Mel and Nick left their life in the south of France in June 2012 to travel and house-sit full time. Since then they’ve house-sat everything from flats in central London to off-grid mountain retreats in Catalonia. Along the way they’ve looked after lots of animals (currently on their 12th dog in six months) while borrowing their owners’ lives. They both work as freelancers (Mel’s a virtual assistant, Nick’s a writer). Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Mel and Nick house-sitting in London and York!
Day 1: Sunday
8:20 AM: Choral singing fills the room. My arm flails out – without consulting my brain – to find the source of the noise. It’s Radio 4 on my alarm clock. Church sermon on. No Today show. Must be Sunday. I try to idly stretch my legs. But I’m stuck. They feel weighed down. Odd. I had a few beers catching up with old friends last night, but nothing to literally turn me paralytic. After a few, confused moments, I muster the energy to open my eyes and look down the bed.
A cat stares back.
A small, somewhat perturbed cat, who until very recently was quite happily snoozing on my feet.
Memories slowly come back. When Mel got up in the night the two cats we’re looking after followed her back into our room. For reasons unknown, Boudicca – the cat who has taken up residence on my feet – took the chance to do a little impromptu massage on my back at 5am. A sweet, if odd, gesture from a cat who during daylight hours keeps to herself. I lie still and just enjoy another of the strange little moments thrown up by house-sitting. But it can’t last. There’s work to be done.
8:45 AM: For a few days a dining table in Walthamstow on the outskirts of London is my office. I open my laptop, take a sip of coffee and begin working. Over the past five months I’ve done more work on Sundays than the rest of my life put together. And yet I’m happy to be tapping away while the world dozes. Days of the week mean less and less the longer we’re on the road.
9:55 AM: Mel emerges, grunts and makes tea.
2:40 PM: With work done, we head out. First stop: the nearby William Morris Gallery. We didn’t know it existed a week ago, but it’s wonderful. A great thing about house-sitting, is it takes you to new places – even in cities we know well – and puts you in touch with the people who know them best.
5:45 PM: Wherever possible we fit a trip to the cinema into our travels. This time it’s Screen on the Green to see Seven Psychopaths. Good flick, nice cinema.
8:30 PM: After spending the last two months in France, which – for all its culinary wonderments – has an aversion to spice, we’re longing for something a bit different. It was curry on Friday, so we tonight go to a South American place, Comedor in Islington.
10:45 PM: We get to the house to wait for the homeowners, Jess and Anthony. They’re old friends, so we spend the evening catching up and filling them in on their cats’ adventures.
Day 2: Monday
7:20 AM: Alarm goes. Arm flails. Legs…move. The cats are nowhere to be seen. With the homeowners back, our role as surrogates is coming to an end. *Sniff*
9:30 AM: After doing some work, we spend the morning drinking tea and chatting with Jess.
12:10 PM: It’s time for goodbye. Again. This is the hardest part. Even after just a few days we’re both attached to the cats.
1:15 PM: On the train up to York. Time for a picnic. And more work. I had expected this week to be quiet, but a commission came in late on Friday.
3:30 PM: We get off the train and begin searching for someone we’ve never met. Fortunately, Estelle is armed with a ‘Mel and Nick’ sign. We say our hellos and set off for our new home.
4:00 PM: We arrive at Estelle and Peter’s beautiful townhouse on the outskirts of York, and begin getting to know the dogs, Jake and Jeannie. We spend the rest of the afternoon chatting.
11:00 PM: After a lovely evening spent with Estelle and Peter – meeting lots of new, interesting people is one of the joys of house-sitting – we call it a night. Tomorrow will be busy.
Day 3: Tuesday
7:20 AM: Alarm goes off. We’re to spend the morning learning the ropes. But I’ve got a work deadline too. Time to crack on before everyone else gets up.
10:30 AM: Over the past half hour the dogs have become increasingly frantic. This can only mean one thing – it’s time for their walk. As a house-sitter, this is probably the most important hour of the day. And today is our only chance to learn the routine. Every detail is vital. The words – and tone of voice – used. Which routes to take. How to avoid incidents before they arise.
And – on a very basic level – how to put on a harness or coat. Dogs reserve a special look of despair for house-sitters who delay a walk by faffing about with a lead. It says, “Oh, you dunce! If I had opposable thumbs we’d be halfway there already!” Jake looks like he could deliver a stare dripping with disdain, so we pay close attention.
Estelle has warned us Jake and Jeannie can be a handful. It’s part and parcel of being a Fox Terrier. But today they’re on their best behavior. I fear they’re saving their energy to screw over the house-sitters tomorrow.
2:30 PM: Estelle and Peter are sorting out the final details of their trip, so we pop out to pick up supplies. When we get back, they’ve left, and we’re alone with Jake and Jeannie for the first time. Dogs all handle it differently, with some barely noticing their people have gone, and others pining.
Jeannie seems thrown by the situation so we spend the rest of the day at home. Jake is bolder and is ‘helping’ me in the kitchen within hours. We spend the night relaxing on the sofa with the dogs.
Day 4: Wednesday
7:20 AM: Alarm. Work. You know the drill.
