Out of the Rat Race Into the Fire by Paul Delahunt-Rimmer

Previews

House Sitting

From the sequel: Out of the Fire into the Furnace. To be published soon.

Amorgos for three months in the winter means that  Serala here has to be looked after. The gardeners work as usual as do the housekeepers. However they have to be supervised and paid in cash and the estate has to be occupied day and night for security. This requires house sitters. Therein lies a problem.

There is really very little for house sitters to do in our situation as we employ staff for 50 man hours a week. Many house sitters have to maintain the garden and house and feed animals and walk dogs.  Our sitters just have to be here looked after by the staff paid for by us. We ask that they maintain the swimming pool but our gardeners can do it if required. It has been a continuing problem. For the last few years we have used online house sitting agencies but this has proved to be no better than trying to find someone locally.

We have had nothing but disasters. We had only been in the house for a few months when we had to go back to Amorgos so we had to find someone locally quite urgently. Being 40 kilometres out of town this was not ideal for most people there. Many of the ‘wanabe’ pilots house sit but they don’t have transport and need to stick around town night and day to get known by the air charter companies. It also needs someone mature to manage the staff. We were getting quite desperate and considering expensive and not totally reliable professional security firms. Just a few weeks before we departed a well-known and, at the time, respected former camp manager was thrown out of his house by his wife and was looking for somewhere to live. This we thought was an ideal opportunity. He was working in town at the time but agreed to the sit as long as we paid his travelling expenses. We paid him in cash upfront for three months staff’s wages and his costs. We disappeared over the horizon with confidence and relief. After a month he announced that he had ‘lost’ most of the cash we had given to him. Another month later he said that he couldn’t afford to drive to the house everyday but he could probably be there at weekends. This was of great concern due to the security aspect. We were forced to return early and employ a lady on the island to look after our business there. The house was standing and we had not been robbed. The swimming pool looked like a swamp and it took us three months to recover it.

A few months later Henri was taken ill and had to be evacuated to hospital in Johannesburg. We asked neighbours a few hundred metres away to keep an eye on the house.  They could only pop in once a day to see if everything was OK and check on the staff. Between visits a local gang of youngsters broke in and robbed us. The ring leader was a 15 year old who lives in a small settlement nearby. He was prime suspect from the beginning and was found with some of our possessions in his hut. Unfortunately a very valuable gold necklace was never recovered. At one meeting with Sgt Mox, our diminutive very cheerful police chief, he said, ‘you know of course that the boy had intimate knowledge of your house’. We were taken aback to say the least. It turned out that he also had ‘intimate’ knowledge of our sitter. The pervert was paying him to play in our house and was under investigation for sexual assault amongst other things. We mentioned this to a few friends who admitted that they had heard rumours. Now that we had confirmed it the pervert went into hiding. He disappeared out of the country for some time. Eventually returning to attempt suicide once with poison, this failed as the medics managed to save him. The second attempt, when he blew his brains out with a shot gun, they couldn’t do much for him.

With all the police investigations we got to know Sgt Mox very well and he became a good friend. He would come and visit us and sit on our veranda, drinking coke, chatting for hours. He just loved the view, the wild life and the garden. His family lived in town but he had a bachelor cop house next to the police station in the village. We still hadn’t found a house sitter for the following year. We said, ‘why don’t you house sit for us?’ We proposed that he could sleep in the guest accommodation at night for security and the staff would look after things during the day. He jumped at the idea. After work he would come and sit on our veranda all evening stay overnight and return to work the following morning. The police in Chanoga do not have a police car. A point I have raised with the authorities a number of times. If you need the police you have to go and get them. We proposed that he could use our motor as a police car for three months. He is a mechanic and of course very trust worthy so we were satisfied that it would be driven sensibly and looked after, as indeed it was. He told everyone that he was in charge and anyone who even thought about going anywhere near our estate would be in trouble. Again, we disappeared over the horizon relaxed and with confidence. The police were in charge.

