Ejo #103 – An Open Letter to Annette of Holiday Shacks

 

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The email that launched a thousand words.  A simple apology would have seen the matter die a natural and quiet death.

Dear Annette of Holiday Shacks,

Thanks so much for your email. I must say though, it wasn’t exactly the response I’d been hoping for. I thought, perhaps, you might go for something a tad more conciliatory. A touch more apologetic, considering your crappy handling of what went down when we rented one of your “shacks” earlier this year. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting you to so nimbly squirm out of accepting any responsibility at all. Allow me to recap.

In April of this year I rented one of your ludicrously priced holiday homes for a weekend. You see I live abroad, so whenever my husband David and I are back in Melbourne we have this little tradition of renting a country house with my sisters so that we can all catch up, have some drinks, cook some food, dance around, swim, play games, shoot the shit and just have some good old fashioned, wholesome, family fun.

As you can imagine, we were suitably impressed when we arrived at Oceania Retreat – it’s a stunning property. Which is why I rented it, notwithstanding the astronomical (and actually pretty embarrassing) price tag. I’m sure you’ll agree that $3050 for a weekend away is a shitload of money, Annette. Because I would hate for you to think that I can go around splashing cash like that on the regular. No, no, no. It was definitely way above my budget. To be very honest with you, I actually booked it by accident one night, when I was super drunk. Oops! And I’m not ashamed to say that paying that much money for a two day getaway made me feel a little bit like vomiting in my mouth. But as I’ve already said, time with my sisters is very special to me, so I went through with the booking.

So yes, we were impressed with the house. But as I told you in my initial complaint, there were a few things we were not so impressed with. Especially considering the price we paid. For instance, the dirty socks we found on the back porch. What the hell, Annette? For $3050, the least you could have done was pick up the socks? Also for that price, how about providing an umbrella that actually fits into the picnic table, instead of one that doesn’t. And hey, why would you advertise the house as having a “coffee maker” and a “fully stocked gourmet kitchen and pantry” but not actually provide any bloody coffee? That’s just nasty, girlfriend. I mean, alright, coffee might not seem like such a big deal… but it kinda is a big deal Annette. It kinda is! And while you’re at it, you might also want to think about asking the owner to repair the broken bi-fold doors that we were strictly forbidden to use. The busted bi-folds were a hoof to the face, Annette. I bloody love bi-folds!! I love the effortless blending of indoor and outdoor living that they provide. The bi-folds were one of the main reasons I booked Oceania Retreat in the first place. And the fact that the entire wall of them was broken and unusable does not seem fair considering that I paid full price for the house.

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The row of bi-fold doors that are designed to welcome the outdoors inside.  These were locked shut during our weekend stay.

 

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This is the house I thought I was renting.  Sadly, because the bi-fold doors were locked shut, it’s not the house I got.

But look, all of those inconveniences paled into comparison when, at around 9.30pm on Friday night, the electricity in three quarters of the house just went out. And no Annette, despite your strident assertions, we had not overloaded the system. Not in the least. Nary an iPhone was being charged at the time. But the power went kaput anyway. Being practical people, we figured we’d just find the fuse box, flip the safety switch and get back to having fun. Except Annette, we couldn’t find the fuse box. We looked everywhere, inside and outside of the house. But it was nowhere to be found. Was it because we were drunk? No. Was it because there were no lights? No. It was because the fuse box was hidden… wait for it, behind a locked door!!!

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Curious.

Which begged the question, Annette, where the fuck was the key? I still believe that was a very reasonable question to ask, sitting in a big-ass summer house with no electricity on the first night of a weekend away that cost us an asspile of money.  For some reason, you disagree.

We spent a couple of futile hours looking for the damn key before giving up, a little after midnight, and calling the number in the guest compendium. We called twice, because we felt that the situation was serious enough to warrant immediate attention. But the woman who took our calls obviously didn’t think that a power outage in a luxury holiday property was worth waking anyone up for. And so we spent the night in a $1525-a-night house with no electricity. Which was significantly worse than a mere “inconvenience”.

