An Airbnb host in the English Wild

The first things I noticed when we got to our Airbnb were the tally sheets. Well, actually, the strange mustiness in the cramped stairway, but also the tally sheets. Our host greeted us at the door in sweatpants with a big smile, and gave us the two-minute tour. On each table and desk were lined notebooks, each open to a full page of tally marks.

The house was nice enough — good light, good location, everything functioned normally, and so we set about making ourselves feel at home. She’s lived in the area for about ten years after another ten years down “south”, so she’s about 38 or so. She did “American Studies” at University, which is something I always find kind of funny, but she was interested in politics and literature. I ask her what she does for a living these days.

“Oh it’s a bit strange…I do offers on online casinos.”

“O…k. Is that what the tally sheets are about?”

“Yeah…you can come out ahead in the long run.” She explains something to do with coupons and ‘the odds coming out ahead in the long run’ and it makes absolutely no sense to me. She apparently goes to a bunch of different online casinos, takes the “offers”, and then plays a certain amount. It sounds a lot like you’re a professional gambler, I say.

“Na, I don’t even know how to play poker, I play slots mostly. When I play blackjack I have a little table that I read off of — like if the dealer shows this and you’ve got this, split or fold or hit or whatever. There’s a whole facebook group of people who do it. I tried it and sort of found my way into it, I suppose.” She shrugged. “I used to be an editor at a major business magazine, and now I make more money doing offers from online casinos than I ever did with a proper job.”

Anyway. Harriet and I made plans to go out everyday and look at possible flats. When we’d leave in the morning, our host was in her sweatpants, clicking away at a jewelly slot game on her macbook, tallying away. When we’d come back, she’d be watching British TV, wearing the same sweatpants and pajama top. She wore those same clothes for three days running.

British TV is like if you took American TV and fed it through a shredder, and then tried to line all the strips up to fix it up. It’s almost recognizable. But not quite. There was a show much like The View called Loose Women with four older conservative English women chatting about sexual deviants and christmas decorations. “Some people are putting their STD check results on their phones so they can show potential partners. A good idea? Or will it lead to sexual deviancy?” Whatever the subject under discussion was, according to the panel, 100% of the time it lead to sexual deviancy. Then there was Judge Rinder, which was just Judge Judy except with no shouting, no tears, no wretched family disputes — just a plainspoken builder and a prim woman who’d complained he hadn’t supported the lintel stone on a doorway correctly. Then there was a game show where celebrities competed to win money for charity (okay) and they were asked questions (makes sense) which earned them a go at the main mechanism of the game (sure). Kinda like how getting the right letter earns you another spin on Wheel of Fortune, right? Except here the questions were stupid easy (“Where is Venice? a) Spain b) Canada c) Italy”), and the main thing of the game was one of those coin-pusher machines — you know where there’s a bunch of coins all piled up on a ledge, and there’s a big ledge moving back and forth behind it, and the goal is to drop your coin into the pile in just the right place so it nudges a few coins out the bottom of the slot. Our host would say the answers just before the contestants. Probably, every time she got it right, she wanted to tally it down. She watched closely as the tokens fell onto the ledge, and pushed four or five other tokens off.

Everyone was very calm about everything. Nobody expressed anything above moderate joy. Restrained TV is the strangest thing on earth.

Our host is also seeing a guy who’s an older male model — she mentioned this, and I forgot it until I was sitting out on the couch much too early on one jetlagged morning, when a scraggly silver fox dude in his boxers emerged from her room and beelined for the toilet. “DUDE VAR”* I facebooked to Harriet in the next room. “OLD DUDE VAR.” Later that night, after we’d come back after a fruitful day of house-hunting, they were sitting on the couch together (clothed) watching a Scottish dating show. I said hello, she introduced him, we made small talk.

“[Old Dude’s name] has been to Alaska on a modeling gig,” she tells me.

“Yeah, I’ve been to Hobart,” he says, not looking up.

“That’s Tasmania,” she corrects him. “Alaska.”

“Oh yeah,” he says, turning in my direction, but looking at a point somewhere above and beyond my head. “It was the city with the, ah, what’s it called. Y’know. The city with the. Where the planes go.”

“The airport?” I offer.

“Yeah, the city with the airport.”

“Ah,” I say. “Was it Anchorage?”

“Yeah, yes. That’s it. Might have been that.” He becomes animated. “We went out from the airport, didn’t get much chance to explore, but one, two hours out of two, yeah we drove out of the airport. Great scenery.” He makes swoopy motions with his hands, I think to describe the motions of a car driving along a twisty road.

“It’s beautiful there, right?” I say. I am rocking this conversation.

“Oh yes, very beautiful. Great, ah, great scenery,” he says, turning back towards the TV. “Ah luve Doctair Who,” says one of the dudes on the dating show. “Dae ye?”

Last night, I walked by a bookies’ called Ladgamble, kind of like all the horseracing shops I used to walk by in Istanbul where old men would shout at the TV. A banner inside read, “Get 40 pounds worth of bets when you bet 10 pounds!”, and it showed a picture of an ecstatic frizzy-haired dude clutching fistfuls of notes.

“You’re getting PLAYED, Ladgamble,” I told the frizzy-haired compadre. “Someone’s making more money taking your OFFERS than at a PROPER JOB.” He just smiled back. I’m not really sure he’s losing.


*”There is a dude”. If you’re new here, var is a multipupose Turkish word for “yes” or “there is” or “it exists” and you should probably adopt it into your own lives.


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