Thursday, 30 April 2015

My family and other animals: Do a pet-sitting holiday

I’ll admit it. I am one of those mean, mean parents who will not let my children have a pet. Nope. Not even a "really-really-cute-little-white-cuddly-bunny-wabbit-with-little-pink-eyes-and-a-little-pink-nose-that-we’d-call-Nibbles-and-mummy-I-would-totally-look-after-it-all-by-my-own-and-you-wouldn't-have-to-do-anything-EVER-I-promise.” 

Because all I see when I hear the word ‘pet’ is extra chores, and poo. Plus when I was a kid my sister accidentally squished one of our hamsters as she was closing a drawer. Maybe I’m still traumatised from that. 

However, I’m always on the look out for an opportunity to look after someone else's pets in someone else's house in a different part of the UK. The kids get the honeymoon period of looking after animals  the bit before the novelty wears off and we all get a very cheap holiday.

Over the last few years, we've done guinea pigs in Norfolk for relatives ...
Whippets in Rutland for friends of friends ...
And we're just back from looking after these three chooks for someone I met at a work meeting! 
Our chicken-sitting adventure took place in Whitstable, a place I’d always wanted to visit. As we turned the key in the front door of our 'holiday home', we were excited and curious. (It feels a bit like viewing a house that's for sale, only you get to actually stay there and be a proper nosey parker.) My daughter was in like a shot, dashing in and out of each room. The Teenager played it cool, but I could see he was rather pleased with our new premises, and was soon esconced in the attic bedroom.
My daughter was delighted to discover that the 10-year-old boy who lives here had left a trail of toy bugs leading to her bedroom. 
That's another good thing: The absent ‘presence’ of the child or children who normally live there adds an enticing and human layer that you don't get in your average holiday accommodation. “It’s like being a detective,” she said. "You have to look for all the little clues about their life and what they're like."

There were his posters to look at, like this giant map of the UK: "So where's Whitstable and where's where we live?"
Books to browse: "Mmm ... he's very into dinosaurs ... oh, but he's got Charlie and Lola books that I haven't got! Can we read those tonight?"
Different bath toys to play with. 
And whey hey hey, a trampoline!
I was more than happy. We were only a 5-minute walk from the beach, and the house had a deliciously salty seaside feel to it. 
There was even a hot tub in the garden, all boiled up and ready for us to enjoy, seagulls squawking overhead.
Yep, I could live here … 

But down to business. Our responsibilities. We had chickens to look after and eight pages of detailed notes to digest. I may not want pets myself, but I take my pet-sitting seriously. 
Blimey. The needs of Princess Leia (great name for a chicken! Geddit?) and her two chums were many and varied: They needed pellets, corn, mealworm treats, fresh bedding, putting to bed, getting up in the morning ... Fortunately my husband took quite a shine to them ("Just off to sort out my ladies” he'd say), so I was able to take a relative back seat – on a comfy sofa in the conservatory as it happens, with a cup of tea in my choice of chunky mug.

There was also a soft and silky and rather affectionate cat. 
“He likes to sleep in the crook of your elbow or the bend of your legs," the notes said, "of whoever goes to bed first.” My daughter instantly volunteered to be that person. She was even happy to dish out its stinky cat food. (Gag! Have you smelt that Iams stuff?)

Another bonus of course were the freshly-laid eggs we collected for breakfast. "They don't taste all pale like the ones we have at home," my daughter commented.
And in between animal welfare duties, we squeezed in a lot of fun, exploring this charming town and its coastline. 
When it was time to go and we were clearing up all trace of fish and chip crumbs and teenage socks, my daughter decided to sit down and write a sort of thank you note to the boy she'd never met, the boy she felt she kind of knew ...
 ... and left it for him on his pillow. 
Yes, indeed, thank you, from the bottom of our sandy toes. We had a wonderful time.

Now, anyone got a pony they need looking after?

If you like this, you might like The cheapest foreign family trip ever!


  1. Wonderful! Love reading about your chicken holiday! My kids would love that. We have a cat who has owned us since before the kids arrived and a newly adopted dog - and that is certainly enough for me and husband, but not enough for the kids!! They would have a house that looked like a zoo. Your holiday looking after chickens is very appealing - fun, educational and it looks like it was a wonderful experience for all! Thanks so much for sharing xxx

    1. Thanks for your nice comments Laura. When I was a kid I dreamed and planned what dogs and cats and ponies (etc!) I was going to have when I had my own family and could do what I wanted, but the reality now is I can't think of anything worse!

  2. What a great way for your children to experience different animals and for you all to see some different parts of the country. You should advertise over here in NY and perhaps land a beach house in the Hamptons!

    1. Oh my word Susan, that would be amazing! Would just have the small issue of paying for the flights!

  3. What a wonderful holiday - and I'm definitely with you on temporary pets being the way forward - we're not pet people either!

    1. I think the subject of pets divides people down the middle - you either are or you aren't!

  4. Such a smart holiday idea. Now to meet someone with chickens!

  5. Wow!! Excellent Claire! You are just enjoying your holidays in a superb way. Thanks for adding the description and of course the photos. I just cannot believe that you are having so many animals at your home, its little funny. These photos are the precious memories of your life with your family. Keep your memories safe always. Why don't you try making flip-books using your photos. You are lucky that you are living with such happy moments. Well thanks for elaborating everything and sharing your holiday experience. Keep enjoying.

    1. Lovely comment Emma - thank you! I like the idea of the flip-books ...

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