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Stories I

Coupland (and Pepe’s) diary of a housesitter, part l

by Craig Coupland

One evening, Coupland was asked by Beckett and Bonnie Blue if he’d house sit while they and Sancho Diablo travelled to a far off land to make friends with fishes. Coupland agreed. This is five days in the diary of a housesitter.

Your first day on assignment shouldn’t be this hard!

Monday 6 September 2004

Day one: Disaster begats disaster begats a day off work

Upon first consideration, house sitting is surely the most beautiful, carefree job in the world. Live rent-free! Shower in bathrooms far nicer than your own! Inherit a new DVD and music library! And yes, this is all true. What it doesn’t do, is assuage your doubts of yourself as a good, hygienic, presentable human being.

If someone asks you to look after their house, it usually means that their castle is worth looking after; and with that comes the inherent responsibility of ensuring that the owners come back to a place that is still worth living in. A crushing responsibility. Perhaps if you didn’t know the poor fools who had innocently entrusted you with their pride and joy, there would be less of a moral attachment to the preservation of the property. However, being as I am rather fond of Beckett and Bonnie Blue, there is a strong sense of responsibility in keeping the place decent. Which should be a reasonably simple task… right?

BonnieBeckett Towers (BBT) is a lovely little hamlet residing on the London borders; far enough away to pretend that the steaming metropolis doesn’t exist, but equally, eminently reachable when access to the big smoke is required. It has a grand old front room, decked out in books, music and films of a near-impeccable taste, a roomy and loved kitchen and a sweet little conservatory facing out on to the back garden where I sit now, writing this first missive. In short, BBT is a lovely place; tranquil and resplendent in the glories of an Indian summer.

There are two dominating reasons as to why I am here; the first is that I am essentially homeless. My last house crumbled under the weight of eight people’s neuroses, infighting and social ineptitude, and I have yet to motivate myself to find a new place to restart the house renting adventures of a twenty something boy in London. Secondly, and most importantly, is that I am here to give primary care and attention to Pepe. Pepe is the house feline; a laconic, ageing cat of great tummy and furry love. Beckett and Bonnie fretted over his safety as they made plans for their great adventure, and decided that it would be pragmatic to house me at BBT in return for my due attention on the wise old porker. A deal that I am more than happy and thankful for. Pepe is a lovely cat, perhaps akin to an aging general from a war years past; happy to spend his leisurely years languoring in the depths of leafy suburbia being doted on by his eager students, keen to extract what knowledge they can of life from this four-legged sage.

My first evening in BBT was very much a mild trauma – not due to the actions of anyone – merely thanks to the damn thoughtlessness of mother nature. Since Friday, I have been unhappily ill, wrestling with some sort of mild flu, dodgy chest and catarrh-flooded throat and neck. Regularly ‘sorted’ on doses of ibuprofen and cups of tea, I was in need of a quick fix when I finally stumbled through the BBT doors, having endured a rather terrifying two-hour Sunday journey via public transport from the other side of London. Before I did such a thing, I took it upon myself to read through Beckett’s firm but fair three sides of A4 instructions, familiarising myself with such things as kettles, showers and washing machines: the basics that are in every person’s homes, but are so idiosyncratic and distinct to each individual’s abode. All pretty straight forward it seemed; perhaps I would attempt to use the washing machine. Beckett had warned me that the device was ‘wickedly temperamental’, but I was confident of mastering such technology.

Half an hour of constant door re-opening and closing later, combined with a clever rotation of dials in order to confuse the metal beast, I had to accept defeat. The bastard had beaten me, and I was yet to have spent a full hour in the house. Later today, I shall go to the launderette.

As I am sure that you all know, one of the effects of having a bug of some sort is the lethargy, unsteadiness and general light headed failure to do the most simple of things. Like work out how the kettle operates. It took me a good three minutes to ascertain that a) there definitely was no button to be pressed, and that b) I had to flick the flat switch at the base of the kettle UP. Difficult, difficult things.

Sadly, by this time, the fever had taken hold of senses, addling them considerably. Sending myself to bed, I had one of the most fitful, unpleasant sleeps I can ever remember; 20 minute pockets of sleep were punctuated by fits of hacking coughs, dizzying dreams and a sense of uncomfortableness that led to more tossing and turning than a South American dictator.

Perhaps it was the violent sleeping of mine, or maybe it was the unfamiliarity of someone new in his pupil’s bed, but Pepe the cat did not seem to take too well to the night’s events. When I stumbled to the kitchen for the third time (to get a plate – I honestly do not know why now), I saw that poor Pepe had been sick on the lino. ‘Oh dear’ I thought, but in the knowledge that it was on a nice polyvinyl surface, I could leave it till morning, when I wasn’t feeling like I was about to pass onto the other side.

That morning eventually came, after the longest night of my life. I called in to work sick and said that if they were lucky, I might come in tomorrow. After hauling my sweat soaked body up to the shower, I dried and dressed and sat in the front room to gingerly eat a simple breakfast. To find that Pepe had also thrown up in that room too; big giant streaks of orange-brown regurgitation. Why? I don’t know. Certainly I hadn’t given him any different or more food than he was usually supplemented with. Perhaps this was him marking his territory. Maybe he was making friends. Perhaps he enjoyed seeing the panic on my face when I realised that, 12 hours into my domestic visitation, I had overseen the destruction of my friend’s front room carpet. ARGH.

So I hightailed it over to Sainsburys to acquire some sort of clever 1001 dirtf*cker removal product, and spent the next 45 minutes on my knees, scrubbing like a Victorian parlour maid. I have already dropped a second stain removal coating, and when I finish this entry I will go and administer a third. Thankfully, it looks a hell of a lot better. Still, nothing like that to christen your first day in charge, eh?

Craig Coupland

About the author: Craig Coupland

Coupland is a healthy young bloke who lives and works in London, UK. He's out to 'rock the world gently' (and then write it all down).