How I incurred the wrath of my iPhone

As I sat down to dinner in a lovely old country pub my reservation was cancelled by my iPhone, which was having a tantrum. The owner of this restaurant was serving us with a smile, we had been shown to our table, drinks and menus had been brought. But the buzzing lump of metal in my bag was adamant this was not happening. My iPhone had packaged up a montage surprise, complete with a replay of our private conversation I was experiencing one of those moments where reality splits into two: the one you are experiencing and the one your phone claims you are. A lot of people obediently accept

The intense heat is gone and so are the grandsons

Finally rain. None for months, then a violent tropical storm lasting two days. It marked the end of high summer as clearly and distinctly as a clarion of trumpets. Afterwards the nights were cooler and the sun less fierce and it was easier to maintain one’s temper. We could begin to look forward again instead of merely enduring. The week before the storm burst the village had been stretched to its collective mental limit. You could see it on the exhausted faces of the waiters and in the traffic negotiating normally unfrequented side streets. You could hear it in the buzz of the packed outdoor restaurants on the village square,

Low life | 3 January 2019

The Airbnb accommodation at Paddington, chez Mohammed, was a fourth-floor room measuring about nine feet by five. As well as having a single bed, this small space was extraordinarily well equipped, with a wardrobe, huge fridge, sink, draining board, ironing board, microwave oven, kettle, two electric hobs, a set of saucepans and enough cutlery and crockery for a select dinner party, and a television set. The room’s heat, which came from an unidentifiable source, was tropical. The mattress had a couple of broken springs and was horribly filthy, but the sheet covering it smelt freshly laundered and for just £22 a night I was well pleased. When I switched on

Airbnb’s ban on Israeli settlements is shameful

So alongside being the only country that pop stars refuse to play in, and the only country whose academics are boycotted on Western campuses, and the only country whose dancers and violinists cannot perform in cities like London without gangs of people screaming them down, and the only country whose produce is routinely avoided by luvvies and liberals, now Israel is the only country that has been politically punished by holiday app cum conscience of the Twitterati, Airbnb. Airbnb has taken the extraordinary decision to stop advertising homes for rent in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It is extraordinary because Airbnb still advertises places to stay in Tibet, a

The rise of the pop-up brothel

I had been in Los Angeles for less than a month when I received the call from a concerned neighbour back home in London. ‘Why are there men queuing up outside your flat at 3 a.m.?’ It was a good question. ‘And are you aware that a locksmith came over the other day to change your locks?’ I had no idea. ‘Oh and by the way, your tenant has put some kind of security camera outside your front door.’ Concern turned to panic. ‘And there’s been rather a lot of … erm, activity, you know … to-ing and fro-ing. That tenant of yours certainly has an appetite for the ladies.’ My neighbour

Low life | 31 May 2018

We were standing in the tiny hall: me, Catriona, Annette and her toy Yorkshire terrier, Ahmed. It was our first Airbnb booking and Annette was welcoming us to her humble home. She was a mature, careworn, attractive French woman with a modest disposition and she spoke pretty good English. Her husband would be coming back from his work shortly and when he did she would introduce him to us, she said. Had we found the flat easily? Not that easily, in truth. The photo had suggested a house on a residential street, but a friendly black woman carrying a bag of laundry, who candidly admitted that she didn’t know her

Dear Mary | 27 July 2017

Q. My children are very lucky in that we have bought them all flats. However, they are now renting out these properties with Airbnb, then coming to stay with us at home, just when we thought they had flown the nest. They are more than welcome at weekends but during the week my ancient husband and I like to have a quiet time. How can we put a stop to this without our much-loved children (all in their thirties) feeling that they are unwelcome in their ‘own’ home? — Name and address withheld A. Their entitlement syndrome is certainly a tribute to your parenting, but for their sake you must

Paradise lost | 9 March 2017

The American dream was a consumerist idyll: all of life was to be packaged, stylised, affordable and improvable. Three bedrooms, two-point-five children, two cars and one mortgage. The sense was first caught by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1835–40), where he talks about a people more excited by success than fearful of failure. We all know when the dream died: on 9 November 2016. People in Brooklyn were crying. In Manhattan they couldn’t breathe. A national angst had been revealed: the land of plenty had become the land of the plenty cross. But when did the dream start? There was the Jeffersonian trinity of life, liberty and the

Airbnb relies on discrimination. So why is it so bothered by Trump’s travel ban?

Much of the fiercest opposition to the Trump regime has come from large corporations. The most recent example is Airbnb, whose Superbowl advert showed a group of people alongside a message saying: ‘We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong’. It was a clear attack on the president’s nationalist policies. We use Airbnb quite a bit, both as hosts and guests, and it is a fantastic business. On top of the extra cash it allows people to earn, it does bring some solid social benefits, perhaps the biggest of which is that, because of online reputations, it encourages people

Real life | 29 December 2016

What a fraught, divisive, infuriating sort of year it’s been. It started with me attempting to go on a blind date and being clocked by a speed camera doing 35 in a 30 in the dark on the way home. And on the way to the speed course, obviously, I pranged my car trying to park. I took this to be an omen. The ex-builder boyfriend was duly dusted off and put back into active service. In February, while having two new tyres fitted at a tyre shop in Wandsworth, I found myself being hit on by a jihadist tyre-fitter. We got chatting as I sat in his waiting room.

