No such thing as a free lunch


In these trying times we’re all after a bargain, and there are so many ways to get one. One of the main areas of saving money has been the increase of house and flat exchanges for people who want to take a holiday and save themselves the expense of hotels and eating out in restaurants every day.

My friend Paco and his wife Carmen have done it a number of times, and a couple of weeks ago they set off for a week in London, with the other couple spending a week in Paco and Carmen’s beautiful flat in Valencia. There was the usual exchange of info about the different things to take care of, but it was basically simple, other than they hadn’t to use the microwave and must never leave a window open or the other couple’s precious little kitty, which they loved like their own new-born, might escape.

Paco had checked out the flights, and Ryanair, the leading cowboys in the air game, had seemed the best bet. They were travelling with their son, Javi, and a female friend of his, Clara. When they arrived at Valencia airport it turned out that darling little Clara hadn’t printed out her on-line boarding card, something they’d just assumed she would know you had to do. There’s an old saying, ‘assume made as ass out of you and me’. (It makes more sense if you say it out loud.) So Bam! a forty euro fee for not having a boarding pass. Ah well, these things happen.

They arrived at the flat on the Saturday, all set for a few days sightseeing, but the first thing Paco and Carmen had to do was get some food in, while Javi and Clara took themselves off to Camden town for a look around. Before he could move though, Paco needed a coffee, so, despite the warning, he put a cup full of milk into the microwave. It didn’t explode, as they were warned it might do, but it did cough out clouds of smoke and made some pretty dangerous sounds. He grabbed the cup out of the machine while Carmen threw open all the windows for a few minutes to clear the smoke.

You’re way ahead of me now, aren’t you!

So, the smoke cleared eventually and they went around and closed all the windows, then off to do a decent shop at the supermarket down the road. There was no rush, so they dawdled a bit, had a beer, as you do on holiday, but when they got back to the flat they saw a sign saying, “Has anyone lost a kitten. If you have it’s at flat 2.” A vague glimmer of unease passed through Paco, and when he got upstairs – three flights upstairs – they found a window open and kitty gone. A dash down to flat 2 on the ground floor, and there it was.

Now, whatever they might say about cats always landing on their feet, that’s probably something that comes with a bit of practise, something that this little feline hadn’t had, because while still having a few of his nine lives left, he was in a pretty iffy state.

Nervously they rang the owners in Valencia and, after finally quieting the woman, found out where the nearest vet was. Off they went and Boom! one hundred pounds just for the consultation.

The vet said that he seemed okay physically, but you never know with a fall like that whether the poor little thing has sustained any head damage, so suggested it stayed in for observation until Monday. How could they disagree? Bam again! multiple notes for the cost of the stay, and two days of stomach churning nervousness for Paco.

He’s a freelance graphic designer, and was expecting a call to finish off a job that had to be at the printer while they were still in London. He got the call late on Sunday, and far from it being just a quick up-date it was practically a whole new job, so he worked all  night, all day on Monday and into the early hours of Tuesday getting it done. At least it took his mind of kitty cat for a few hours!

So by Tuesday morning he was like a zombie, and it wasn’t until Wednesday that they could finally begin to enjoy their holiday. By which time the cat had recovered.

Their flight was at five on Saturday afternoon, but in one of those shilly-shallying, dilly-dallying ways, they missed it. Not just by a couple of minutes but by a whole two hours. And has anyone ever known Ryanair to show the slightest bit of sympathy? A purely rhetorical question! The next flight was at seven on Sunday morning, so after having shelled out another £350 for tickets, the sad foursome took a taxi to the nearest pub and sat there till throwing out time, then back to Stanstead for their early flight, but they still somehow managed to get at the back of the queue.

When they got to the check-in desk the two in-flight bags weighed twenty-two kilos, two kilos overweight. Paco said he’d take something out and wear it or throw it away, because at £35 a kilo, that made for some pretty expensive T-shirts. But the Ryanair money-grubber at the desk said he didn’t have time to do that as it was almost boarding time so he’d have to pay the excess baggage. Boom! seventy-five quid changed hands.

So this nice cheap week’s holiday turned into a bloody expensive three days for him, given travel, time at the vet, working, getting to the airport and trying to kip in those awful plastic seats.

So, as they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered.


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