White horse

Housesitters and visualisation – the ups and downs of judging someone based on first impressions

White horse
The audio for “White horse” is featured in this episode ☝️ of the Without a hitch podcast

Some people can pull off wearing shoes with no socks. Perhaps their feet don’t sweat so badly, or the composition of their sweat is inoffensive. Digby wasn’t one of those people. The moment he sunk into our sofa – barefoot – and flopped out his laptop, I detected the first whiff of toe odor from across the room, tones which mingled strangely with the usual smell of warm wood.

“We’ll just be packing for a bit longer, then we’ll be off,” I said.

“Oh yes, yes, sounds splendid,” said Digby.

Digby wore some kind of collarless polar-fleece bushshirt, with a low neck that gaped to reveal his chest hair. He’d brought a little paper bag with him that I’d examined unintentionally, thinking it was one of our packages to load into the car. It contained some deodorant, shaving paraphernalia and a dark ball of clothing, a single garment of some sort. I put the bag down the moment I clicked that it was Digby’s, not wanting to pry further – but now I desperately wanted to take another look, to know which single garment Digby thought was worth changing during his five-day stay.

“Did you happen to get that Google Doc I sent?” I asked, pausing next to the sofa with a suitcase in each hand. “It’s got the Wifi password and stuff in it, but also useful stuff about the pets and the house, like what can go in the dishwasher versus not.”

“Oh yes, yes, that’s wonderful,” said Digby, not looking up.

“Is there anything you’d like to know more about, like the kitchen?” I asked.

Digby peered at me over the thin frames of his glasses, then smiled briefly.

“I wouldn’t worry about the kitchen. My cooking skills extend to dialling 0800 83 83 83. Ha! The only thing I’ll be doing is reheating pizzas.” He went back to looking at his computer.

I took the suitcases out to the car.

It didn’t matter that we didn’t know Digby, I told myself. We’d had other housesitters from this website, and they’d all been great. One couple had published a farm roster on our fridge to illustrate their routine for feeding the dog Teddy, the cat Wanda, and the chickens; they baked a fruit loaf for us and when we found it on the table, it was still warm; they had their friend design a thank-you card with a sketch of Wanda on the front. They’d set the bar perhaps unreasonably high.

A German couple (friends of friends) once looked after our place in midwinter. The only complaint we really had was that they burned through month’s worth of wood in a week. Vic and I joked that they might have just thought it natural to burn the fire white hot around the clock, so that they needn’t wear any clothes.

I didn’t get a chance to meet Digby before he arrived and settled on the sofa, but Vic had met him a few days prior.

“He seems like a nice guy who really loves dogs. And he had great reviews on the website,” Vic had said.

Now I’d met Digby and had made my own impression. But we were due to leave, he was already sitting on the sofa, and it was just too awkward and inconvenient for me to speak my mind. This trip was for my fortieth birthday, and Vic had put a lot of effort into planning it. I decided to make it my mission to leave this behind me. I’d need to trust that Digby aspired to competence. I mustn’t bug Vic about it either, as is sometimes my way. I wouldn’t even mention Digby.  

We were pretty much finished packing the car, and I started making some coffee to go.

“Want a coffee? I’m making some,” I asked Digby.

“Yes. Black,” he said.

I took the coffee over to him.

“Right, well, we’re off then,” I said. “Everything you need to know is in that doc, but feel free to flick Vic or me a message if you need. It’s not the most glamorous job, I’m sorry – but it would be a huge help if you could pick up the dog poos off the lawn and clear out the cat litter from time to time.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Digby, tapping his bare foot.

“Okay, see you then,” I said.

I walked out past Digby’s shoes and his little paper bag.