After a tense two week stand-off, the Balham Airbnb Crisis has been resolved. My upstairs neighbour and I have drawn back from the brink. He has agreed to let me station bed and breakfast guests in my main bedroom. I have agreed to pay slightly higher building insurance contributions.
By the time we signed the new direct debit forms, we had brought Balham to the brink of world war three. The biggest irony is, now it’s all sorted, I’m not so sure I want to do Airbnb. I’m not sure my nerves will stand it.
My latest guest, a girl from Taiwan, arrived on Sunday afternoon when I was out doing the horses. I had hidden a key and messaged her to call me when she got there. I talked her through where the key was, and though it took her quite a while, she found it.
But no matter how hard I tried to explain to her how to use the key she couldn’t get the door open.
‘Put the key in the hole, and turn it,’ was the best I could come up with. Then as she struggled, I managed to think of: ‘Anti-clockwise.’
‘Oh? Anti-...?’ she said, sounding as if she was about to burst into tears. ‘Turn it to the left.’ ‘Oh! Left!’ she said, sounding a bit happier. Then: ‘Oh. No.’
I was at a loss. ‘Maybe if you knock on next door and ask the neighbour to help,’ I started. Then I thought, oh dear me no. Old Khrushchev upstairs will be parking his tanks on my lawn if my B&B visitors bother him.
So I begged her to keep trying and she kept doing something with the key which wasn’t opening the door and saying: ‘Oh! No.’
I had an American family who couldn’t open the door once. I really don’t understand why basic British locksmith-ery is so baffling to visitors from overseas, but anyway it seems to be.
Eventually, however, the girl from Taiwan managed to get the key to turn and all seemed well. When I got home she seemed happy enough and so I turned in for the night.
At around 7 a.m., however, I awoke to the sound of the vacuum cleaner. I leapt out of bed and was horrified to find the noise coming from the guest’s bedroom. I had hoovered in there before she arrived, quite neurotically actually. But maybe she had spilled something. I knocked the door and asked her if she was alright.
She opened the door and was quite flustered. ‘Oh! Yes,’ she said. ‘Can I do that for you?’ I asked. ‘Oh! No.’ ‘Really, I will do that when you go out.’ Reluctantly she agreed to hand over the hoover.
After she had left, I burst into the bedroom but there was nothing at all on the carpet. I hoovered it again anyway.
I didn’t have time, nor did I know how to broach the issue of what had been so wrong that she had felt the need to search out the vacuum cleaner at dawn.
In any case, I didn’t have time to worry about that because it got worse. The next night, in the middle of the night, strange scuffling and banging noises started coming from the guest’s room. I was so tired, I couldn’t face investigating. And what was I to do?
I shut my eyes and tried to forget about it. Whatever the girl from Taiwan was doing in my bedroom, I couldn’t begin to confront it.
The next morning, I went into the living room and nearly screamed. All my antique china dolls were sitting lined up on the sofa staring straight ahead with their glassy eyes. They are usually stored high up in an alcove in the main bedroom.
What the hell? Either the dolls had come alive in the night and decided to come in here to watch the television. Or the guest had somehow managed to climb 20 feet up to the alcove underneath the high ceiling to bring each one of them down. And for what reason?
It really didn’t seem very likely. And so I stood in horror, with a hand over my open mouth, until I remembered the noises in the night. Was it the dust on the dolls? Was that why she had hoovered? Did my guest have a dust allergy?
A few hours later, the guest and I passed in the corridor.
‘Oh. Melissa. I sorry,’ she said. And she joined her hands and bowed her head. ‘The doll.’ She looked tearful. Her voice faded to a tiny whimper. ‘They frighten me.’
How that poor girl clambered up to the ceiling to bring down those dolls I will never know. But I do know I am not cut out for the tourism industry.