And so, to our annual week away. The four of us, along with the 17-year-old daughter’s boyfriend. How we were looking forward to it. After a few holidays in past years in Italy with disappointing weather, we thought we’d go to Spain, little knowing that Surrey would have felt like the core of the sun for four weeks before we left.
We found a villa – this villa. It looked nice and the pool looked amazing. We booked it. I exchanged a few emails with the owner, Mar, before getting there, to see whether we needed a car and so on, and she was very helpful and polite.
On arrival, Mar greeted us with a bottle of wine and some chocolates. Lovely. This was the highlight of our relationship. I miss those days.
Now, the villa. It was a great size and the pool was indeed amazing. Sculpted into a rocky grotto (more of which later) it was bigger than a plunge pool but quite bijous. Overlooked by the terrace and balcony, there were lovely views of the mountains and the distant sounds of what we had decided by the end of the week was a puppy farm. I’m not a fastidious cleaner at home, but I thought the villa could have been more sparkling. You get ambushed with a €100 cleaning fee on arrival and if I was being paid €100 to clean it I would have made sure the barbecue was spotless, the floors has been swept and there wasn’t someone’s old bath water accumulating round the edges of the jacuzzi. But that’s just me.
We explored the area a little on the first day. Thank goodness we did have a car because it’s a very long walk to the beaches and port involving crossing a road that is tantamount to a motorway (the one that straddles the famous Roman Arch which pops up whenever you put Roda de Bara into google). Actually, I found the arch fascinating. I doubt whether Emperor Augustus, who it was built in honour of in the 1st century BC, guessed it would end up on the N-340 carriageway.
Back to the villa. There were no signs forbidding it, and the little one (I say little, but he’s just turned 14 and is at the age where falsetto becomes bass and then back again in a nanosecond) was very keen to leap from the balcony into the pool. He did this once (sshh, don’t tell Mar), after which I banned it because it was too much like the start of an episode of Holby City. Although if it had been in Holby City, 1) Go mad with the budget, guys! Filming in Spain and not Bristol! And 2) It would not have been the child flinging himself water and rock (more of that later) ward who suffered the damage, but rather an obscure accident that you don’t see coming. Like me losing my footing in the kitchen and suffering third degree burns because of a faulty oven door (more of which later).
Having established myself as chief killjoy so early in the holiday we thought we should get something floaty for the children to play on and for me to sunbathe on, so a rubber ring was purchased. The little one was probably best at jumping into it as straight as a pencil because he’s yet to fill out, but everyone tried. Including the 17-year-old’s boyfriend who leapt like a gazelle, mistimed it and grabbed onto a sticky out bit of rock to steady himself. As the floaty floated away he hung on, like Sylvestor Stallone’s girlfriend in Cliffhanger, until the rock could hold him no more. It broke off and he plunged into the perfectly manageable 5ft depths of the pool.
On examination, IT WAS NOT ROCK. It was polysterene covered in plaster and made to look like rock, like you get at a theme park ride. I could not have felt more stupid! Rocky grotto indeed. Anyway, it broke. Mea culpa. Well, not me, but you know what I mean.
We decided to have a barbecue that evening. I thought I’d try by hand at patatas bravas – when in Rome, Rodney, and all that. On opening the oven door for the first time there seemed to be an issue. The second bit of glass on the door was weirdly detached from the main door, which was okay if the oven was not on, but quite fiddly if it had been heating up. But with a mixture of oven glove and dexterity I muddled through. The patatas bravas were sublime.
On day two we got back to the villa to find the electrics had short circuited. After some investigation we put this down to the kettle being faulty. Switch it on and the power went. I texted Mar and she very swiftly sorted out the problem and the next day left a new kettle.
The rest of the holiday came and went in a flash. We found a lovely beach to go to and some great restaurants, and a cute beach bar with very strong cocktails. On Mar’s request we always shook out the beach towels and showered before going into the pool.
We left with some lovely memories, having had a good week during what for us, are stressful times.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when I received an email from Mar saying that she was withholding our entire €300 deposit because of the damage to the polysterene, a damaged sun lounger and, adding insult to financial injury, the faulty oven door (which necessitated the purchase of an entire new oven).
Mar has photos of the damage but it didn’t matter how many times I explained that although we took full responsibility for the pretend rock (and were happy to pay for the repair), the oven door was already broken and we weren’t responsible for the sun lounger, she refused to believe me. Turns out, if you are renting somewhere and have already paid the deposit there is little you can do about it when it is simply one person’s word against another. I have no proof that the oven and sun lounger were like that at the start but I suspect next time I rent somewhere I shall spend the first two hours laboriously photographing everything in sight.
In a series of increasingly irate emails, Mar also complained that there was sand in the house and balcony and that I’d left a tray with some potatoes in the oven (I just got better and better at making them as the week went on!). Actually, that last one annoys me. We had given the house a good clean before leaving and even remembered to put water glasses from bedrooms into the dishwasher and switch it on before leaving. I’m sorry about the grubby potato tray.
All in all, and in polar opposite of my cooking, it’s left a really nasty taste in my mouth.