Monday, 22 August 2011

Homeswaps and Holiday Humour

As a teacher, I was blessed with plenty of holiday time but not much money, so homeswaps were the ideal solution. I registered online every year with a company called Intervac and browsed their international catalogue.

I never initiated a request, because so many people wanted to come to London and responded to my entry. So for years we swanned all over Europe and Scandinavia, and even the UK - anything from a long weekend to a fortnight. I didn't go to America because somehow a tiny flat in Lewisham, even with a Peugeot 6 thrown in, wasn't fair exchange for the usual American offer of a vast ranch and a Chevrolet.

I'd recommend homeswaps to anyone who needs a nudge to keep their place up to scratch. Another advantage is you get to investigate a range of reading matter that's in situ, so to speak.

My recent homeswap with my nephew and his family in my home town of Preston can roughly be summed up as: 'We got the rain; they got the riots'.

Although the wet weather put paid to visions of basking in a suburban garden, I did a lot of reading. From ten-year old Alfie's bookshelf, in his Liverpool F.C.-themed bedroom, I selected Diary of a Wimpy Kid, complete with tiny cartoon drawings dotted among the paragraphs - a sort of cross between Adrian Mole and EE Molesworth for younger children, with a touch of Dennis the Menace thrown in.It was unputdownable.

Only the week before, during an ill-starred drive to Whitstable on a hot afternoon, we'd decided to travel north by any means except car. On the five-hour coach journey I chuckled and laughed through Mrs Fry's Diary, the funniest book I've read in a while.

The premise is that it's written by a fictional Mrs Fry, completely ignorant that husband is a 'celebrity'. Since the real Stepehen Fry is quite open about being gay, it adds to the humour that she has so many children that she can't count them and is constantly pestered by her randy partner. She thinks he has an ordinary job - until a friend tells her she's spotted someone who looks like her husband on TV. Apart from the comic situations, the double-entendres and misunderstandings made me laugh on every page.

The third humorous book I read, Ian Sansoms Mr Dixon Disappears, was much more low-key. When I picked it up in a charity shop before I left I was attracted by its theme, the disapearance of a department store owner, It's self-deprecating mobile librarian narrator and the Irish setting also appealed. It's just the thing for a wet holiday, although some of the eccentic characters in the peripatetic plot began to pall towards the end.

One tip about homeswaps, though: after you've dismantled your workspace and made up the spare beds, don't do as I did and mix your library books in sacks identical to ones containing books for charity shops and then take them to store in the garage.