Look, Annette, ultimately it wasn’t the electricity failure that pissed me off. It wasn’t the dirty socks or the sadistic, empty promise of coffee. It wasn’t even that the fuse box was stupidly locked in a room that we couldn’t access – even though that was fucking ridiculous. I mean, come on. If you were going to give us the key anyway, why lock the door in the first place?  Mess with your guests, much?  (For future guests staying in Oceania Retreat, the key is in a small bag, in a box, on a middle shelf in one of the cupboards in the laundry – good luck finding it in the dark.)

No Annette, what really upset me was your email. How long it took me to make my initial complaint is irrelevant; I’m a busy person. And I’m sorry that most of your guests are in bed by midnight, I truly am.  But we paid for the privilege to stay up as late as we wanted.  So sure, we called after midnight, but the power had been out since 9.30pm. We called only because we were out of options and we were worried that the fridge situation was going to become a health hazard. The meat was starting to smell and the beer was getting warm. And that is most certainly not OK.

I know you’re not a hotel. Duh! I’m not interested in a 24 hour concierge desk.  I’m interested in 24 hour electricity.  I have stayed in over 50 holiday homes through companies such as yours, as well as 72 Airbnb rentals. I have never seen a fuse box locked in a room with no access. You know why Annette? Because I’m fairly certain that it’s illegal. And the reason the room was locked? To protect the secret treasure trove of wine and coffee hidden inside (oh yeah, there was fucken coffee!!!). Seriously, if the owner is so concerned about their mediocre wine collection they should find another place to hide it. The fuse box needs to be accessible 24/7.

Your final comment was: “We consider that his matter has been finalised as we dealt with the situation in an appropriate time frame and don’t consider Facebook as the appropriate forum when the situation was resolved.”

Listen, seven hours to respond to what I would call an urgent situation is not dealing with it in an appropriate time frame. And indeed Annette, Facebook was definitely not the best forum on which to air my grievances about Holiday Shacks. High five for pointing that out. Hospitality, you see, is an industry that relies on excellent customer experiences and positive word of mouth. Particularly the rarefied realm of luxury hospitality in which Holiday Shacks lurks. Your website bandies around terms like, “luxury holiday accommodation business”, “luxury coastal and rural holiday homes”, “luxury villas” and “guest luxury experiences”. That’s a whole lotta jive about luxury, Annette. But do you know what I don’t consider a luxury? Electricity. I tend to think of electricity as more of your “essential” type item. You rent mansions (not caravans); on the Mornington Peninsula (not outback Australia). Unlimited access to running water and electricity is not optional. And ten hours without electricity is not an inconvenience. It’s fucking unacceptable. And even worse, avoidable.

Before I finish, I’m going to leave you with a suggestion. Some constructive criticism, if you will. Seeing as you work in customer service, perhaps you could try using a bit more diplomacy next time you receive a complaint. Instead of blaming us, your customers, for a situation that was not our fault, perhaps you could … oh, I don’t know, maybe just think about apologising instead?? Just saying, Annette. I have a feeling that your email to me was so dismissive and contemptuous because you presumed that the final word was yours. But you were wrong, Annette. It’s mine.

And now the matter is finalised.

Ejo #102 – One Iftar At A Time

David and I have just lived through our 10th Ramadan in Dubai – though it is a bit cheeky to say that we’ve “lived” through it. I don’t believe in any gods, so I have never regularly prayed, let alone five times a day. I’ve never fasted. And you can bet your bottom dollar that my thoughts and actions are as impure during the holy month of Ramadan as they are during the rest of the year.

But Ramadan still does have an impact on me. Personally Ramadan means not eating, drinking or chewing gum in public, and particularly in front of my Muslim colleagues during daylight hours. It means trying to remember not to play loud music, or sing and dance while I’m driving. It means toning down my swearing (which, believe it or not, is already pretty curtailed anyway). And it definitely means avoiding the roads just before sunset. Why? To clear the roads for thousands of exhausted, thirsty, hungry people who haven’t eaten or drunk anything for 14 hours, all driving with the sole purpose of getting home to break their fast. On the other hand, the city is deserted in the hour following sunset.  Because everyone is at home, or at the mosque, eating their Iftar meal.

