There’s something refreshing about being taken away from your little home luxuries and forced to make do with your limited means on holidays, writes Kya deLongchamps
When we arrived at the cottage in Kerry, indulged by two decades of dry lining and a well-appointed kitchen, I whinged long and loud. A quivering lip from one of my teenage charges pulled me up short. Smiles were applied. ‘How cute is this, girls?’ Pushing through boughs of Japanese knotweed, the front door stuttered inward over rippling lino depicting slate.
The air was warm, soupy, fetid. Paint blistered at the base of the walls. Plastic rosaries, balded out over a few decades, swung from lamps and mirror frames. Mildewed prints of the Sacred Heart vied with cheering depictions of the Great Hunger, reminding us in the gathering gloom, how very lucky we were to be saved and have Taytos out of a pull-pack.
The lovely elderly lady, managing the place for absent owners, explained that the storage heaters encrusted with barnacles of rust had packed up, and that ‘sometimes new washers don’t work’. Finally, the glittering new machine would grow sulky and did indeed give up.
A watercolour hung low over the bath, ensuring the cradle shower had to be hand-held at a carefully worked out angle so as not to destroy it. Without even a shower curtain, we make a fetal crouch in an effort not to hit the antique pine dresser inches away.
The loft room was the driest and brightest refuge, so I put the kids upstairs. They reacted with that enviable trill directed at any new crow’s nest away from adult influences. My double at the gable end downstairs was ornate with Belle Epoque nudes, positioned to get naughty co-sleeping grown-ups in the mood.
The tension between the sacred and sexual was curious. Had the housekeeper slipped the icons in? I did not spot woodlice, but experience had taught me not to put a gimlet eye under the bed in an old house.
The kitchen, small but honestly adequate, contained the oldest microwave in Western Europe — trust me, I googled it. It was swiftly unplugged lest we boil our eyeballs in their sockets. I did wonder about the long, chiding missive upon booking, instructing us to use indoor shoes only (comfy slippers were touted), and extolled care around precious, highly personal objects in the house.
Bedding aside, the place hadn’t been refreshed since the late ’90s. So why, six days later, did we tear up as we shook the sand out the front door and prepared to leave?
Going away prods us free of our miserable, self-inflicted, little norms. First of all, the discovery that you can actually survive and thrive on a small car load of stuff. This includes the wet-weather outfitting of the Irish summer, small suitcases (2/3 of which go unpacked), the two crates of girlie things for the teens, five bags of food not priced up for small holiday villages, slabs of cola cans, and ten old bath towels. I did drive back with a shark-emblazoned bodyboard pretty much up my nose, but that was my fault for bowing to the whinging and getting two.
There’s a freedom (tamed by polite responsibility of course), in knowing the furnishings and surroundings are not yours. Robust, unfussed, and sufficient to our needs, the relief of not worrying about pale upholstery, and that veil of dog hair over dark plank flooring was huge. Why do we cram our homes with the dirt-swallowing surfaces, redundant seating, and stale gee-gaws atrophied in place?
Three cooking pots, two frying pans, a grater, colander, and a few implements — there’s nothing that cannot be magicked to the table. Moving house is often the first time we really see our homes, the potential room available as we shovel ourselves and our clutter into a lorry to shovel it out and smother another building.
We mean to inflict rules on youngsters, but thinly grinning and inwardly screaming, stoop to conquer the litter of clothes and dishes marking their path through the house. I didn’t have my two up against the wall, but they were washing up and hanging out clothes from the get-go last week.
A dodgy rental on holiday also puts you in the moment. What are you going to do, dig up the owners’ phone numbers and start yelling? An extra set of towels is one thing, but what if (as the visiting child described to her dad by phone), the place is just borderline ‘creepy’?
Her feelings were enhanced by the local criminal who pulled doughnuts in his boyo car outside the cottage on the first night, leaving small piles of tyre material for snaking miles. Me? I’ll admit, with our faces fishing through the torn nets at 1am as he blasted around, it was rather exciting, but happily, he did not return.
The make-do, the discovery of new personal resources, was part of what made this week. The nights were brisk without heating. Having screamed our way in and out of the Atlantic, we slept like the dead. Fishing into the corner where the old electric cooker was jammed, I dusted off my student talent for one-pan meals.
They were all demolished and the micro-kitchen cleaned up in three minutes. Without any electronics or cable buzz, the silence was fur deep, softly blanketing peace.
Pushing open the warped door and jamming it with a chair was (as promised), the best view in Ireland. The house was now an amusing overnight shelter, and board games were again precious entertainment — brushing the floor a meditation in the still evenings.
I am not advocating the renting out of unprepared, uncomfortable old buildings but reviews aside, there is no credible star system for many host rental websites. Even with agencies in place, your contract is with the owners.
There are many beautifully appointed historic cots, blessed bargains in spring and autumn. Location and pricing can be weighed up according to season. If the prospect seems oddly cheap and owners living remote from the address, there may be a rub.
My family rented out a Georgian coach-house every summer for years. Part of my job was to take dust-pans of many-legged squatters out with the linen every Saturday — the place was charming but inherently damp, aired for weeks before the season and repeatedly white-washed to please the most sugarcoated guests.
If you find yourself pulling your bags over the threshold of the all too authentic, shore up what you can with the manager (don’t tolerate a damp bed), but otherwise you’re there, it’s done, get on with it.
If you want a suburban McMansion for a country break, rent one.
HOLIDAY LET SENSE
- Take coloured well-used towels. Forget the inevitable gleaming, make-up sucking, white towels at the rental. Bring your own and launder them regularly. Chuck on the line
before you go out — sorted. I prefer my own pillow and case too.
- Condiments. Sugar, salt, pepper, oil, herbs and garlic and your first day’s eating. Don’t expect a welcome pack. Pick up cold food, bread and milk locally.
- Laptop. For playing games, watching movies (save some Netflix to your devices) and editing your photos. If it rains and the TV is a CD model, you will be otherwise sunk! Ensure laptops are never put down on a bed or upholstered chair while turned on.
- A universal charger for phones, portable modems, and laptops (if you have to bring some work with you). Phone coverage and wi-fi services vary wildly on the Wild Atlantic Way. Check with your supplier for coverage before you go. Music docking stations make up for the lack of a radio.
- A packet of AA and AAA batteries. Always useful for everything from remotes to portable razors.
- A first aid kit. Antiseptic, one cotton bandage, plasters, painkillers, anti-histamine tablets for hay fever and emergencies and at least one cold pack for bangs to limbs and headaches. Aloe vera is great for sunburned Irish skin. Note the nearest doctor/ hospital on arrival.
- A portable hammock. Cork firm hammocks.ie has lovely examples from €45 in
silk or cotton, with hanging kits at €19, hammocks.ie.
- Books and a small box of watercolours, a bottle of any flat water and a travelling pad. Trust me, teamed to a folding chair on the beach — ideal to drown out the infant squabbles. Short stories can surprise even jaded teens. Cards — vital.
- Will baby need a stair-gate or highchair? Ask ahead and proof the house like you would your own. A portable black-out blind is a handy plus.
- Ziplock sandwich bags in two sizes, plus a few black/ recycle bin bags. Separate the rubbish as you go, don’t leave it the last night with the bats buzzing your head and the pressure on.
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