What’s squishy, looks like an eyeball and fits in your hand?
Why, your host’s prosthetic eyeball of course! Last night I found myself in the unexpected situation of holding my first eyeball! To hold or not to hold? This was one of the many ethical/ moral/ unusual decisions that have had to be made during ‘Couchvember’ thus far. Rather than take you through a blow by blow account of the last week, I thought I’d structure this blog around 5 examples of similar decisions which have had to be made over the past few days.
1) Do you say yes when your host asks if you’d like to see him remove his eyeball and hold it?
Last night I stayed with Brian. Brian is a lovely Canadian bloke who works in music therapy. He was one of the people who offered to ‘rescue’ me midweek when my accommodation plans fell through at the last minute and I posted to the ‘emergency’ couch request group. He’s an avid traveller and has even had a short NBC documentary made about him after completing a ‘mileage marathon’ which saw him fly 30 000 miles in 2 days to rack up air miles points (which now entitle him to a ridiculous number of airline benefits). Brian was born blind in one eye which resulted in him having it removed and replaced with a prosthetic one.
Just before bed last night, Brian asked if I’d like to see his prosthetic eye. I wasn’t entirely expecting the question. It’s not one of those you really have a stock answer for. I was now faced with having to weigh up a myriad of options/ consequences my next word would entail. Traditional conversational etiquette would also dictate that I realistically only had a couple of seconds to say something. Would he be offended if I said no? Did I want to see him with one eye out as my last image before going to sleep if I said yes? Would it physically hurt him if he took it out just to show me?……..
‘Yes’…..I impulsively blurted. My curiosity got the better of me. It was actually quite an impressive thing. Very detailed – amazing matching colour of the Iris. And even little fake blood vessels. This was a serious bit of kit. Not one of those glass marble like things you see rolling around in bad comedy films.
2) What do you do when your host offers you a bed for the night? The same bed……
As I alluded to earlier, one day during the last week saw me with nowhere to stay for the night cum mid-afternoon. Couchsurfing has a brilliant feature allowing you to post a ‘last minute emergency couch request’ for such instances. The group is manned and moderated by a group of helpful people willing to put up the stranded at the last minute. After posting my message at about 3pm, I was amazed and humbled to find that by 7pm I actually had 4 offers of accommodation that night. One of them had replied that although they didn’t have a couch large enough, ‘I could sleep on the floor or share a bed if I was comfortable with that.’
Along with the clothes optional incident at the beginning of Couchvember, this was another of those ‘open minded’ tests. Like clothes optional, the person in question had a really good profile and lots of positive references. But still, is sharing a bed with a total stranger appropriate? I think it’s a grey area. I’ve got to admit that initially it put me off, and I accepted a different offer that night. But on reflection I began to think that the person was just trying to be friendly and help out someone in need. The way it was worded was that I had the option of the floor if I wasn’t comfortable with the bed share. And why should I automatically assume that it wasn’t just a genuine offer of friendship?
So a couple of nights later I went to stay with that person – and again really glad I did. Absolutely no hint of anything dodgy whatsoever and I happily slept on a duvet on the floor no questions asked. Really interesting and kind bloke too! That’s 2 really positive outcomes now from accepting offers which I think would seem strange to most people. The question going forward, and when I am doing this more next year, is to what extent do I trust that all the slightly strange offers will turn out fine? Am I right to even question them? Or am I foolhardy to accept them all and hope for the best? It’s a difficult one.
3) Do you leave your host’s cat locked in the porch with no way out or risk it running off into the streets?
Animals. Always a classic opportunity for things to go wrong when staying in stranger’s houses. Sunday presented such a conundrum. I’d gotten up earlier than my host and was eager to explore the local area. Harrow on the Hill was a short walk away – I’d heard it was beautiful and Sunday morning actually saw some sun instead of the incessant rain. I got dressed and ready to leave the house.
Next to the front door was the ‘couchsurfer’ cat. Scratching fiendishly away at the door looking intent on getting out. If I opened the door the cat was sure to get through too. Was this allowed? Was it a house cat trying to make its bid for freedom by playing on the weakness of an unassuming guest? Or maybe it was absolutely fine and it would be cruel to keep the cat indoors?
I decided to take a risk and decided it was probably OK despite no cat flap being evident. I opened the front door and stepped out into the small porch. The cat followed. However, upon opening the porch door, and faced with the real prospect of the great outdoors, the cat no longer seemed so keen. Instead it just cowered up in the porch corner. ‘Right’……’what do I do now?’ Do I physically pick the cat up and place it outside?
