23 January, 2011 / General

House of shame

Two of my closest friends and I rented a holiday cottage in Yorkshire last October, fancying a mums-and-kids weekend. We have seven children between us, ranging from seven to thirteen years old, so it’s hardly surprising that a few things got broken. The owner was fine, if a little tight-lipped about the cracked screen and smashed lamp. We got off lightly, I thought.

A week or so later he emailed to report that, although we are ‘welcome back any time’, we’ll be expected to pay a £50 final clean charge if we book the house again. ‘We are still finding toy soldiers all over the house,’ he informed me.
You’d think that would be the end of the matter, but today, three months after our visit, I receive another email. ‘I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year,’ he writes. I am nervous already, with my jaw clenched. ‘I’m afraid I come bearing bad news,’ he adds.

Oh dear. Perhaps a lone plastic soldier was left undiscovered and spiked someone’s foot. ‘We have just received our quarterly phone bill for October-December 2010,’ he goes on, ‘and I’m afraid to say that during the three days you stayed at the house, 79 calls to 118118 were made, totaling £167.00!!!’

He uses three exclamation marks. I am sweating at my desk. ‘We provide a phone service free of charge so guests can book activities, restaurants etc whilst they are holidaying here,’ he explains. ‘However, I think you will agree £167 worth of calls over one weekend is a little excessive.’

I email my friends who interrogate their children, as I do mine. Curiously, every child is adamant that it was someone else’s idea to repeatedly call 118118 with jubilant cries of ‘Fat poo stink bum’ etc. Later, once I’ve simmered down, I have a quiet chat with my daughter about who really made the majority of the calls. She says that one of the younger boys was a particularly enthusiastic participant. ‘What did he keep saying to the 118118 lady?’ I ask her.

‘Will you marry me?’ she says.



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