Real life | 17 November 2016

The Israeli chef and I have become firm friends since he moved out of my flat. He has his own place now, and is trying to find a job. I take him horse riding at the weekends. On the way down the A3 he asks me all sorts of questions about his new life in Britain and the things he is struggling to make sense of. Like why he can’t get a work visa. He is very upset about this. ‘You have to understand,’ I explain, ‘that the mistake you made was to come here legally and apply to the system honestly and openly, stating clearly that you wanted to

There’s nothing new about the sharing economy – it’s the swinging sixties all over again

On the same day I put my spare room on Airbnb I also had my first cabshare experience, courtesy of Uber. When I mentioned this to a young friend of mine, he patted me on the back and said, ‘Welcome to the sharing economy!’ The sharing economy is one of those buzz terms that everyone uses these days — but what exactly is it? Apparently, it refers to a whole range of online goods and services that instead of buying and owning, we can borrow, rent or have access to — sometimes free, usually for a price. Likewise, we can be the ones providing these goods or services, and make

Real life | 10 November 2016

A wonderful email has arrived from Airbnb entitled ‘Discrimination and Belonging — What It Means For You’. Having tried to make sense of it, I feel it can mean only one thing with any certainty. And that is that the Airbnb party is over. The web business started by a whizz kid in his New York apartment is about to feed itself to the ravening equality agenda wolves. Sadly, the once proud Airbnb corporation has decided to launch ‘a comprehensive effort to fight bias and inequality in the Airbnb community’. With abject hand-wringing, it says it wants to make sure that any householder joining its site to host tourists in

Real life | 20 October 2016

After the Fawlty Towers incident, I decided it was best to research the origin and extraction of all future B&B guests on arrival, before the builder boyfriend got stuck in. You may remember that he accidentally on purpose got a piece of gaffa tape caught on his top lip and held some ceiling felt at a jaunty angle during the stay of the Airbnb customers from Bavaria. Thankfully, they were in another room and didn’t see but I had to shush him because he was making a bad job of whispering, ‘Don’t mention Brexit! I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it!’ A girl from Taiwan

Is the sharing economy over already? Yes, if letting companies get their way

Sitting on the lanai (balcony) sipping a beer, the wind gently rustling through the palm trees and my Hawaiian hosts’ adorable puppy licking my toes: life was sweet. I’d struck gold. I was living the Airbnb dream. David and Doug treated me like one of the family, complete with days out and home-cooked meals. Nothing was too much trouble. When they dropped me off at the airport (no extra charge), we vowed to be friends forever and I cried the whole flight home. I experienced Airbnb exactly the way it was meant to be – living like a local with the locals. But back in the UK it’s a different

Real life | 26 May 2016

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

Real life | 28 April 2016

The gloves are off in my battle with the two brothers who live in the flat upstairs. They have just socked me a brutal left hook. And so no more am I going to be the neurotic, menopausal fruitcake downstairs. From now on I am going to unleash my difficult side. It’s a shame, because when they first moved in I thought they were going to be the neighbours I had always dreamed of: handsome and polite, with a look of dread in their eyes whenever I banged on their door. When I explained that the wheelie bin must be put out at right angles to the kerb at 8

Real life | 14 April 2016

I am becoming the Basil Fawlty of Airbnb. Almost everything that tormented Basil has tormented me since I started taking in guests. I am thinking of nailing up a sign saying Kitey Towers, with the ‘y’ askew. If you don’t know what Airbnb is: some whizz-kid in America hit upon the idea of charging people to sleep on an airbed in his New York apartment. He started a website. You register your home, put up photos, and choose guests you think you will get on with. I’ve had customers from Australia, New Zealand, America, Spain. But while they are usually delightful, I have often felt myself bristling like Fawlty at

When sharing isn’t fair

In Silicon Valley, renting out is the new selling —and renting out stuff that belongs to other people can be far more profitable than renting out your own. Over the past few years, companies like Airbnb and Uber have made a great deal of money by pioneering a business model of connecting consumers, who want to use things — such as apartments and cars with drivers — with other people, who want to provide them. For public relations reasons they promote this model as the ‘sharing economy’. And who could be against ‘sharing’? But this isn’t the kind of sharing your mother taught you. The term entered the technology vernacular

Real life | 30 July 2015

‘No, I do not do WhatsApp.’ That’s pretty much all I ever seem to say to people nowadays. They ask me if I do WhatsApp, I say I don’t do WhatsApp and they never bother with me again. I deduce from this that not only can we not now meet in person (so 80s), we cannot talk on the mobile phone either (so 90s), and nor can we email each other (so noughties). We have to do WhatsApp. I don’t know what WhatsApp is and I cannot bring myself to find out. In answer to the next person who asks, I say: WtfApp! WhocaresApp?! GetalifeApp!! I was full up with