. Teresa had quit a job she hated (the decision made over medicinal Martini) and I started my first job in the UK, as a trainee surveyor.

Big decisions require a big Brixton

Our next housesitting role was a 17 day job in West Byfleet, a commuter town located in the county of Surrey, west of London and just outside the M25 London Orbital Motorway. It’s about 30 minutes by train into London Waterloo station.

We knew Surrey to some degree as we had spent three weeks there during the summer of 2015, in the small but beautiful village of Chiddingfold. Back then neither of us were working and our carefree lives revolved mostly around exploring the surrounding countryside in our trusty Vauxhall Astra.

West Byfleet is well served by a regular rail link into London. This was important to us because I was working full time and Teresa was on the job hunt again. We still had our car but driving into London is impractical from such a distance and, at this stage anyway, I would have been terrified of negotiating central London traffic. This was to come in the months ahead and involved all manner of hilarity including racking up congestion zone fines, near misses on motorways, and breakdowns due to using the incorrect fuel. But those experiences are surely topics for a blog post in its own right.

westbyfleet location
West Byfleet – just outside the M25 – about 20 miles from central London

The commute was, for London standards, quite a relaxed and enjoyable affair. The service began only one stop further down the line, meaning that there were always plenty of seats when it arrived at my stop. For anyone with experience of commuting into London, you will know that getting a seat on a morning or evening service is on a par with stumbling across a £50 note in the street – your mood suddenly lifts, you get a silly smug grin on your face and the world just seems like a wonderful place to be at that moment in time.

As for our home here we were blessed with a lovely detached house in a very quiet cul-de-sac, with a large rear garden. The weather wasn’t warm enough yet to enjoy the garden and a quiet cul-de-sac was never Teresa’s idea of a happening scene (she prefers the buzz of a busy city). Nevertheless, having a detached house is always a bit of a luxury in the UK and especially so in London.

west byfleet house
A similar styled house to the one we stayed in here

Those reading this in New Zealand or Canada might be slightly confused about this talk of detached housing. In our respective home nations the majority of people live in detached homes. Living in the UK and especially London, unless you’re quite wealthy you’ll likely live in some sort of terraced housing, possibly converted into flats or in a purpose built complex containing many flats. It’s the way people live here and the only way you can possibly squeeze 8 million people into an area the size of Greater London.

In West Byfleet we were tasked with looking after two white cats, a mother and daughter combination. We met the owners twice before our sit commenced and at this time both cats appeared in good health, if a bit overweight.

the daughter, posing

A few days before the sit started the owner contacted us to let us know that the daughter had needed treatment for a gut infection. This had cleared up but the aftermath was that the cat had developed an “irritated bottom”. This was taking longer to heal and… “would we be so kind to apply a gentle ointment to the cat’s bottom, twice a day?”

We were both a bit startled by this and wondered what method would be appropriate to apply ointment to a cat’s bottom without turning the animal into an angry ball of razor-clawed ferocity, and consequently lose pints of your own blood in the process?

With a mixture of apprehension, tenderness and ultimately comedy, we managed to carry out the required task, every day for two weeks. The most amazing thing about the whole episode was how calm the cat was during the process. She didn’t seem to mind at all. Well perhaps a little bit, but so would you if someone was rubbing cold ointment on your bum.

Mother cat had been a breeding girl for many years and had raised two litters a year for eight years before finally being retired from birthing duties. She certainly looked like she had brought many children into the world. She also had a touch of arthritis that made her hobble rather than walk. To top it all off the tips of her ears had been removed due to something like skin cancer. If there are geriatric homes for cats, this poor girl probably needed checking in!

spending time with mama cat, stumpy ears, dribbles and all

Away from domestic duties we enjoyed a couple of meals and a few pints at The Anchor, a very attractive and well run pub about 10 minutes drive from the house. The Anchor is set alongside the River Wey and it’s one of those riverside pubs where you just feel like you could easily spend the whole day there, enjoying the scenery.  Typical of these places though, come the weekend the place was heaving with weekend drivers and it was almost impossible to get a car park, or order a drink without a lengthy wait.

the anchor
The Anchor, on The River Wey

In other adventures, we were very happy to be visited by a couple of old friends while here. Rik was from the UK but had immigrated to New Zealand a few years ago. He was back to tidy up some of his affairs. Joe was from Germany but had spent about 5 years living in New Zealand. Joe had heard that Rik was back in Europe for a short time so he’s taken the opportunity to fly over and catch up. Rik was very keen to visit Kew Gardens so the four of us spent a fun day wandering about the famous gardens.

a chilly spring day at Kew with Rik and Joe

It was now mid April and our time in West Byfleet came to an end.  We had a confirmed housesit booked to commence in mid-May, a wonderful three month position in Highbury. This sit would take us right through the summer.

However, we were now faced with a three week gap. We had scoured the housesitting sites looking to fill this gap, but to no avail. This gap brought on a whole range of challenges, including moving five times into various short term solutions.

I’ll look closer at ‘the gap’ and how we managed to survive it, not completely unscathed, in the next retropost.

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