Airbnb hosting – I’ve had a gut full

I recently read an article about people in the over 60s age bracket making a bit of extra retirement income through Airbnb hosting. The article instanced a couple in WA who were waxing lyrical about sharing their 12-acre property with their guests, who are housed in a small cottage next to the main house and enjoy lots of home comforts and perks such as freshly laid eggs for breakfast. Sounds blissful doesn’t it? Arm’s length hosting must be very cruisy, but what about those of us who are sharing our space with our guests?

When I started offering my spare room on Airbnb in December 2015, my first guests were two Italian girls. They arrived in the middle of the night and continued to keep Night Owl hours throughout their stay, often snagging me in long conversations and tourist map reading sessions at 11 p.m. at night, all the while boiling up their pasta and frying steaks. One night I lay awake worried that they had missed the last train – they had – and on another occasion they walked round the house at 1 a.m. talking animatedly on Skype with their relatives back home.

Then there was the young French guy who I almost gave up for dead when he failed to emerge from his room until 7 o’clock at night. His mother (an Airbnb host herself), who had made the booking, sent me a flurry of texts in French shortly before he arrived asking me if I knew of a chiropractor as he had a trapped nerve in his shoulder. He arrived mid-afternoon and went straight to sleep. I then drove him to the appointment, and afterwards he took the train to the CBD and stayed out, so he told me in his three waking hours the next day, until 5 a.m. Although he smoked outside, it took me several days and scented candles to get rid of the smell of cheap aftershave from his room.


My second guests were a delightful American couple who were riding round Australia on a custom-made tandem bicycle. We all got on fine and I didn’t mind them using the kitchen or Dan watching TV into the wee small hours, but I had to smile when they ate their toast, jam and peanut butter on pieces of kitchen paper rather than on plates.

By contrast, the very friendly Malaysian mother and son pretty much used my place as a dormitory. They may have put a carton of milk in the fridge but were otherwise out from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Perfect! But lovely as they were, they left the bathroom floor awash, their room stank, really stank, of tiger balm when they left (emptying the bin I could see his mother was taking medication for osteoarthritis), and I also discovered dark purple henna stains on the carpet. Luckily my solution dyed nylon carpet is very forgiving when it comes to stains.

What and how guests eat can be quite revealing. A Chinese mother and her 14-year-old son, who stayed recently seemed to be at a loss when it came to breakfast time. I don’t offer breakfast unless guests request it, but Jane’s English was pretty patchy so maybe she had misunderstood. I zoomed into action and put some banana loaf and scones to heat in the oven. But as they were heating up, Jane remembered she had provisions and came back clutching some stale bread rolls she had bought in transit in Hong Kong. She eschewed my offer of butter and jam and stuffed down the bread with gulps of milk. The son then yawned his way into the kitchen nibbling on a skewer of congealed meat. It turned out that the pork skewer also originated in Hong Kong. Amazed that the meat had not been detected by customs, I calculated that it was at least 36 hours’ old (they had arrived in Melbourne at 6.25 a.m. the previous morning) and had been out of the refrigerator all that time. Needless to say the child had a stomach upset the next day.

But my most recent guests – a couple of 20-something Japanese girls – really do take the biscuit(s) when it comes to culinary quirkiness and kitchen aggravation. They only ate out one night in six. From fried fish to home-made beefburgers and stir-fries, they seemed to be at the stove morning and night, using metal implements in my non-stick pans and washing up under a cold running tap. My tension levels rose and I could feel my jaw clenching every time they came back bearing heavy bags of groceries. Oh no! Not ANOTHER cook-up?! Like a guest in my own house, one night I asked to use the kitchen first so they started to wash the rice in their bathroom to speed things up. Later on they let the rice burn dry and the whole house smelt of charred rice. Never mind, they were going to the Great Ocean Road the next day and I would have the house to myself. So I thought. But they didn’t leave till 10.30 a.m. as they were busy boiling up more rice to make sushi which they filled with spam. Spam sushi?!!

I was out on their last night but got back in time to find them frying up a bit of leftover spam. Euphoric at the prospect of them leaving the following morning, I shared with them the Monty Python spam sketch on YouTube and taught them to sing Spam, Spam, Spam. I put all the pans away before I went to bed and left them scouring the burnt rice pan with a steel wool sponge.

