Don’t Stay Too Long

Travelling around Europe on a British passport is no easier than travelling on a Samoan one these days. Overstaying your visa risks a fine, or a ban, or both. For Brits especially, EU immigration authorities have started playing hardball. Aleta on the other hand can stay for 18 months before her clock needs resetting. Right now she is tucked up in Cartegena, Spain, while we sit out the next 90 days in the UK, Ireland, or any non-EU state, like Samoa. The question for us was how to do it on a budget? Fortunately, we have intelligent children.

Smarties have the answer

There comes a turning point in every parent’s life when your children start teaching you things by example. For some parents that day becomes one of angst and hard resistance sets in. For others it is a day of joy. As a parent I knew a long time ago that all my children are smarter than me. Way smarter. My only offset was life experience into which my meagre abilities could be put in useful context and make me appear intelligent. As your kids mature, their experience soon matches yours and presto!, it’s back to the school of life in your dotage. Some say it keeps you young. I like to think so.

My daughter Emma and her fiancée Jarno, committed digital nomads, quit their London flat and now live rent free thanks to an internet site called TrustedHousesitters. The premise is you sign up as a caretaker for homeowners with pets who want to go away for a break. They leave their house and pets in your capable hands for anything from a few days to a few months. Mutual reviews keep both parties honest. The combination of caring for dogs and a shore-based home with a kitchen and running water proved so tempting that Carol and I signed up as soon as we learned about it.

It has proved an even better experience than we imagined it might be. Emma and Jarno’s photos of handsome pups in exotic locations like Germany and Portugal were attractive, but off limits to us thanks to our expired visas. So, for the last six weeks we have confined our activities to England. The homeowners have been generous and their dogs friendly and well-behaved.

Hants

At our very first house sit in Hampshire the owners had left early for the airport. We picked up the key and were greeted by the barks of two large doodles* at the door. Their body language indicated curiosity rather than fear and on entry both calmed down with a good neck rub. A long walk and lots of cuddles later the dogs settled into our laps. The real entertainment, though, came from three kittens, each competing for the nutty award. Their wrestling antics and purring demands for attention kept us charmed to the point where Carol is (almost) sold on cats as pets.

Northants & Gloucs

Our second sit was for two aging dachshunds whose exercise range was limited to a few hundred yards a day. We would walk them to the end of the long driveway in the morning, far enough to settle them down. That gave us a chance to explore the countryside around Northamptonshire on foot.

If you enjoy hiking, then you can really appreciate the extensive network of public footpaths and bridleways in England. Well-marked and mapped, you are never far from a good walk. Crossing a wide field one day we met two men and a dog heading towards us. Naturally, I said to them as they passed us, “Ah, two men and their dog. Are you off to mow a meadow?” They laughed and invited us to join them.

Carol looked at me askance, as though she had witnessed some secret exchange by the Illuminati. I explained it was a nursery rhyme every English child learns. If I were a WWII German spy I guess it would be one of those things that I would want to know. After all, fluency with a language is not the same as facility with the culture.

After that we spent a few days in Cheltenham with an aging greyhound and a young whippet. Both dogs needed less exercise than their breed’s reputations might suggest, but that gave us the chance to explore yet another town I used to live in.

Somerset

pet_sitting_2022

Our most recent sit took us to Somerset. There, steep valleys with lush green fields bordered by 12-foot-tall hedgerows remind you of an England that disappeared under the plow 40 years ago. Our charges were three small dogs, two toy poodles and a sweetly savage Jack Russell terrier. There were also four chickens, a rooster, five rare breed sheep (don’t ask me what kind), and twelve guinea fowl. Oh, and a couple of fish and some invisible hedgehogs.

We learned on our first sit that chickens occasionally keel over dead. Eggs get stuck, or a sudden, fatal heart attack strikes, or they simply cop it. Chicken owners are used to this behaviour. Put it in the rubbish bin, they told us. Apparently, sheep are also prone to keeling over dead for no reason. “Don’t worry, call this number if one dies. Someone will take the carcass away.” Fortunately, we avoided all animal tragedy. The dogs loved their walks around the hills and bounded about with charming enthusiasm. That got us off our backsides every day and also made for quiet evenings.

Scooby, the Jack Russell, became my boon companion when it was time to wrangle the chickens back into the safety of their coop each night. Two of the four hens voluntarily made their way into the little hutch. Two others consistently and resolutely sat atop the enclosure as if daring the local foxes to have a go at them. Using a long fishing net, I slid the far end under the chicken’s feet and then with a gentle shove put them safely under cover. For his part, Scooby made sure I knew when dusk had arrived and it was time to head outside. He also stood by me quietly assuring the birds didn’t give me any trouble. In reward for all this effort the hens left us one or two eggs every morning.

Nomads Landing

My career with HP allowed me to live on three continents, Europe, Asia and North America, and travel extensively at the company’s expense. Now, nearly 40 years later, and with five years living aboard Aleta under our belts, I’m still not sure where we’d call home if we had to settle down. House sitting, as a complement to cruising, may be the perfect interim solution for us. If you’re looking for a house sitter during the winter, please drop us a line.


*one goldendoodle and one labradoodle

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8 Comments

  1. Took a moment to find the cat pictures, which the software was unwilling at first to show me, but I persevered. You’re showing us an England that is, in a word, still England.

    Unk
  2. What a wonderful way to sojourn! Seasoned travelers always suggest staying in one place for a while, rather than frenetically relocating. How much better to meet new companions at each stay.
    Looking forward to your next stop in these parts. I have friends with a couple of chihuahuas who would love to see you.

  3. I used TrustedHousesitters twice to good effect when I had two ancient cats. Sounds like you are having an interesting time. Certainly chalking up lots of varied experiences on your travels.

    Jennifer Stone
  4. We have several trips through the winter if you find you want a house/cat/maybe dog sitting place in inner SE PDX. Love to see you if you get this way and need a house to sit. Amy

    Amy Neuman

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