We had only been back on the island for a few days when we got a phone call from Mox. I very impolitely scrubbed around the customary, ‘hello, how are you’. I just said, ‘WHAT’S WRONG?. He had just called for a chat, on the police office phone of course. He continued to do this regularly whilst we were away. Then we got the call we didn’t want, ‘you have been robbed’. Everyone in the village knew that Mox had his family in town and apparently went to stay with them every weekend. We did not know this. A gang of three did a professional job on us. They took almost everything of value. The place was ransacked. Mox was so embarrassed he pulled out all the stops. He got CID in from town. They took finger prints and identified the men. Catching them was a different matter.  By the time we got back they had caught two. These two alternated between skipping bail or breaking out of the police cells where apparently the door lock is a bit loose! The third chap was reportedly hiding right up north on the panhandle of the Delta. CID eventually told us that they had got him and were bringing him in. ‘We will phone you when we have him here and you can come and meet him’, they said. I inquired if it was OK if I beat him to a pulp or even killed him. Apparently it wasn’t, so we couldn’t see any point in this appointment and declined. After about a year they were all behind secure bars. The police recovered some items. Only two of any value. One was my Royal Air Force ceremonial sword belt, the sword was fortunately not here but was in Amorgos as is the belt now. I think that this belt seen in town holding up a scruffy pair of jeans would somehow be a little glaring. The other item was a brand new handheld GPS. They probably left it behind because they couldn’t work out where to put the sim card or how to get a dialling tone out of it.

After these two disasters we started to use the online house sitting agencies. We have had a phenomenal response getting over 300 applications a year. They see this idyllic location with incredible wild life, in a perfect tropical climate, staff paid for by us and fall over each other for the appointment. Most are unsuitable though. They need to be experienced in running a complex off grid system  balancing between solar, batteries,  generators and pumps. We get single ladies in their 80s applying, kids just out of school on a gap year. Single mothers with children and even once a group of three gay academics. Told the latter that the bed wasn’t big enough for three even if it was a ‘Queen’ size.

Selecting the right people is of course difficult. About 80% are clearly not suitable. Qualified applicants get sent photographs of the property, internal and external. They also get a three page information document covering facilities, cost of consumables, details of the vehicle if they should require it and what is available and more importantly what is not. Also sent is a comprehensive document:  ‘Serala Management Notes’ which covers their responsibilities, how all the systems work and general information about, for example, doctors, shops and restaurants in town. Most importantly they receive a questionnaire of twenty questions on which we base our selection procedure. This establishes if they are experienced in this type of living, can manage solar systems and swimming pools and can live forty kilometres  from a shop or pub! Over the years we have learnt that it has to be a couple. This is male and female not some contemporary politically correct definition of the word. The chaps will not listen to a lady and the housekeepers perform better when supervised by a female. Said ‘couple’ must have lived and worked in Africa. Anyone who has done this will know you have to treat your staff differently than you do in Europe, America or Asia. They behave differently; it is a cultural thing and has to have been experienced. Many applicants claim they have ‘off grid experience’. When pushed it turns out that they have been camping. They have to be mature, but not too mature! In other words have worldly experience but young enough to heave generators and pumps around together.  They have to be an established couple. We don’t want them having a bust up on night one about who gets to chuck the hippo out of the bed. It has to be a well-established team. In this situation you are living and working together 24 hours a day without any other company except the staff. We get many applicants who say that they will bring a friend to complete the couple. Wrong answer.

Over the years we have established a short list of about 10 couples of which only three are really ideal. That is of course only one per cent of applications. There is usually one couple who stands out and then we have backup and possibilities for the next year. We start the process eighteen months before the assignment and usually appoint with nine months to go. Sometimes over a year before. The ideal situation is to be able to interview potential house sitters on the estate and for them to see what is required and meet the staff. This is of course not practical for most people but we do have two couples on the books who come under this bracket and are at the top of the short list.

