As August dissolves into September and holidays segue into la rentrée des classes, as the holiday-makers pack up and go back home, and as the temperature goes down and daylight diminishes, I always feel a profound sense of mixed blessings.
If anyone has ever tried to make a living or part-living from renting property to holiday-makers, you’ll probably know what I mean. Without that ingredient, there would be no blessing at all in the end of summer. I’m not one of these curious people who positively enjoy winter. It seems inconceivable, I know, but there really are people out there who relish the cold and the wet.
However, if the coming of September holds any compensation for someone who hated the idea of going back to school as a child, it’s the liberating thought that my life at least won’t be plagued by vacanciers for another eight months or so.
On a general social level, it means that I can go shopping at Martel market on a Saturday morning without having to circle around in search of a parking space and without having to queue endlessly at my regular stalls. I can get twice as much done in half the time, while keeping an even temper. Of course, I remind myself that little rural communities such as ours could not exist without the tourists’ euros. It’s unreasonable of me to begrudge them the space and facilities we must share for just a few weeks every year. I should know better. For decades, I have harboured a distrust of Cornish people, because I once – as a student en vacance – felt their collective disdain for grockles or whatever it is they call summertime visitors. But hey, enough already. I don’t want to be branded as a grumpy old man while I can still dance to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas.
On a specific personal level, my discomfort with holiday-makers goes much deeper. When we lived in our old stone farmhouse – with more space than we needed for regular family life – we thought it would be a great idea to turn part of it into accommodation for PGs (as my grandmother used to refer – with a certain traumatic resonance born of hard times in the 1930s – to paying guests). Without a pool we concluded, sensibly, that we couldn’t compete at the top end of the market. So we pitched it lower down: at people with lesser and more reasonable expectations. Even so, we had our fair share of people who would have benefited from a quick plunge in our septic tank. One wet day when I was working in Jersey, a black BMW pulled up. My wife went out to greet the couple with umbrellas at the ready. The woman took one look at the apartment and said, ‘There’s a cooker! What am I supposed to do with a cooker?’ Being an astute reader of the human mind, my wife suggested that they were clearly not happy with their prospective accommodation and offered an immediate refund. After thrashing herself with a stray branch from our sheltering vine, my mortified wife then offered to phone up and book them in at the local hotel. ‘Huh!’ said the woman. ‘Why should I trust you to do that?’
Later, when money for a while was a little too tight to mention, I looked after a purpose-built holiday home for an English couple. I would shop for the guests, meet and greet them, sort out their problems and generally ooze unction and servility. It wasn’t long before I was spending my weekends dreading the buzz of my mobile phone. It meant (but only sometimes) a problem to resolve. And off I would go, with my toolbox in the boot and a well rehearsed line in abject apology.
Now I should say at this juncture that the majority of people I encountered were decent, charming examples of humanity at its best. Unfortunately, the experience was blighted by the few who found fault and felt that the fact of having paid good money for their gaff justified the kind of behaviour that should have ended with the British Raj. One party suffered an unfortunate invasion of flies and felt that I should organise someone to come that day and spray the back wall of the house (where they, the flies, had gathered) with insect repellent. I grovelled and humoured them and suppressed a great urge to point out that, if they had chosen to stay on Easter Island or wherever it is, they might have had an invasion of migrating crabs to contend with. In other words, it was a phenomenon of nature. Get over it and get a life.
Someone else took a photograph of a cobweb under the wood burner that the cleaner missed and sent it with a demand for a refund to the travel company. Another family of Herberts were collectively traumatised by a hair on a duvet. The old dear who nearly keeled over at the sight insisted that she couldn’t sleep under it because it felt unclean. I changed the duvet cover for them and popped the hair into an envelope so I could send it to the Forensic Department at Scotland Yard. Well, I changed the cover. And wringing my hands like Uriah Heep, I backed slowly out of the house with the unclean duvet cover, bowing and scraping and wishing that I were the God of hell fire who could bring them FIRE!! I tell you, had I come across that woman in the desert and she’d begged me for water, I’d have given her gasoline.
But they’re gone, gone, gone. They’ve all gone and I need no longer practise my ps and qs. September is here and life is returning to normality. We permanent residents have been abandoned once more to face our fate. Winter.