I am becoming the Basil Fawlty of Airbnb. Almost everything that tormented Basil has tormented me since I started taking in guests. I am thinking of nailing up a sign saying Kitey Towers, with the ‘y’ askew.
If you don’t know what Airbnb is: some whizz-kid in America hit upon the idea of charging people to sleep on an airbed in his New York apartment. He started a website. You register your home, put up photos, and choose guests you think you will get on with.
I’ve had customers from Australia, New Zealand, America, Spain. But while they are usually delightful, I have often felt myself bristling like Fawlty at the sheer cheek of the paying public. One lady moaned that she didn’t want to pay the cleaning fee because I need only hoover a small square around the door of the bedroom once she’d gone.
I drew myself up and nearly screamed: ‘Oh, absolutely! And if you come again and find an old sock dropped over the far side of the bed by the previous guests, which I hadn’t spotted, because I only hoovered by the door, I’m sure you’ll understand. Better still, how about I just clean a small square of the bath for you? Or a small portion of the toilet seat? Hmm? Happy to perch on one side of the lav, are we?’
But I didn’t. I explained politely why I cleaned comprehensively before each guest, and she argued that she’d rather have it dirtier and pay less, and in the end I simply got cash out of my purse and refunded her the cleaning fee. I reminded myself of Basil as I bade her farewell: ‘Gosh, is that the time? Well, have a nice trip back…’ Door slam. ‘…to wherever it is you live in semi-squalor, you tight …’ And so on.
Naturally, I also struggle with the booking software. The other day, I was fiddling with my listing when a box popped up inviting me to vary the price. After experimenting, it looked too complicated so I clicked the X to exit.
Shortly afterwards, I was inundated with inquiries from young people asking for three or four month stays. I got myself in an awful mess trying to reply to them all. ‘How dare you not let me come!’ ranted a desperate sounding Albanian man.
‘Please let me have the room!’ begged a Greek girl. My, I am popular, I thought, congratulating myself that it must be my positive reviews.
I took a three-week booking from a polite Vietnamese girl who arrived on my doorstep with her boyfriend, a German, and lots of bags. That was when I looked again at my listing and realised I had changed the price to £30 a night, thus making my home virtually an asylum centre. ‘Typical!’ I ranted under my breath, as the guests hid in their room.
It was still money, however. And all might have been well at Kitey Towers. But then the bathroom ceiling started to leak.
It has been leaking slightly for the best part of a year on and off. Now the water poured through a spotlight and the German chap looked scared: ‘Is it going to interfere with ze electrics?’
I toyed with replies such as ‘Oh, you want to shower safely as well?’, ‘Yes, two rainfall showerheads here. All mod cons.’ And ‘It’s extra for electrocution, by the way.’ But in the end I silenced my inner Basil.
I had Tony the plumber knock the ceiling out and carry on upwards into the neighbours’ bathroom, because the neighbour was in Australia and emailed to say I was to do whatever.
Tony found the leaking joint. But now I had no bathroom ceiling, and a jagged hole leading into the flat upstairs. The German chap eyed it dubiously.
I rang the ex-builder boyfriend. ‘Quick! Can you put me up a temporary ceiling?’
When he arrived, he wasted no time cracking bad jokes behind the bathroom door. ‘Sshhhh!’ I begged, as he mentioned the war.
Standing on a ladder nailing up a sheet of roofing felt, he stuck a piece of black gaffer tape on his mouth, ‘for safe-keeping’, and stretched his right arm out to hold the felt in place, rendering himself hysterical.
When he’d finished, the ceiling did at least look neat. And all was well for a few hours, until, as I was sitting on the loo, I heard it. At first I thought the pattering on the felt was more water. And then I saw the shape of a little body, scurrying.
Thus far, the rat or mouse has managed not to fall down into the bath on top of a naked guest, nor pop up out of a biscuit barrel. But I expect it will at some point.