Our first couple from an agency didn’t meet all the required criteria but we didn’t have solar at the time and he was a retired senior military officer from the USA. He claimed that they could live remotely. I had no doubt about his man management skills and he was very experienced in engineering so pumps and generators would not be a problem to him. The problem was that we don’t think the questionnaire was filled in by them together. We don’t think his wife had any idea of the conditions here. Their only experience of Botswana was luxury camps in the Delta. They had no idea what goes on behind the scenes to make these camps ‘luxury’. To survive here in comfort all these tasks have to be managed by, or performed yourself.

He said that they could survive without TV and Internet, they couldn’t. He said that they could survive forty kilometres from the nearest town. Well they did, but only by driving into it practically every day and hammering our vehicle. He said he didn’t mind cold showers or building a fire to have a hot one. His wife certainly did. Maybe my fault but I assumed that they could manage the staff, it was a disaster.

For them back home the nearest shop, restaurant or cinema was just a few blocks away. Five minutes, by car, naturally. Now this was fairly essential, as they needed takeaways as she can’t cook. You would have thought that he had noticed this fact in all their years of marriage. He said that they didn’t smoke. Well she must have been permanently on fire then. We have a rather dangerous old gas geyser on the outside of the kitchen, right under the thatch. We had stopped using it years ago. The lack of hot water coming out of the taps was not what the lady was used to. They evicted all the birds and spiders and tried to get it fixed. Apparently after a couple of rather nasty moments with flames shooting out they got it to work to a certain degree. It seems that they only lit it when it was required and practically stood over it with the fire extinguisher.

This couple were fairly well heeled. They had two big houses and he had large pensions. They paid for everything apart from the staff. All utilities, in this case fuel for the generator, wood for the fire and gas for the fridge and cooker. Well, the fridge anyway, the cooker got little use. House sitters should meet these costs as they would living in their own home. It is not a free holiday and they had little cleaning and maintenance to do. Many house sitters have to look after the house and garden, feed animals and walk dogs. We were paying for the staff for them to help them out and they were more than happy to pay for the utilities. Some sitters think otherwise, we will get to that! In this case they even paid for the water pump fuel to irrigate the estate. We think he was a bit of a shopaholic. The work shop was full of all sorts of gadgets and bits and bobs that he had bought and left behind, many things still in their wrappings. There was a brand new set of fishing equipment including keep net complete with a specialist box of hooks, weights, bait, spinners and a spare reel. I expected to find waders in the corner but I guess croc proof waders are difficult to find. At the beginning as, usual,  the staff would let them know if there was anything they needed; compost, bleach or a new rake. His attitude was that money meant nothing to him. For staff who live in huts and get paid peanuts this was too much to miss. The demands got bigger, new brushes, because they would get the  old one, new buckets the same reason and so it escalated. It did take him aback when the estate manager asked if he would pay for his wedding though. The staff’s attitude to their ‘employer’ changed. Why should they work for peanuts when he did nothing and could afford anything.  When we returned the housekeeper had turned to theft which we never had before. She was lying and working so slowly it was difficult to tell if she was alive. She was also ugly, admittedly she was before but she had to go. It took me three months to get the two chaps back on the rails. 

They admitted upon our return that they couldn’t survive without Internet and CNN.  On their almost daily visits into town they were seen sitting in restaurants, who did takeaways and had WIFI, with their smart phones or tablets, sometimes at different tables, totally absorbed for hours. When we got back they didn’t want to spend their last night with us. They had already dropped their luggage off at a hotel, ‘so that they could relax and have access to Internet and CNN’. ‘Relax’, what had they been doing for the last 3 months? This Internet access thing seems critical to most people. We have many applicants who say that they can work from anywhere. Years ago they would mean that they were writers, artists or poets all they needed was pencil and paper. We are in the bush remote and miles from anywhere and everyone expects Internet. For goodness sake. They have no idea. Now we have solar power we do have expensive satellite Internet but it is not at a grade for web designing or Internetional conferencencing. 

