When I was growing up, there was a family tradition that, in our late teens, we all took summer jobs as chambermaids at London hotels. My four elder sisters willingly, indeed joyfully, skivvied by day in order to be slap-bang in the centre of the West End at night.
I, however, loathe (and I mean loathe) cleaning my own mess, let alone someone else’s. Call me a princess, call me a slattern, but in my book a holiday that involves a Hoover ain’t no holiday. My idea of bliss is a country cottage, sunny walled garden, relaxing meals alfresco. Relaxing, that is, until on the last evening, my husband thrusts into my hand a To Do list of Domestic Diktats, drawn up by the owner, that must be completed before departure at the ungodly hour of 10am the next morning.
Am I the only one to experience a wave of indignation when I encounter fussy instructions to scrub the grate and polish the kettle and re-alphabetise the DVDs? To me these are less a “courtesy” and more a brutal, premature and unreasonable return to reality. Cue the inevitable ill-tempered exchange of words with my spouse, who never does a hand’s turn at home, but suddenly, irritatingly, starts taking someone else’s housework very seriously indeed.
And so he begins barking at everyone to shift themselves and start pulling their weight. But the thing is, I am truculently unwilling to shift myself or my weight, because I don’t want to spend the final, precious hours of my holiday wielding Marigolds and a spray bottle of oven cleaner. I want to fritter them away with a final glass of wine on the patio, to the soundtrack of tinkling laughter, not listening to him, muttering dog’s abuse as he shoves the three-year-old up the chimney with a loo brush and orders the 10-year-old to drag 15 bags of beer cans to the recycling bin half a mile up the lane.
Now, I may be lazy, but I’m not a hypocrite. I’ve never been one of those women who insists on cleaning her own home from top to bottom before we go off on a break, which is possibly why I feel so resentful about having to clean someone else’s when I’m about to leave it.
Unfortunately, some owners seem to lose sight of the fact that guests are just that: guests. One year we went to a house in the north of Scotland that was perfect in every way – apart from the 13‑point list of bossy orders.
1. Strip the beds and bring linen and towels down to the back door.
2. Clean baths, basins and loos.
3. Wipe out the fridge, match the pots and pans with their lids.
4. Empty various bins into other bins.
5. Tidy the garden, retile the scullery, paint the eaves, drain and clean the septic tank with a toothbrush…
I exaggerate, but only just. The truth is that having paid £900 for a week, I do not want to to vacuum the dining room free of charge. Of course I will always ensure a rental property is tidy and respectable, but sorry, scrubbing the shower really isn’t my job. If it were, we wouldn’t be turfed out so early for the cleaner (the clue is in the title) to make the accommodation ready for the next arrivals, would we?
Nor does the argument that cleaning the cottage ourselves keeps the cost down cut any ice with me. Come midnight on Friday, when my husband is still stomping about, sterilising the breadboard and returning the freezer to its factory settings, I would happily write a blank cheque just to make it (and by that stage, him) go away.
So here’s the thing, landlords of Britain and beyond. I don’t care if I have pay a bit extra. Or indeed, a lot extra. I don’t care if I have to pay double or sign away my pension rights and hand over my first born. Charge me. Charge me like an angry bull, if you like.
I would just like it if summer’s final holiday memory wasn’t me arguing with my husband over your mop and bucket. Again.