Monthly Archives: May 2015

My First “Airbnb” Experience

Prodigy 1

For my birthday I was going to see Prodigy in London with a friend. I was delighted that my cousin had decided to join us.

It was the weekend before the event so there were hardly any places left in the bed and breakfast (bnb) houses we were looking at. Only the expensive or low-rated options were left and the nearest hotel was 5 miles away.

A “B ‘n B” breakthrough

“What can we do?” I asked my cousin “this place only has a single room left! and this one is a bit too expensive isn’t it.”

My cousin would know best as she was an experienced traveller. On a break in between her Masters degree she had gone to Spain spontaneously on her own. She is a student and I am saving for a big holiday (of course I will blog about it) so we are both skint. We had already shelled out £50 for the gig ticket.

“Well…” she replied “when I was in Madrid I stayed in a really nice air bnb place. It was really cheap and overlooking the main plaza! It would have been really expensive to stay at a hotel in that location.”

“What is air bnb?” I asked. I vaguely recollected an advert on it.

“Is it that one where you sleep on people’s sofas? cos I’m not doing that!”

Easy-Steps-For-Preventing-Bed-Head

I had spent one night on a sofa and hadn’t slept a wink as I tried to find a way to get my long legs spread out without having the arm of the sofa digging in. There wasn’t enough width to curl up. It was a nightmare and there was no chance of it being a dream. I had emerged from that student house looking like I’d spent the night in a hedge, and that probably would have been more comfortable.

My cultured cousin laughed. “No it’s not that one! Though I think there is one like that. It’s called couch-surfing isn’t it? This is similar but you get a proper bed.”

“A proper bed? isn’t that the same as a proper bed and breakfast then?”

“It’s like that but it’s where someone rents out their spare room. You get to meet lots of different people doing it and the ones I’ve met have all been lovely. You don’t always get breakfast but they’re usually in good locations.”

I was intrigued. The other choices were pretty limited so I thought we should give it a try.

You just needed an email address and password to set up an account and it was free. You could search by country as well as by city.

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The places were advertised with a picture of the bedroom with the Google map location on the right. Perfect. We looked and most of the good places were taken but there was one that stood out.

London Luxury

The photograph that I liked featured a beautiful white “Victorian” bathroom with a vintage bath (a new bath in an old style, not a tin one). The house looked modern and spacious for London. Not only that but it was a 10 minute walk from the venue. There was a paragraph or two about the owner, a smiling middle-aged lady who had travelled around Ecuador and liked the theatre. There were good reviews and it wasn’t too expensive.

The house was close to the station and my cousin was already there.

As I walked up to the stained-glass front door I felt a bit nervous. It seemed odd to walk in to a stranger’s house and stay there like one of their friends or family. But my anxiety subsided when our host opened the door and greeted me, grinning from ear to ear.

woman-serving-tea

She was a warm, friendly lady with a healthy glow and a slight tan. She served us tea and sat with us in their airy conservatory with a view onto a verdant garden. There was a little shed at the end and a trellis with flowering plants.

My cousin looked relaxed and had enjoyed a pleasant chat. I had not expected such peace and quiet. But it was a privileged residential area and of course, only parts of (mostly inner) London are chaotic, dirty and noisy.

I felt that I needed a shower on arrival to the house, as I had been on the Tube and became conscious of the grimy soot sticking to me. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. That and the gig atmosphere turned the bathwater grey the next day.

Double delight

We were amused that we were sharing a double bed. We had dark wooden drawers and a wardrobe to match, with a fluffy turquoise carpet and curtains tied back. I laid down some ground rules – no farting in bed and no trespassing over the middle line. My cousin broke both rules by the next morning.

We got glittered-up for the rave and headed out. We clip-clopped in our heels through the drizzle along rows of tall neat Victorian houses, shivering. Pretty soon we felt rather lost and decided that we would turn back after ten minutes.

“Did you see the pictures in the bathroom?” my cousin asked.

“Yes, interesting weren’t they!” I replied. There had been pictures of the couple in skimpy 1930s-style carbaret outfits with feathers and pearls.