But when I got back from walking Bertie on the beach the next morning, they were back at the stove again, frying up MORE spam, boiling eggs (the replacement eggs they had bought me) and making toast. Then, to my amazement, one of the girls, Hiro, went into the freezer and put a huge dollop of salted caramel ice cream (I had offered them ice cream the first night) on top of a piece of toast. Spam, eggs, cashew nuts, spinach and ice cream all on one plate. Then, as they were getting ready to leave, they asked if they could take the biscuits I had put in their room, container and all. Noticing that they had snaffled all the tea bags too, I wrapped the biscuits in cling film and handed them over. Anything to get them out the door. It really does take all sorts to make a world.

Spam, spam, spam

Spam, spam, spam

Spot  the  toast topped with ice cream!

Spot the toast topped with ice cream!

The tryanny of lists

I’m really no good at DIY but I am good at lists and ticking them off. Although there’s always a list forming in my head, I have been a bit less ‘listy’ of late, so it was with renewed fervour that I raced through a to-do list this week, so much so that I couldn’t stop.

Life always gets a bit intense before I go overseas – I’ve got about 12 sleeps to go – and the devil is definitely in the detail. Today I tried to print off my train ticket from Vienna to Zurich (a bargain 49 Euros for a seven and a half hour scenic journey – if you can work out how to print off the ticket…). So drawing on my (rusty) university German, I called the OBB, the Austrian railway, and got through to a most charming woman. I managed to explain the problem and found out that I had chosen the pick up at the counter option rather than online printing. Everything was going swimmingly until I realised I didn’t know how to end the conversation. Luckily the woman got in before me and I remembered it’s Auf Wiederhoeren – meaning until we hear each other again – rather than Auf Wiedersehen (as in pet, anyone remember the British comedy?) – until we meet again. Another thing for the list: brush up my Deutsch!

Back to the DIY: one of my jobs has been to re-paint a couple of shelves in the bathroom as the paint had peeled off in two sections where a bottle of essential oil had spilt. I duly went into the shed for the vile oil-based enamel paint that the rip-off painters (see had used back in July. Then I put on some really old clothes, set up the dust sheets, did a bit of light sanding, pulled on a pair of special gloves (last time I got paint all over my hands and even my nose!) and did a reasonable job only spilling a bit of paint on the glass shower screen. Once completed, I felt proud to have done the job and celebrated by taking Bertie to the park. I met a fellow dog walker and apologised for smelling of turps. She said she couldn’t smell anything but noticed I had quite a bit of paint in my hair… It never ceases to amaze me that I am perfectly competent in many areas of my life but develop Mr Bean-like tendencies when it comes to home maintenance.

In between the freelance writing, I’ve also done some cooking (got my former (elderly) neighbours for morning tea this weekend), cleaned my high maintenance black and white bathroom floors, went to ALDI, op shops, second-hand furniture shops, prepared my spare room for next week’s Airbnb photo shoot, cleaned up my garden and leaf-strewn carport and took photos of my house to show folks back home. I also put up three small pictures in my guest bathroom (a few holes short of precise but my bodged attempts were easily covered) and then zipped off to JB HI-FI for new back-up drive (the old one died) and an HDMI cable so I can watch films playing on my computer on the TV screen. All very satisfying stuff but rather helter skelter, achievement-driven and rushed. So I’ve been delighted by the series of beautifully written and well observed blog posts from a friend who is a WWOOFER (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) in Japan. She’s living with a very eco-minded family who have a deep connection to the land, observe rituals and live with precision, total attention and mindfulness, qualities that are uncommon in today’s ego-driven materialist world. Her blog is called A Man, A Woman and Four Languages, and I thoroughly recommend it.

“Yesterday evening I was given a lethal hatchet knife to slice up spring onions. But my 3mm slices weren’t good enough; 1mm was what was required. Not for the first time I felt very uncivilised. So, this morning, when Rie asked me to arrange some umeboshi plums from the bin where they’d been soaking in brine, to a flat basket, to dry, I made sure that they were arranged exactly as briefed. Which meant really slowing down, and concentrating. It’s the same with the gardening, because of the approach to weed control

How do they get anything done when it all takes so long? I asked her over email. She replied “most of their life centres on the basics of growing, cooking, cleaning, washing, heating, maintaining. And these tasks aren’t chores to be completed as fast as possible; they are the stuff of life, i.e. the end as much as the means. ….doing jobs as quickly as possible isn’t the point.