Arriving back at the house was an experience. It was standing and the thatch wasn’t burnt off by cigarettes or gas geezers. We had not been robbed. Indeed they were paranoid about this which was not a bad thing. Ornaments were literally thrown all over surfaces on top of others where they had been making room to put other things. We opened cupboards and everything literally fell out. It was claimed that they had no problem with hand washing. They had been using the laundry in town but we returned to a pile of 10 dirty towels plus all the bedclothes which they could have easily done by hand that morning. When challenged about the mess he just said that some people do things differently to others. We hate to think what the place would have been like without a house keeper. This was their first house sit and almost certainly their last.

For year 2017 we had our usual massive number of applicants. One couple that stood out from the rest  were British, publishers of an online House Sitting Magazine, involved with the House Sitting Academy and describe themselves as professional international house sitters and advisors. Essentially, self-appointed Ambassadors to International House Sitters. They have no house or base of their own, steady jobs or income. By definition they are essentially vagrants. They just move around the world living in other people’s houses. Following numerous e-mails and a few Skype calls we appointed them. Let us call them Pinky and Perky.

After they arrived we had three evenings and two days with them before we departed. They seemed to be happy and understand their position and very few duties. The sit was much easier than they had originally signed up for given all the investments we had made in the previous year to make life more civilised. Solar systems had been installed for power and hot water. A new large irrigation system precluded them having to man the hoses twice a week. Given the fifty staff hours a week paid for us there was very little for them to do.

It was also only after the house sit was agreed we got the satellite internet system installed. It is absolutely fine for our needs, just e-mailing, banking, portfolio management, checking our pilot's forum and news. We warned them that it was slow, but not as slow as WIFI in town. They said that this was satisfactory. They were just going to relax and probably not need internet. Then they started plans for their on line teaching of English and publishing their magazine. We gave them a paid option of improving the service for three months and gave our approval to the suppliers but they didn’t bother following it through.

They then started bleating to their readers about our internet service paid for them by us. ‘We've had such awful internet on a particularly bad satellite connection, it was touch and go whether we'd complete the magazine, or throw our computers into the river in a fit of frustration!!’. Pity they didn’t throw themselves in. It is actually an outstanding and reliable satellite connection, it is just slow compared to what they are used to. 

In this dry climate it is very difficult to establish a sweet potato bed. There are also many ‘predators’. We had sought the advice of a development officer from the department of agriculture who coincidentally only lives about six kilometres up river from us. He said he had tried for years to develop a bed but had failed. We were determined to succeed. There are various ways of getting it going. Obtaining runners or tubers from an established bed is the best way forward. However as no one around could seem to grow them we had to start off at the supermarket and buy sweet potatoes and try to get them to sprout. We tried in the ground, we tried suspended above water on cocktail sticks in jars, we tried the ‘pots’ in pots. We had many failures but eventually after a year we started to get runners growing and tubers forming. Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatus) is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the bindweed or morning glory family, Convolvulaceae. It is only vaguely related to the more common white (Solanum tuberosum). Due to little rain over the summer of 2015/16 the runners only just managed to survive. After the great rains of summer 2016/17 they really started to develop. It had taken three years to develop a productive plot. By autumn 2017 when our sitters arrived we were harvesting enough to provide ourselves and our staff for at least one meal a week. The nutritional value of sweet potatoes is the highest amongst most similar vegetables and an essential supplement to our staff’s very unhealthy diet. We were starting to achieve what we had set out to do with our fruit and vegetable growing strategy.