And that’s actually the biggest part of Ramadan for me. The fact that Dubai’s population also consists of a lot of blue-collar workers who aren’t so well off. That so many hard-working men who contribute so much to the city live in labor accommodations and are not able to eat a very nutritious, or extravagant, meal to break their Ramadan fast. Which is why it’s become an annual tradition to get involved with the amazing work that my friend Roshni does

For those of you who don’t know, Roshni is Project Manager and Co–Founder of Care2Share, a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative run by Medulla under permit from the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department – Dubai, in partnership with the Emirates Red Crescent Society. Basically Care2Share exists to identify and support the needy in the UAE. I feel lucky to have met, and honoured to know, Roshni. She does incredible work all year round for the blue-collar workers in the country, particularly ramping up her efforts during Ramadan.

This year, David and I and several of our wonderful friends got involved and bought hearty, tasty and nutritious meals for 667 blue collar workers. I took a few pictures so that those who purchased an Iftar meal might see the gratitude of a worker and feel a connection to someone that they helped through their generosity. The world feels like a shitty place lately, but kindness and goodness do still exist. If you don’t believe me, just check out the pictures below.

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Ejo #101 – Nice Day For A White Wedding

This photo of me was taken on Sunday, 2nd August 1998, just one week shy of my 27th birthday. I was at Melbourne International Airport, surrounded by my family and closest friends, about to embark on an overseas adventure that would change my life. I was off to Connecticut, USA for a year to be an au pair for two little kids I’d never even laid eyes on. I was excited, nervous, and soon to find out that I had absolutely no fucking idea what I’d signed up for.

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Can you see the hope in my eyes? How about the terror? Can you see the terror?

I also had no idea that twenty years later all four members of that family would still be in my life. That they would all hold a very special place in my heart and that I would love them all as much as I do today. They are my second family. Twenty years ago they invited me into their home, but since then they have invited me to remain in their lives, and for that I am eternally grateful.

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The Connecticut house where I spent a year of my life. 

My year in Connecticut was amazing, but it wasn’t easy. Most of the other au pairs were young girls. Teenagers, just out of school. I barely made the upper age limit, just scraping in by three days. Unlike the others, I wasn’t a pliable adolescent. I was a fully formed, strong-willed, independent woman suddenly living under the roof of two very powerful personalities. Understandably, there were a few sparks, especially in the beginning. My second week on the job, following a run-in on the tennis court, I hid in the garage so no-one would see me sobbing in despair. Cursing the mistake I’d made, missing my family back home and wishing I was still in Melbourne. I could have pulled the plug at any time, but I chose not to. I chose to stay. One of the reasons was to test myself. To see what I was capable of withstanding. That moment in the garage was a milestone in my life. It was the moment that I made the choice to grow up. But mostly I stayed because of the children. Daniel and Holly had already became the loves of my life. I didn’t want to be assigned to another family. This was my family, and I was going to work shit out.

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These little poopies stole my heart the moment I met them.

One of the reasons I was hired to help with the kids was that Tim, the dad, was often away on business. So most of my time was spent with their mum, Kate. It is an understatement to say that she and I had a complicated relationship. We grew, during the span of that year, to really love and respect each other but we did it through a minefield of power struggles and emotions. Frankly it’s a miracle that our friendship survived, which makes it all the more precious to me.

My relationship with Tim, on the other hand, was a relatively breezy one. While Kate had to deal with the difficult au pair on the daily, he would just swoop in from his trips, larger than life, filling the house with his exuberant presence. He would cook and sing and bellow heartfully. Of course it must have been hard for him to be away from his family for so long, but one benefit of being absent is not having to deal with the day to day shit. You get to come home, and be king. And we all loved it when the king was home. Things were easier for me when Tim was around. I didn’t have to do as much around the house, and I was always invited to spend time with them off-duty, as a member of the family. They were never obligated to include me, but they always did.

