New housesitter Nick Caley shares his first week’s petsitting diary. A first time housesitter Nick followed advice given by HouseSitMatch his housesitting network, and after several chats to get to know the owner he traveled to the ‘sit’. He describes his first meeting with Mary the homeowner and Willow her dog, as well as their daily routines. For Nick the week was a well earned holiday after University finals, and an opportunity to discover a new part of the country. In the diary he describes care for Willow and their walks around Marlow a charming historic town on the Thames. Petsitting for Willow proved a good introduction to housesitting in the UK.
I take up residence as Mary’s new housesitter
Arrival in Marlow. 34 miles from London and away from the city’s throb of sirens, traffic, and noisy sprawl. Only the frequent hum of planes from Heathrow give its nearness away. At the train station I was met by Mary the homeowner, who drove me through the patchwork countryside towards the apartment where I would spend a week. It was here that I first met canine Willow, spread across the back seats of the car. Willow is a black Labrador with the beginnings of wispy white hairs on her chin, paws, and belly. Without a care for the winding motion of the car, she could have been dozing, though as I reached backwards to offer her a first stroke, her seal-like eyes widened and stirred with uncomplicated affection. It was a quick and simple gesture but which seemed to reveal something of the core of her personality.
It was midday when we reached the apartment. Half an hour later, Mary had explained my upcoming responsibilities for Willow – feeding and defectory habits, walking routine, and sleeping arrangements – and we set off together as a trio into the small town. I was grateful that as part of her brief Mary detailed the best cafés and pubs (of which there were plenty), as well as a series of walks out into the county which was a nice surprise. By the time she had departed I felt sure that the week would not drag, as that tiny, nagging doubt in my head had suggested it might earlier. Before anything else, I clipped a lead onto docile Willow and set out to explore the old Southern bridge town for myself. We were spent by nightfall, and I enjoyed the newfound luxury of a double bed that had been kindly made up for me.
As a new housesitter I was keen to discover
Many of those who live in Marlow commute to the city during the week. I had expected it to be somewhat of a ghost-town for this reason, but on the contrary the casual bustle of its streets proved a game of dodging the throng of passers-by, weaving through pedestrians and taking care not to snare them in the leash suspended between Willow and I. We followed a path to Higginson Park, by the River Thames, where there was space to play fetch and lounge on the warm grass. Feeling particularly idle, I sent many hours reading whilst Willow pawed and nudged for attention. The day passed rapidly like this. Not so bad this life, even as a new housesitter! Later on, I bought supplies with which to make an enormous dish of spinach, lentils, and coconut milk, that Willow eyed jealously through mouthfuls of dog-food. I made up this inequality with cuddles, which were almost demanded.
Rain. It caught us on the early afternoon walk as we ambled east further along the river. The downpour became heavier and I gambled (and lost) on a shortcut which made us, in the other sense, lost. Maybe I deserved the second drenching as Willow shook herself dry over me later one, like dogs always tend to do. However, eternal optimist that I am, we did discover an especially cosy (and dog friendly) pub on the unexpected, wet diversion; well worth it then. When we finally arrived home I toweled Willow dry and we curled up together to watch a film. I needed a cup of tea but Willow was quite content with just a moist, aromatic kiss that she planted warmly all over my face.
After taking Willow for her morning walk, I met with Lamia at a nearby café in town, where I was treated to two mugs of fine coffee and conversation. Lamia told me of how she conceived of HouseSit Match, of her childhood in Marlow, and of all the housesitters from around the globe that she has met over the years of running the website. With caffeine piping in my veins, I felt like a longer walk today and decided to take Willow along the Thames again to the neighbouring village of Bourne End. Over the river and across an iron railway bridge we rested for an hour at the Bounty pub, where I sipped a cold pint as the canal boats and decadent yachts skimmed leisurely by. Later, I filled my belly with the remains of the meal I had cooked on Tuesday.
Waking up, I realised with some surprise that the housesit was half complete already. Time was flying by. In the peace of the apartment, which was skillfully organised to the ancient principles of Feng shui that Mary practised, I used this day to do some of my own work, my writing. I also managed to mow the lawn. Willow slumbered in between our two shorter walks, or stuck out her long, flat tongue when I stopped writing to pat her, she liked to curl almost cat-like on the rug. The rest of the day passed quickly.
Lamia, founder of HouseSitMatch, lives in High Wycombe a town nearby just north of Marlow. She had asked to meet up with me, which she likes to do if she can when sitters are in the vacinity. And Marlow being such a short drive she picked me up at the apartment on an invitation to lunch at her own home. Delicious! Curry and cous-cous (infinitely better than my own cooking) followed by fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and ice-cream for dessert – very English Summer!
” Rivers and the inhabitants of the watery element are made for wise men to contemplate, and for fools to pass by without consideration. “ by Sir Izaak Walton who wrote the Complete Angler at Marlow in 1655
He also wrote perhaps the more memorable
” I love such mirth as does not make friends ashamed to look upon one another next morning ” !
Back in Marlow the town was starting to beat with weekend life and the celebratory clink of meeting wine glasses. I scouted a bench that overlooked the rushing weir by the All Saints Church, and was unable to resist the greatest cliché of watching the sun fall behind the tall trees.
A day of rest and more walks with Willow in the park. Finally it felt like true summer, and it was what we would call “mafting” in my hometown of Hull – it means ‘very warm.’ Under the shade of a tree I finished two books and watched a travelling fair set up their stalls and rides, before collecting more supplies to dine al fresco in the garden of the apartment with my furry date.
My time as a new housesitter draws to a close…
Final day in Marlow and the last chance to take in the gentle and sedentary atmosphere of the town. No longer a new housesitter I felt very comfortable looking after my canine charge and Mary’s home. Willow and I set off into the sunshine to take some photographs. Though it was also the end of our time together and I made sure to spoil her even more with attention. She is a dog with many distinctive qualities; perhaps the one I will remember most fondly is the way she beat her tail carelessly against the walls and door-frames when she was excited. Often, as I was returning back to the apartment, I could hear that eager whack-whack-whack long before I had even turned the key in the lock and as she heard (or smelled) me approach. But I will also think of her happy scamper and grin that she wears easily. Yes, it was a shame to have left her as I boarded a train back to crowded and impatient London, but the thought of the next housesit and another story to tell was a silver lining to the storm clouds that emptied as I approached the city again. In any case, I have been incredibly lucky to have spent this time with such a lovely dog! And I would happily recommend this experience to any other new housesitter out there. So here’s to the next one.