I really must hurry up and look at self-publishing my book titled, SLOWING Down in the Fast Lane: From Adventure to Zen and Everything in Between.

Life Laundry and Armchair Travel No. 1

I’ve been doing a bit of life laundry on and off all year. It started with clearing out my study and cupboards full of bumph: newspaper articles; clippings; old diaries; travel memorabilia; birthday and other greetings cards; notes on this, that and the other – lots of scrawl in lots of notebooks – and I’ve now got to the photos.

Being an old-fashioned kind of girl, I still get my photos printed off and stick them in an album. I’m not sure who is ever going to look at them but I’ve enjoyed doing a bit of retrospective armchair travel. In April 2009, I detoured via Japan on my way back to Australia from the UK.

After an emotional goodbye to my family in England and a glorious drive to Manchester Airport over the Pennines complete with daffodils, green fields, rugged moorland and country pubs, I flew to Helsinki, where I rushed around on a brief 22-hour stopover before flying onto Osaka. On arrival in Osaka, I took the train to Kyoto where I arrived around eleven in the morning in a jet-lagged haze. Confused by the maze of escalators and exits, I found myself with all my luggage (why do I ALWAYS take so much?) in a beeping and flashing electronics store.

Zen garden at Ginjaku-Ji

Zen garden at Ginjaku-Ji

After a few more wrong turns, I finally managed to exit the station, find the right bus, haul my luggage on board and get off at the right stop for the ryokan (guest house). Ahh, a shower and lie down at last, I thought, relieved. But no. The woman smiled sweetly, got me a cup of green tea and a biscuit and told me that check-in was 3pm onwards. She smiled sweetly again – perhaps a bit too sweetly – indicating where I could leave my luggage. There was obviously no point arguing with her so I threw myself into sightseeing. I wandered along the Philosopher’s walk, a gorgeous blossom-lined meander along the canal with temples at both ends and shrines off to the sides. From Zen gardens of raked sand to mossy tree roots, confetti-like blossoms skirting across the water and, in one shrine, a single camellia flower floating on the surface of a water butt, it was the perfect antidote to jetlag.


But by the time I collapsed in a local eaterie at 7pm with a glass of plum wine and a bowl of steaming ramen noodles, I was seriously tired and still wearing my flight clothes. But I was not too tired to chat to the owner. Well, actually, I had little option as I was the only person in there. He was a bit of a wit and on hearing I was a writer, produced a lighter. A nice bit of linguistic self piss-taking I thought. Then, teasingly, he urged me to show more enthusiasm for my meal telling me that in Japan it’s a sign of respect to slurp your soup. Hugely self-conscious (he might as well have asked me to undress), I struggled to make enough noise – it’s just so UN-English and not polite after all those years of being told to sit up straight and hold my knife and fork just so. But I did my best to schluuurp my appreciation.

Back at the ryokan, I slept quite well on my tatami mat and futon on the floor, but was so over-tired and time zone-challenged that I took a while to drop off and was fast asleep at 8am when Mrs Uemura rapped smartly on my door telling me, with thinly disguised irritation, that breakfast was served. I’d clearly transgressed a house rule. Another one. She’d already told me off the day before for wearing my outdoor shoes indoors and for wearing my indoor slippers to the loo instead of the specially provided toilet slippers. Thank Goodness she didn’t spot me mistakenly walking back to my room still wearing the toilet slippers. Too many footwear faux pas for words.

I am happy to say that the breakfast was absolutely delicious and worth dragging myself out of bed for. It started with miso soup with clams followed by rice, fish, pickled veg (delicious soft sweet aubergine) all washed down with Gen Mai Cha (toasted rice green tea). There was one other couple staying and they needed no back-up chorus from in slurping and sniffing.


After breakfast, I snuck back up to my room thinking I might just lie down for half an hour but my bed had already been rolled up and cleared away. No peace for the wicked. I was about to whinge – like Shirley Valentine – to the walls when I heard monks in the street chanting prayer requests. There are insufficient words to describe the clarity and purity of their toning. I let the sound wash over me and set off for another day of sightseeing. Stay tuned for Life Laundry No. 2.