I’ve always looked up to Tim. He has a commanding quality about him, and his personality always fills the room. He exudes a confidence and positive energy which is intoxicating, and fun to be around. I’ve never really thought of him as a full-on father figure, but there might be just a tiny grain of truth to that allegory. I have just one single memory of him acting in the role of patriarch, back in Connecticut. I’d had an argument with Kate one evening because I wanted to go out and she didn’t want me to take the car. I was in my room, fuming, when Tim knocked on my door and asked to come in. As he sat on the edge of my bed and explained why he and Kate weren’t letting me drive the car in the ice storm (oh, did I forget to mention the ice storm), I felt like a little girl being unfairly grounded by her father. But in that moment, he wasn’t just my boss. He was my Dad’s surrogate, acting on his behalf, looking out for me.

Like I said, that year was a life changer. It had ups and it had downs. It was an incredible year in my life, but I was definitely relieved when it was over. I was super sad to be leaving the kids, but I was so happy to be going back home to Melbourne, to my own family and friends. It felt like the shedding of a great load, and I’m sure they enjoyed having their lives back to themselves too.

After lustfully relishing my freedom for a while, I started looking back on my year abroad through a softer lens. With a lot more appreciation for the remarkable experience I’d had. And of course, I started to miss them all. I missed getting the kids up for school every morning. And waiting for them by the side of the road at the end of their day. I missed their hugs, their silly jokes and laughter. I missed the house, and my space in it. I missed the four distinct, and very beautiful, seasons of Connecticut (ice storms and all). And I missed my second family on the other side of the world. After a couple of years, I reached out to them and, happily, they reached back. We reconnected, in a new way. A better way. No longer bound by our employer/employee shackles, we were able to explore each other as real friends, and wonderfully we discovered that we all still liked each other. In fact we liked each other more. Over the years we’ve rendezvoused around the world, meeting up in California, London and a couple of times in the south of France, where Tim owns a cottage. Several years ago Kate and Tim divorced but I keep up with both of them, separately. They may no longer be together, but they are still my family and, amazingly, it seems that I am still theirs.

Over those same years I’ve watched the children grow from my beloved poopies, to self-assured teenagers and into the beautiful young adults they are today.

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Daniel and Holly as teens. 

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Daniel and I out on the tiles in LA.  

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Holly and I loving each other in Reno. 

As some of you know, in 2016, Daniel suffered a major heart attack and almost died. The whole family has been to hell and back over the last two years. Which is why when David and I got an invitation from Tim and Rachel, his partner of five years, to attend their wedding in France, I was ridiculously overjoyed. What wonderful, happy news. All I’ve ever wanted for my crazy au pair family is for them to be happy. If I can be a part of their happiness, that’s just icing on my cake.

And so David and I went to France. The wedding was, of course, absolutely beautiful. If you ever have the chance to go to a wedding at an 11th century château in the south of France, I’d highly recommend it. It was a glorious setting to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in Tim’s life. And here’s where things get emotional for me. Why? Because on this very special and intimate day, Tim wanted me to be there.

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Husband and wife.

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The château.  Not bad, eh?

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A new chapter. 

Years ago, in a black cab on the way home from a boozy art exhibition in London, I drunkenly whispered to Kate that I hoped to one day meet a man just like Tim. And I meant it. I’ve never met anyone like him before. He eats life up. He charismatically brandishes a wild streak, while remaining as steady as a rock. He is an all-round awesome human being. I’m pretty damn lucky that I did find my own awesome fellow, not long after that night in London. And Tim and Rachel are both lucky to have eventually found each other.

During dinner at the chateau, just before dessert and after many bottles of wine, I had a….. well, I had a moment. I looked around at the other guests, the room aglow with merriment, and I was just blindsided by how lucky I was to be there. It hit me that everyone at that table was either an old friend or a family member. Oh yeah, and me, the former au pair. I felt proud, and honoured, and just bloody grateful to be in that room on that very special night – my place at the table revealing the place I must hold in Tim’s heart.

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Places of honour.

Tim caught me looking at him all starry-eyed, and winked at me. We both smiled. He was happy, his new bride luminous by his side. I glanced over at Daniel and Holly, and my heart filled with love. We have been on a unique and incredible journey, the Brittons and I. I don’t know where we are going next, but I will move mountains to be at all of their weddings, all of their anniversaries, all of their celebrations in life. And as long as they keep inviting me, I promise you, I’ll keep turning up.

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❤ ❤ ❤