Friday, November 7, 2014

New Friends In Old York

I'll be honest, this is a hard post to write. My York housesit was not happy with me, something I only found out when they put the review on my profile yesterday. Since I was there for a full day after they got back, and no one said anything about the things they were unhappy about, I left feeling as if everything had gone well, that I'd made new friends, and that we might meet up in the future. I'd titled this post and prepared the photos for it before I was blindsided by the review, but I'm leaving it as it is, because in many ways I feel that a friendship was established, though it seems to be a bit strained at this point. I have removed the two pictures of G. and A., though; even though I had asked them if I could use the photos on the blog, I don't want to cause any more bad feelings, in case they've changed their minds.

They were kind enough to let me arrive right after my Salisbury house sit finished, and A. took me around their neighborhood in Acomb, with its long lines of hundred-year-old houses built for the railway workers. At the end of the 19th century, York was a major center of production for railway carriages and engines, which employed a lot of the men; the women worked in the candy and confectionery factories, the other big industry at the time. Regular trains shuttled between York and London, taking workers into the city every week and bringing back tourists for the weekends. The alleys between the row houses are narrow uneven cobblestoned curves, bordered by the walls to each individual house's garden (back yard). The holes in these walls have been bricked up, but there used to be a large slot that went into the standard garden feature of the time, the outside toilet, through which the "night soil" collector would retrieve the smelly pots.

Part of the negative review I received was that the house smelled of cat waste when G. and A. got home, so one lesson I am taking away from this is to clean litter boxes more often than I, personally, think they need to be cleaned. In my defense, the three cats produced massive quantities of extremely smelly poop, and no matter how many times I cleaned the box, it still smelled like a litterbox in the front hallway, something I noticed myself when I first walked in the house on my arrival. If Bertie had just dropped one of his p-bombs, I'm not surprised if the odor whacked them in the face. But it's noted now on my mental checklist: clean litter boxes more than twice daily, and especially before the owners arrive.

This was the first time I had been to York, and A. showed me around some of her favorite places one afternoon. She took me to tea at Betty's, a Yorkshire institution since 1919. Fortunately we got there before the crowds arrive, and since crowds arrive every day, I recommend that you also get there well before noon, when the lunch-to-high-tea tourists (and locals) start queuing up. As a place specializing in baked goods and cream teas, it's not the best place for someone like me who is avoiding gluten and dairy, but I was very happy with my selection of salads (carrot and coriander, beetroot with hazelnut and orange, and mixed greens) and an order of chipped potatoes, and proper frites they were too, thin and crispy and salty-hot, not the lukewarm stodgy wodges of most English chips.

Food was the second thing mentioned on the negative review, which says that I left "a quantity of rotten food" in the refrigerator. They haven't explained this, though I did e-mail them with my apologies and requests for clarification on this issue, and since the food that I'd bought was still fresh, as far as I know, I can only think that this was food that they had left, which I didn't touch. So that's my second lesson: always clean out the refrigerator before the owners get back, and check to see if they want to keep/use the food that you're leaving behind. That's what I did with the owner in Salisbury, and she was happy to use up the vegetables and things that I hadn't gotten around to. I think I just felt so comfortable with G. and A. that I didn't have to get that specific, but this was obviously a mistake, and I won't make it again.

I probably sound fairly defensive here, but I freely admit that I could have kept the litter box cleaner, and I'm sorry I wasn't more vigilant about that. While I don't understand the refrigerator situation, I'll be more specific in the future with owners about what to do with their existing food and my leftovers, and not make assumptions. G. and A. were very good to me, and it upsets me that I left with unbalanced scales. I'll have to try to balance that out with future housesitting perfection, and sincere regrets.

The shortest street in York is the hundred feet or so of paving stones that runs along the side of one of its churches. Apparently that's where they had the public stocks and whipping post, back in the day. Longer but almost equally narrow streets thread through "The Shambles," with its narrow central street dating back to Medieval times. The channels cut into either side of the cobblestone path were put their to drain the blood from the animals hanging from hooks on the walls, underneath the overhanging timber-framed homes above; this was where the butchers lived and worked. Now real estate agents and Thai restaurants and shops selling candles and fudge and postcards take up the formerly meat-filled storefronts below. Though I went back a few times to this area, once looking for Indian spices and again to buy a paperback book or two for the approaching north-south train journey, there were always more little side streets and alleys and hidden courtyards that I didn't have time to poke around in. I enjoyed walking around in York much more than I did in Salisbury. It's still a touristy town, but it seemed to be more real, more livable, and less thoroughly devoted to tourism in general. One reason for this might be the University of York; although it has only been there for 50 years, its student body makes up approximately 20% of the city's population. York St. John University, opened a hundred years earlier, is in the center of town. The Theatre Royal puts on interesting productions, and I was going to go to see "The Restoration of Nell Gwynne", but I got into a bit of a mental funk and couldn't get enough enthusiasm up that week to get a ticket and go. Come to think of it, that's likely why I wasn't as vigilant as I could have been about things like litter boxes and refrigerators. Note to self: do not succumb to depression the week before the homeowners return.

The two younger cats, while at 6 months old were mainly machines for eating, pooping, and racing madly around the house, also topped up my long-drained quota of fuzzy snuggles and purring, and that was good. The older cat was occasionally amenable to petting, but not a lap cat, and I had a sweet-tempered dog to walk which kept me from spending all day on the couch with my computer. I'm glad I had the chance to live in York for a few weeks, and while I'll need to be vigilant and get two stellar reviews now to compensate for this one, I appreciate the reminder to be more careful about how I work with people and their homes.

Yes, you could have cleaned it out more often. I prefer to poop in pristine pellets.


  1. Sorry they chose to post a negative review and not discuss beforehand. But forward to the next adventure! :)

  2. It's highly likely they'd become inured to the smell of catbox, then had their sinuses reset by being away for more than a few days and been surprised at the smell when they got home. Houses with cats smell like there are cats. It is truly unkind that they didn't speak with you before giving you a bad review. Not cool.

  3. As I said, the initial fault was mine, and after all it is their house, so their call ... and I do appreciate everything else they did for me. Now that I'm over the initial taken-abackness, it's okay.