‘Come on. Out you go’. I told it in a silly ‘cat voice’ (why is it a natural reaction to talk in a stupid voice to an animal?)….
No reaction from the cat
‘Well you wanted to go out and now you don’t’ I stupidly continued in the cat voice. ‘I’m going, and you’re just going to stay here’.
In a somewhat rash decision I decided that the best thing to do was to leave the cat in its current location and shut both the front door and porch door. Why I didn’t leave the porch door ajar or physically put the cat back in the house I don’t know. Sadly the result for the cat was that it spent the rest of Sunday morning in the ‘no man’s land’ of the porch.
Confined to conditions which in hindsight must have been akin to some cat prison. Upon my return to the house my host gently enquired ‘Ed why did I find the cat locked in the porch this morning?’
4) What do you do when you discover a hole in your inflatable mattress and discover it has deflated in the middle of the night?
Last Sunday night was my first in the same room as my host. My host for the night lived in a shared house in Clapham without a front room with couch, let alone a spare bedroom. Instead his ‘couch’ consisted of a blow up mattress. No problem with sharing a room – it’s obviously standard in hostels – and no problem in theory with a blow up mattress. The problem comes when one discovers a hole in the blow up mattress has caused it to deflate in the middle of the night. This was the situation I found myself in at 3am on Monday morning.
A nice carpet would have provided a bit of respite, but sadly no such comforts existed and my body lay prone against the hard wooden floor. What were my options? It was pitch black. I couldn’t see where the bloody pump was for the mattress. I couldn’t really whack on the lights and start pumping away either. Even if I did there was nothing to guarantee that the air mattress would stay inflated for more than a few minutes anyway. ‘Do I try to mend the mattress with my first aid kit?’ my next thought. Quickly dismissed. Do I ask if I can get into his bed? I’ve only just met him. Dismissed. ‘Do I use my phone a friend lifeline?’. Probably not at 3am in the morning and being in an uncomfortable sleeping position hardly seems like a valid reason to disturb an unsuspecting friend at that time.
So, given the paucity of viable options and a severe bout of decision paralysis I decided just to stick it out for the rest of the night. I’d like to recommend anyone trying to get a good night’s sleep ahead of full week of work ahead, not to choose hard wooden floors as their sleeping apparatus of choice.
5) Do you go for it when your realise the quiet drink you were meant to be going for on a Monday night is actually some hot Latino club night?
What is it with couchsurfers and Monday night? A couple of Monday’s ago saw Jean Marc get me totally wasted on Sambuca shots. Last Monday saw Kiwi Tim take me to a Latino clubbing night at Walkabout in Temple. Lots of strange things about that last sentence I know. Walkabout (the Australian pub), Latino and Monday night clubbing aren’t necessarily words that most of us working souls would imagine fitting together. But unbeknown to me until Couchvember, Walkabout in Temple seems to be a hotbed of Latino clubbing action. On a Monday night!
Tim had suggested we go to Walkabout for a post work drink at around 8pm and meet his ex-Spanish flatmate Raquel. I’d imagined a quiet drink in an empty pub. However, things didn’t quite turn out like that.
My suspicions were slightly aroused by having to pay £5 to enter (for a pub on a Monday?) and were totally confirmed upon walking through the double doors and taking in the situation facing me. Instead of a few old men nursing a Fosters, I encountered a scene seemingly more in keeping with a Buenos Ares club at 2am on a weekend than England at 8pm on a Monday. The place was packed! The tables were cleared for dancing. Tequila shot girls paraded round. Teenage Latino girls with big hair were everywhere. Teenage Latino boys in sweaters skulked about. Middle aged Latino ladies in tight jeans and high heels strutted. Middle aged Latino men with open shirts and medallions waved their arms. A few Australians & Kiwis seemed to be in the mix, but I genuinely think I was the only English person. What the hell was this?
After a few minutes waiting Tim arrived. ‘Unusual set up’ I declared.
‘F**k yeah’ he replied. ‘You should see me salsa’
‘Oh God’ I said under my breath ‘Awesome. Let’s go for it’ I shouted down his earhole.
So, here we are. Another fantastically unusual week of Couchvember completed. Let me know if you enjoyed this structure – thought it would make a bit of a change from just describing how hospitable everyone is in chronological order. Think that’s kind of a given now. Less than a week to go until Couchvember is over. I’m going to have mixed emotions when it is. On the one hand it’s been such an eye opening, heart-warming human experience. On the other, I’m just constantly knackered now and can’t wait just to stay in one place for a bit of time. Until next week….