“Do you think they’re swingers?” my cousin giggled.

“No it’s just fancy dress.”

“Yes but there was more than one of them like that.” We laughed.

Fortunately after a 20 minute totter we found the pub our host had directed us too. But as it was 9pm they had closed for food so we went to the takeaway opposite. It took ten minutes but the kofta kebab was well worth it. As we were late we had to eat waiting for a taxi, sheltering under a tree from the relentless rain.

ProdigyCard

The Gig – Prodigy the-prodigy

I enjoyed the band, especially the classics that reminded me of student days. Thousands filled the hall with a high ceiling and the lighting was great but unfortunately the sound at the gig was focussed at the front and there were no speakers further back. The sound system was clearly not built or configured for the electronic music either. One of the band did make an effort to remedy this by coming near us to sing (or rather shout, it is that kind of music) on a mini stage in the middle, dreadlocks swinging. Cheers erupted around us as people surged forward. Eyes bulged and hands shot up to follow the beat.

Sweaty beer cheer 89067_ORIG-pig_pen_smelly_kid_peanuts_charlie_brown

The hyperactive crowd fully compensated for the muffled performance when he went back, as they thrashed around with reckless abandon. Beer flew everywhere and drenched us. The air was thick with the smell of that and foul body odours. Every so often I had to move as I would end up in a cloud of it and I decided that I’d grown out of grunge.

Pint pouring

When my cousin had a pint poured down her she lost it, turning round and shouting at the miscreant. He apologised and moved away. She angrily said to the man behind him “I hope you’re not going to pour that down me too!”. This started a conversation which went very well and she ended up on the bearded bloke’s shoulders waving her arms around.

We rocked out until the early hours, leaving as the orange streetlight sky started to pale. It was about 4 when we finally went to sleep after a hushed chinwag.

Healthy host

Four hours later I was woken by the sound of the front door closing as our healthy host ran to the gym. As you do on a Saturday morning. I was impressed but seriously sleepy and dozed off until an hour before our checkout time. It was a quiet area and we were in a little guest room down our own hallway with our own bathroom at the other end.

After a bath I felt rejuvenated (and much cleaner). We had a nice chat with our host, who was back from her early morning workout, and her husband. They were a good-looking, kind and knowledgeable pair. I felt guilty when I asked her if I had woken her up and she said she had heard the door shut when we came in. She assured me that it was fine and we were very quiet. She said she was a light sleeper.

We left in search of the nearest pub breakfast. As we stumbled along I decided that although I would not be going to a Prodigy gig again, I would definitely be staying with airbnb for my next trip…

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Life of Lydia, Travel

A Country Wedding

bride and groom 2 My boyfriend’s housemates were getting married. They had been together for five and a half years when Tony popped the question in Italy at the top of a tower. If you did say no at the top of a tower you would have a long awkward walk down but no was never an answer that applied to this couple.

They had been together happily in the two years I had known my boyfriend. I had rarely seen them argue and they are both warm friendly people with a healthy sense of humour.

They had moved in officially for about a year, as before that Jess had been working nearby and visiting. But then she managed to get a dance teaching job in the same city. Tony manages a promotional film company and is obcessed with Star Wars and Lego, so Star Wars Lego figurines decorated the front room.

The first time in their house I had giggled at the bizarre collection of Tony’s former mobile telephones decorating the wall by the stairs. The oldest one was an early 1990s cordless. It is great to have Jess’s company around the house. No longer were random socks and beer/wine bottles/glasses littering the kitchen and front room. The previous housemates had moved out and got married too. There must have been something in the chilly air. Eventually it will be our turn to move out of separate houses and try living in one. Who knows, maybe we will get married.