10:30 AM: Dogs are creatures of routine too, so we try to keep deviations from their normal life to a minimum. This means that while we’re house-sitting we live fairly structured lives. It’s just that the structure changes every few weeks. For the rest of the week, 10:30 AM means ‘walk time.’ I manage to put the coats and harnesses on without getting ‘the look’ from Jake, and we set off on time.
And I’m glad we have. The weak winter sun has yet to make headway against the frost, and a fine layer of glistening ice covers the shrubs. It’s stunning. After a few house-sits that required little walking, it’s great to be in the fields. And yesterday’s fears prove unfounded, with both dogs very well behaved.
12:00 PM: We get back, clean off the dogs and sort out lunch.
1:10 PM: Neither of us has an imminent deadline so we go out walking over the fields, past the old chocolate factory and along the river. York is as enchanting as ever. And an advantage of traveling full-time, is we see the city mid-week while there are fewer tourists. The Shambles when it’s crammed full of tourists is hellish. Today it’s a delight.
4:45 PM: We get back in time to feed the dogs. Again, sticking to the routine is crucial.
7:15 PM: Before leaving Peter recommended a few of his favorite recipes, so today we’re cooking a dahl he likes. It’s really tasty, and makes me wish we had longer here. The kitchen is well-equipped, has a fully-stocked spice rack and a shelf-full of cookbooks.
Day 5: Thursday
7:20 AM: Alarm. Work. Etc.
10:30 AM: Walk dogs. Wonderfully uneventful. Jake and Jeannie are very well behaved, but we often find dogs are in the first week of a house-sit. In the second week they start to test their boundaries, before settling down again towards the end of week three. Sadly we won’t see if Jake and Jeannie follow the bell curve, as we’re nearing the end of our stay.
2:30 PM: There’s still enough time for a visit to York Minster. It’s a magnificent church, especially today. As we near it emerges lazily from the thick fog that has engulfed York. We arrive a few minutes before a tour is due to start. Normally we’re not big fans of tours, but the Minster is a treasure trove of stories that a good guide can bring to light. We have a good guide, and the weight of 1000’s of years of history is almost palpable.
4:55 PM: After stopping off at Evil Eye to buy a few local – and not so local – beers and ciders, we’re back to feed the dogs.
8:00 PM: Dinner is a seafood pasta dish recommended by Estelle. The beers are a nice accompaniment.
Day 6: Friday
7:20 AM: Alarm. Work.
9:10 AM: We’re tweaking the routine a little as Mel has an appointment at the hairdresser. I’m walking the dogs on my own. Is today the day they choose to have a chuckle at me? Jake threatens to put a dampener on my day by chasing something small and furry. But after five minutes thrashing through the undergrowth he reemerges to resume his walk. The rest passes uneventfully, but there’s a tinge of sadness as I near the end. Tomorrow we move on again, and Jake and Jeannie will get their old lives back.
2:30 PM: We give the house a clean so it’s nice when Estelle and Peter get back.
6:00 PM: Estelle recommended a local pub so we brave the inclement weather in search of a decent pint. The Fox and Roman delivers.
7:30 PM: We resist the temptation to quaff a second pint so we can cook our last dinner of the house-sit.
11:00 PM: Estelle and Peter get back. We debrief before calling it a night.
Day 7: Saturday
7:20 AM: Alarm. I do a little light work while watching the sunrise and listening to Test Match Special.
10:20 AM: We head into York to have brunch at City Screen with a friend.
12:55 PM: It’s Mel’s birthday tomorrow, so we’re taking a little break from house-sits and spending a weekend in the Lake District. The first step is hiring a car.
1:30 PM: After picking up supplies we’re back at the house one last time to collect our gear. No matter how many times we do this, it never gets any easier. We’ll really miss Jake and Jeannie, but all being well we’ll be back to look after them next year.
3:45 PM: I’m parked in a lay-by on the Yorkshire Dales. Mel is throwing up. A combination of motion sickness and coffee is the culprit. It’s not all glamour on the road.
5:05 PM: After a few wrong turns we arrive at our house in Ambleside. It’s beautiful, but there’s no time to enjoy it yet, we’ve an appointment to make.
5:25 PM: We arrive at Zeffirellis – a wonderful cinema, cum restaurant, cum jazz bar – just in time for the start of The Hobbit. Fortunately, given Mel’s dodgy tummy, it’s the plain old 2D version, not the 48fps 3D cut accused of making people feel sick.
8:40 PM: With the film over, finally, we wander to Fellini’s, a vegetarian restaurant owned by the same people who run the cinema. It’s fantastic.
10:45 PM: After meandering through the streets of Ambleside, we’re back at our house for a glass of pre-birthday Champagne. We’re still getting used to not having any animals – I keep placing food out of reach of Fox Terriers – but with two weeks until our next house-sit, we have time to readjust. Then we’ll be off again, learning about a new set of pets, house, routine and area.
We can’t wait.
Mel and Nick are currently taking care of a dog, cat, hens, ducks, and goats in Ireland, and soon they’re off to Montpellier, France to visit some friends. Next up: dogs, cats, and donkeys in southern France! In June they’re casting their nets a little further, having landed their first gig in Australia already. You can follow their adventures on StaySitRollover.