In this warm climate sweet potatoes will grow all year. When you want to harvest a few you poke around in the established bed with a stick or a hand fork for a large tuber and dig it out. You leave all the runners and small tubers to develop further. We said to our sitters that they were most welcome to help themselves. Pinky claimed that she was an experienced gardener. With internet access she could have researched sweet potatoes. But, oh no, they knew best. They ordered our gardeners to dig up the whole plot. Just as you would with conventional potatoes at harvest time. Runners, tubers and developing potatoes were all totally destroyed. They set us back three years through unnecessary ignorance and pure greed. Of course they didn’t care, it was our loss not theirs. They claimed that they were so worldly wise they understand local people wherever they go. Our men didn’t argue with their orders to destroy our sweet potato bed because they knew that they would get their share. The local people live by the day they do not look to the future. They saw a bird in the hand not two in the bush. Furthermore, we invited the sitters to help themselves not order our men, paid for by us, to dig them up for them. Again, what happened to the great House Sitters Ambassador’s rule that they keep reminding their readers – leave things as you found them! Our staff families will now be without this very important supplement to their diet for at least two years, or even longer, depending on the rains. The sitters don’t care, they saved two and sixpence on food. The health and lives of our staff and their families are secondary to them. They just move on leaving destruction behind.
 
It is expected that for a remote house sit a suitable vehicle is provided for weekly shopping and emergencies. If well organised and one is comfortable with living out in the bush only one trip into town a week is required. This is clearly stated in the management notes. However just like the Americans Pinky and Perky couldn’t cope with living remotely and were going into town more than once a week. As with our estate they felt that they could do what they wished with their ‘courtesy car’. At one point they decided on a few days away. Instead of hiring a car they took ours on a four hundred kilometre return journey to a lodge. This was equivalent to five weeks of normal mileage, half of their stay. The usage was a gentleman’s agreement. Normally we find that the sort of people we generally deal with this is all that is required. Another misjudgement of personal character and integrity. We ask if folk are used to driving 4x4s in deep sand. Perky said he was. After they picked us up from the airport driving down the track back home he was driving like a maniac as if he was late for his favourite episode of Batman. He was wrecking the suspension and steering. Pinky turned to us and said, ‘this is how you drive in these conditions’. Telling us, how to drive our car to our house! I thought  that If he had been doing that for ten weeks it would not be long before expensive repairs would be required. Not that they would care. Their attitude as with most things being that it didn’t belong to them and we could afford to repair it. It turned out that the steering rack had been damaged and needed replacing at great cost. I asked if the motor was running OK. Perky said, ‘As sweet as a nut’. Well I don’t know which nuts he is used to but there were big problems with power on initial start-up. They didn’t admit to this of course as it was their responsibility to hand over the car fully serviceable. Part of the deal was for the car to be valeted monthly at a specific reliable car wash establishment. But, they knew better using another car wash, risking it being washed down with sponges full of sand, probably because it was cheaper. On one occasion they misused our gardener to wash it, paid for by us of course.

Being supplied with staff to cater for their every need you would have thought that they would be a little flexible with expenses regarding them. In the management notes it actually states that as a gesture they should pay for staff morning tea and biscuits. The first accounts we received were charging us for them. When questioned they said that they thought we were joking. The icing on the cake, or the biscuit, was the invoice for toilet paper used by the staff. Now we are not sure how they were monitoring this. They must have either got the staff to sign for each sheet or had unrolled the whole thing before putting it in the holder and numbered each sheet. Then, took audits before and after each staff shift. If we had known we would have offered our staff two sheets for the price of one in the case of diarrhoea.

These people were beginning to look more like ‘House Scroungers’ than ‘House Sitters’.  It was free accommodation, staff and a vehicle in an absolutly idyllic setting with virtually nothing to do. No cleaning, gardening, essential maintenance or animal welfare required, just for them to be there for estate security. Sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

The psychological effect of being a vagrant can lead to some irrational behaviour. Research shows that homelessness and no steady income leads to instability and insecurity. This can manifest itself into actually believing that you own the house you are looking after giving no thought to the actual owners. To this end, in our opinion, people who aimlessly wander the globe housesitting, with no base of their own, and no steady occupation are the most unsuitable of house sitters.