The epic celebrations began on Friday night. As the groom was a Beaver/Explorer leader, they helped cook pie and peas. My boyfriend said he would help but unfortunately as it was in the middle of the countryside I was reliant on a lift (I am halfway through driving lessons…). He had to wait until I could finally escape from work, getting home about 6.30. So when we arrived some were obviously irritated that we did not appear “after lunch” as my boyfriend had suggested. He had just told me to leave early as possible and regrettably that was not an option. darwin lake birds eye

We arrived in the middle of the countryside where in the middle of farmers fields stood a circle of new build cottages around a lake, with a “barn” – a modern stone hall at the back. On the grass stood a massive white marquee complete with tables, chairs and decorations. darwin tent Almost everyone had enthusiastically participated in the beer-brewing competition and someone had even made a lovely fruity cider. There were beers with ginger, apple, a smoky flavour and the bride’s family homegrown honey. The beer tasting glasses had a little sticker on the base with a cartoon couple, their names and the wedding date. You could tell the bride was a teacher. Everything was immaculately planned. We had a pub quiz as a friend brought his own beer taps and questions along. This was accompanied by a hilarious game featuring a ball tied into tights around your waist. You had to hit a ball on the ground with it which involved a lot of thrusting. thrust game   At about 11 we called it a night and returned to our self-catering cottage. In the morning woke up to sunshine. The Scout boys staying with us organised their own breakfast, so we had cereal. Then we rushed out to Matlock to get a cable for the Wii, as this was to be set up in the bassment of the barn for the children.

Before that they would play a live video of the wedding for a friend with locked-in syndrome, Nick. I first met him at the end of last year at a housewarming party for him. Someone told me he was joking with me through interpretation of his eye movements and I was inspired by his positivity. It was a moving experience. There was a scene about this type of communication in the film about Stephen Hawking and it made me cry because it showed what a challenge it was. Like Stephen, Nick was an Oxbridge graduate, and was in his 40s helping to run Scouts when he randomly had a brain stem stroke which paralysed him.

After going round all the video game shops in the small town we rushed back and had one of my boyfriend’s best dishes for lunch – omelette with caramelised onions, cheese, olives and salami. On returning to the cottage I saw a glamorous slender tanned lady with blonde waves get out of a Jaguar with a man in a sharp suit. We were later told that the man was a military commander in Brazil.

We quickly changed for the main event. We got back in time to help the groom get the wedding room free of clutter. I wore a sleeveless A-line dress that was lined and navy with pink roses on. There was quite a breeze making things chilly but we stayed outside to drink quartetchampagne and listen to the lovely male quartet sing. They were wearing white suits, red bow ties. The songs were old-fashioned classics.

Then it was time for the wedding itself. We filed in. The groom swayed from foot to foot anxiously, fiddling with his watch and looking around, chatting to his best men in front of the registrar, a middle-aged lady with round cheeks and blonde cropped hair. There were about 200 guests filling the floor. There were waves of whispers and the air was heavy with anticipation . There was a small wooden trellis in the middle of a stage with ivy round it but other than that the decoration was minimal. Then the music started and the bridesmaids slowly entered, all wearing slightly different outfits but in the same dark navy.

There was a pause and then we finally got to see the dress. Normally when I see the bride it is after work so she is usually exhausted, sleepy and hardly has energy to smile, but today her face was illuminated with joy from her rosy, natural complexion and perfect plaited dark hair as she glided along with her train, perfectly poised in her strapless white satin folded gown. The groom, on seeing her, appeared to breathe a sigh of relief in his flattering dark suit and smiled broadly in return. vows and dress

They said their individual vows and the registrar spoke of the sanctity of marriage and how it was about cherishing and supporting each other. Then we were invited to sing “Stand By Me” by Ben King. It was a beautiful moment, the couple so perfect for each other, two kind, lovely, cheerful souls combined for evermore, and the music of so many voices, young and old, in harmony. I welled up with the emotion.

As we filed out I turned to my boyfriend and saw that he had tears in his eyes too. I had never seen him cry before and I was touched.

We were then seated in the marquee which was decorated with (fake) ivy and carpeted. It was beautiful with little wedding gifts for guests of the bride’s family honey and lego for the groom’s touch. lego and honey Every little detail had been planned. We had a starter of nice Italian meats and olives. Then lasagne and brownies.