There was quite an amount of damaged, missing or mislocated furniture and equipment which you certainly do not expect from house sitters. Indeed we never have before. The most criminal damage during our absence was to an antique private writing desk. Although not financially valuable it has considerable sentimental value. Someone had tried to open it. The reason is completely unknown, apart from curiosity of course.  There is no chair in the room suitable to use it. Unknown to the vandal this was one of the items of furniture damaged by damp in storage. There is a mechanism that slides out two supports for the writing surface. This system sticks. There is a special technique to lower and raise the lid. Someone had tried to force it open and even worse, force it closed. In the latter action such might had been used that the controlling arm had buckled to ninety degrees. It cannot be repaired locally and it would not be financially viable to ship it to South Africa. It is now totaly unusable.

They posted a photograph in their online House Sitting Magazine of Pinky, who is not exactly sylphlike, standing on the arm of our settee. Part of a three thousand pound luxury lounge suite. This clearly demonstrates the lack of respect shown for other people’s property. Climbing over furniture is what one would expect from an undisciplined toddler, the mentally retarded or a social inadequate. The only exception being mess rugby after an officer’s dining in night where it is acceptable for officers to behave like all three. However in this case it is not the mental stress of being homeless and having no steady income but high jinks due to stressful work and a dangerous occupation. Not sponging off those who have served their Queen and country and are now enjoying the benefits. The very fact that they were comfortable in posting this photo implies that they see it as acceptable practice. This should be a serious concern to any house owner considering employing them.

Then there was the solar geyser. When they originally agreed to the house sit we didn’t have one. The only way to get hot water was to light a fire in the donkey boiler. For this they would have to buy fire wood and it was impossible in the winter to heat the water up in the mornings as it cooled down so much over night. So now they had free hot water but we had stated that hot water would be only available in the afternoons. Perky, being a very practical guy, noticed a pressure difference in the system and identified that cold water was somehow getting into the hot water system. This was a fantastic discovery. For some reason they wanted hot water showers in the morning just as if they were living in a condo in Bermuda not in the bush in deepest Africa. We had introduced him to the owner of the solar power company who Perky was working with analysing the electric solar system. One phone call and he would have a plumber out here to rectify the system. But Oh No, Boy Scout Perky had to knock up some system to bypass the recent installation. Well he had nothing else to do and in his mind he owned the place. Apart from the new underground irrigation system we have five hoses to supplement it. All of these are essential.  At the top of the fruit and vegetable garden we have a water tank which drip feeds the banana plantation. Perky couldn’t see the need for this. Probably as they would not benefit in the future so cut the last ten metres of the hose off to hash up an early morning hot shower system for himself and Pinky. Only the one shower, the rest of the estate was left to rot. The result was under watered bananas, an unsightly hose pushed though and damaging two bamboo fences trailed across the bottom of the garden and our professionally neatly installed plumbing system hacked up with tee joins and stop cocks all leaking as a result of this amateur plumbing job. This was part of a brand new £11,000 power and water solar installation. It never even went through Perky’s little brain that the interference would  invalidate the warranty.  It caused us untold legal problems. The plumber had to start again and reinstall the whole system. Where sections had been removed the whole pipes had to be replaced. And, the butchered hose had to be replaced. So much for the International House Sitters rule of leaving things how you find them. Another online ‘House Sitting Magazine’; 'Do as we say, not as we do'.

We did have concerns that these people had no experience of living and working in Africa but they assured us that they had worked in Third World countries and understood the needs, abilities and behaviour of those who lived in basic conditions and very little connection to the civilised world. We were accused of micro management when they didn’t seem to understand their terms of reference in the initial part of their sit and wanted to interfere with the running of our estate. They had only been there four weeks when they started to hack away at trees and bushes. Did they honestly think that with forty man hours of gardeners a week we would not have had these trees and bushes trimmed if we wanted them so? They had not grown in the four weeks since we left – in the winter! We didn’t think it appropriate to spell out every little thing, after all they are ‘Professional International House Sitters’. But, who on earth lets the village natives loose with power tools when they haven’t got any training or experience or even power let alone the tools in their mud huts? This was probably the most irresponsible of all their actions. The power drill is damaged and so are the window frames where it was used as a circular sander when the instructions were for them to be sanded along the grain by hand. As for letting them loose with a hand held circular saw we are lucky there was not serious personal damage or even death. The expensive portable work bench is cut to shreds. No sign of blood but more like good luck than good management. I am not sure if it was micro or macro but it was certainly unbelievable negligence. I am sure that the estate manager said that he could use such items, and, in their naivety they believed him.

To quote from an article by Perky, an ‘Ambassador of House Sitters’, ‘ Pool maintenance is a big responsibility’. ‘Always follow the advice of the home owner. They usually know the setup of their pool better than anyone and understand their location’s climate consideration’. But not if you are Perky, he of course knows better. We gave implicit instructions in the management notes. Which these ‘International House Sitters’ advise owners to supply. He decided that thirty minutes a day work to maintain the pool was too much for him. He rigged up an incredibly ugly Heath Robinson shade netting cover over our beautiful gin clear blue pool which is an intrinsic part of the professionally designed landscaped tropical garden. This cover consisted of netting, ropes, poles, cable ties but most critically of all the bamboo for our fence repairs. This is like the proverbial rocking horse droppings. He had just taken this to use for his own convenience. His argument for this unsightly monstrosity was easy maintenance and a saving in pool chemicals. He then tried to explain to me the science of pool chemistry. Excuse me, I own the pool. I don’t think he has ever owned a pool in his life but still publishes articles in the online House Sitting Magazine about pool maintenance. Anyway Perky Einstein, had screwed up big time. We of course took the pool cover off straight away. As the pool chemical balance was completely wrong it went extremely cloudy within a few days and took a month of very careful management to restore it to the state it was handed over to him in. ‘Leave everything as you find it’ – online House Sitting Magazine by Pinky and Perky!

One thing we always ask potential sitters is if they are experienced with living in a thatched house. One or both of them said they were. Thatch has advantages and disadvantages. It looks wonderful. It is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. That is where it stops. In the bush in Africa it is like living with a zoo over your head. Insects, snakes, rodents, birds, just about everything apart from elephants falling from the ceiling. The result is dust and bits of straw covering surfaces all the time. Spiders cast new webs as soon as you have destroyed the first.  Gekos, rats and squirrels running around leaving droppings. The latter usually only under floor boards or in the thatch. We are in the desert so sand constantly blows in. You dust down a surface and just hours later it is covered again. It is impossible to keep the house clean 24 hours a day. It is not a hermetically sealed air-conditioned apartment in Manhattan. Pinky accused us of having a ‘filthy’ (definition: extremely or unpleasantly dirty) house. ‘How often did we clean behind the pictures?’ Even if you cleaned behind them every day there would be a spider’s web there the following day. These people had no idea what it was like to live in the bush and under thatch. I offered to stand down our housekeeper if they were not satisfied with her services but they prefered to just complain about the situation. One suspects that Pinky is a hygiene freak. In their published advice to house owners she states that before a sit new pillows should be purchased. Excuse me, this is a house sit not a £1,000 a night let. Even the Savoy doesn’t provide new pillows for every guest. Interesting to note that they bought some! Sad. She was certainly not impressed with the stink bug invasion. Admittedly, unusually bad during their stay, but if you can’t cope with the wild life in the African bush under thatch, don’t take on the assignment. Stick to your air-conditioned apartments. There were about 600 folk in the queue behind them but they claimed that they were the best!

They were asked if they were prepared to put down eco-friendly poison for the rats and squirrels. They said they were and were given instructions. They didn’t follow the schedule. Pinky claimed that the supplier had run out. This was a lie. We were told that they had not even been in asking for it. Some of the original supplies we left them with were still in the cupboard. The result was an increase in squirrel and rat activity which took us some months to bring under control. So much for ‘always follow house owner’s guidelines, they know best’.