There were several short speeches and the groom thanked everyone for their efforts in helping bring the wedding weekend/festival together. Then there was the longest speech from the best man. Apparently it was timed at an hour and 25 minutes and featured raffle prizes for gifts such as a bottle of Fanta that featured in the story of how the groom and his best man met. It reminded me of an embarrassing time at junior school where I did a competition which hardly anyone entered and then I presented sherbet sticks in assembly as the prize, after trying to sell them for 25p each.

After that there was a break to get ready for the evening event. I kept the same dress on and we sat and chatted in the barn. Then we went upstairs to watch the bride and groom’s choreographed dance. It was beautiful and the delivery was flawless. wedding throw The disco came on later – the wedding room had been transformed with the chairs and the stage was gone. The LED backdrop ensured there were coloured lights across the dance floor. My boyfriend sorted the children out on the Wii and showed them how to use the controls. wiiii He looked like good father material helping and chatting happily to an inquisitive boy but of course I did not tell him that. He was concerned enough by me hinting that maybe it would be our turn for a wedding at some point. You should have seen his face when my cousin and I looked at diamonds in the Natural History Museum in London and then went on to accidentally (honest) walk through the maternity and baby clothes sections of Harrods. He frogmarched us out of there when I cooed over a baby duffle coat.

We danced the night away at the disco and he barely took his eyes off me. It was lovely and it was nice to see the groom getting into it at the end of the night. Tony and Jess made sure they had time for everyone.

The lake of the venue

Wonderful shot by Martyn Miller, the retired photographer. All other photographs are courtesy of him as I forgot my camera. The lake of the venue

My main impression from the weekend was that it was completely inclusive. Everyone was made to feel special and welcomed. There were people of all ages and backgrounds there and they were so friendly and enthusiastic. We were not sure whether to stay on Sunday but we soon discovered that the toilet paper and washing-up liquid were running out and the heating and television had gone off, so it was time to make a move. It was overcast and still windy, not ideal for the summer clothes I had brought, hoping for warmer weather (you can never hope for better weather in England. If you don’t bring a coat it will be cold, if you don’t bring an umbrella it will rain). I had forgotten my coat. The Scouts in our cottage all left.

We went out for brunch at a farm cafe which was expensive but tasty. I had spinach soup and a cranberry and bacon panini and felt less sleepy. When we got back my boyfriend said he wanted to help and I was expecting there to be a team already on the case. I had told my parents we would be back for dinner. But it turned out that aside from the bride and groom’s immediate family we were it. I felt that we were fully justified in arriving too late to help at the start after our efforts packing up.

We collected the rubbish and heaved the sacks into a little cart. We pushed the dripping smelly things into the bins. We carried piles and piles of chairs from the big white tent into the hall. Then we started on the tables. We unpeeled the black masking tape keeping the strips of carpet together, wrapping maggots and whatever else had got from the soil into it. We took up all the nails holding down the carpets and rolled them up.

I drew the line at lifting up the muddy boards and entertained the best man’s baby instead. The mum jokingly asked whether I did babysitting and I wished she was serious. The little girl with large dark eyes looked at me in wonder. She liked my shiny purse and kept trying to chew on it, so I would distract her with the tassles on my scarf, which she then pulled into her pram, choking me, so I untangled it from her tiny fingers.

Finally it was time for the baby’s nap so I then said if I was walking on the mud with muddy boards I would need to change my footwear. Once in the car I finally stopped shivering and couldn’t face going out again. I was in a t-shirt, thin cardigan and a pashmina scarf. I sat there for 10 minutes with my walking boots on before heading back out and running through the rain. Thankfully it was done. lego wedding cake I forgot my slice of the wedding cake, so eager was I to leave the cold and get back to a home-cooked meal. We said our goodbyes to the pale sleepy couple and went on our way.

In the car on the way back I asked my boyfriend whether the wedding had made him want to have a big event if we got married.

“Are you joking?!” he said.

“Didn’t you see how stressed they got? Nah, what’s the point? Why not save it for a house instead?

I’d just go to a registry office.”

“But what about my big white dress?” I asked.

“Do you really need one?” He replied.

“It didn’t happen this time, but I’ve seen the meaning of marriage lost in a big wedding, it becomes all about that instead.”

He had a point, but hopefully we could compromise on the dress…

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