One aspect of the sit which was positive was the solar power management. Perky was far more experienced in this field than us and did some sterling analytical work along with our suppliers. With our permission, two extra panels were temporally fitted in our absence to see if we could boost the winter solar input. Perky wanting to chop down every tree in sight to avoid shadows and expose masses of solar panels to the naked eye which he considered to be more aesthetically pleasing than greenery.

We now have an eight panel installation supplying enough electricity for half of Botswana. The panels are raised up ten feet above the ground over our workshop screened from the approach down the drive way by one of the main trees that Perky wanted assassinating, now cleverly pruned to allow the sun in at an angle above its branches.

Then came the day for departure. They had asked to stay on for an extra day after our return as they had failed to check flights to their next destination to the north, Kasane, before planning dates for their sit. We could have stayed on our island for an extra day if we had known. These are the 'Professional International Housesitters' who in their online House Sitting Magazine stress the importance of date planning with house owners. The air charter companies will take you to Kasane any day but of course they wanted a cheap flight. We agreed to be hosts to them for a day. Even though we were very tired after our long journey we took them out for a boat cruise that day. We had agreed to take them to the airport at 07.30 the following morning.

At 06.20 Perky was banging on our front door demanding his breakfast displaying the social etiquette of a baboon. The baboons are well known for waking before dawn and making a huge row to inconvenience everyone. But we didn’t think that we had booked baboons to house sit. Call us conventional, but we consider this to be totally unacceptable behaviour for a house guest. He proceeded to barge in and start to make his breakfast as if he owned the place, which of course in his mind he did. We were going to be at the airport hours before departure which was plenty of time to have breakfast at the restaurant opposite which we often do. He then made a number of derogatory remarks about our life style which were just ongoing 'chip on the shoulder' digs following on from some of his e-mails to us whilst we were away.

Kasane is a popular tourist destination where there are many hotels and restaurants. Pinky then pitched up in the house and proceeded to make sandwiches for their lunch up there. Who on earth takes sandwiches with them on a flight to have at destination? Pinky and Perky do. Perhaps they were planning on a teddy bear’s tea party on the tarmac. The airport authorities take a dim view of this. We drove them to the airport and said that we would see them at the restaurant for a coffee after they had checked in. Oh no, they disappeared into that terminal like a ferret down a Yorkshireman’s trousers, never to be seen or heard from again. They were totally out of their depth here and not the 'International House Sitters' they claim to be. Their on line magazine has to be treated with a 'pinch of salt'.

All in all we had forty four issues with these, ‘Professional International House Sitters’. They left a trail of destruction both physical and mental. Personally we wouldn’t trust them to house sit a rabbit hutch, sans bunnies.

In my humble opinion; 'Perky is a rather sad individual who between house sits can probably be found wrapped in old Guardian newspaper pages on a bench in St James’s Park counting the pelicans on the lake. His claim to fame is trying to auction his, by his own admission, miserable life on eBay. This included his job as a rug salesman. Not rocket scientist, not test pilot, but, a rug salesman. It was not suprising that the venture failed. He then sold his house through an agent and threw away the gains on a one hundred target bucket wish list which in his own words he had difficulty in filling. So how could it be a wish list? Following this he vanity publishes books about it all still claiming that he succesfully 'sold his life' on eBay. He also self publishes non profit online magazines and puts a page on Wikipedia about himself. How pityful can one get? Then how egotistical can you be by registering a .com website in your own name? Smacks of a working class Yorkshire lad trying to be ‘impotent’. No background, no future, no career or home just a vagrant on a park bench in St James’s Park and a long suffering partner and part time furniture mountaineer. This all supported by family and friends to accommodate them between house scrounging and park bench assignments. He is probably, right now, going around house scrounging on a flying carpet given as a leaving present by his previous employers.'