Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Holiday hell: shut out and shut in!

Sue and Peter McCall of County Durham, England, are no strangers to the Algarve. They have been coming on holiday here for 28 years. On their latest visit, the third this year, they stayed for the whole of October in a rental villa near Carvoeiro. It was particularly memorable.
“Wednesday / Thursday was not good,” Sue said in an email to a friend back home. “It poured so much we had a power cut. Thank heavens I was already in bed and Peter was locking up for the night, ‘cos when I say it was pitch black, I mean pitch black. No street lights. Peter had to feel his way to the bedroom with the light from his iPad.”
Sue added: “We're back to normal now. It’s 20 degrees at the moment. Nice for sitting out in the day, but cold from 6pm on. To keep the place warm we have the radiators on all evening.”
Apart from the weather, it didn’t stay ‘normal’ for long.
“We had real shenanigans yesterday morning,” Sue told me.
Peter, the more technically minded of the two, put the situation into context. “We had rented a villa that had recently had new uPVC windows and shutters fitted all round. Coupled with some solid steel gates at the courtyard entrance, it was a bit like Alcatraz.
“We were told that just outside the gate there was a digital safe containing the gate keys. Then we were given the house keys plus a second gate key for general use. The new uPVC main door would close and lock on a gentle push. There was no handle on the outside of the door, a worrying combination, as we were to discover.”
 Sue takes up the story: “As we closed the main door and set off for the beach bar, Peter thought I had the door key. I thought HE had it.”
Peter adds a bit more detail: “‘No’, I murmured, ‘I don’t have the key.’  Three beats.... mouth starting to go dry…. she started to get that martyred look on her face that all women develop at an early age and use when things start to get tricky. I looked at the solid steel gates. Locked. I pushed on the main house door just in case. Locked too. Two choices: fall on the ground and start to hyperventilate, or call for help.”
According to Peter, this is what happened next:  “I said as sweetly as I could, despite gritted teeth, ‘ring the house management.’ Sue said, ‘I haven’t got the number.’
‘It’s not on your phone?’
‘No,’ she said in that careful voice you use when trapped with someone who might be about to become unpredictable.
‘It’s on a piece of paper in the house notes’ file they gave us,’ I said, trying to avoid a tic that was developing in my right eye.
‘I haven’t got the paper.’
‘Well where is it?’
I tailed off as her eyes shifted to the door of the house. It was still locked.”
Fortunately, Sue had the number of a couple of close friends who were holidaying nearby. They came over quickly. Peter shouted out the code and they got the spare key from the safe.
“Freedom!” thought Peter.
Well, no. It liberated them from the garden, but how were they going to get back into the house?
“Thankfully, I found a little scrap of paper in my handbag,” said Sue. “I’d torn it from a sheet in the house the previous day and scrawled the management number on it rather than sit with the huge house notes’ folder on my knee when I wanted to ring to ask them to get our maid to do some ironing. I'd turned the scrap of paper into a shopping list. Luckily, I hadn’t binned it. It was still in my bag!”
With a mixture of hope and trepidation, Sue rang the management number. Mercifully, it wasn’t pitch black, pouring with rain or cold.
“The young lady from the management company came after about 10 minutes. She had a key to the main door of the house. But we still couldn’t get in because our key was in the lock on the other side.”
The management lady then rang the maid, knowing that she (the maid) had a key to the kitchen yard and the kitchen door. The maid came over and was able to get into the yard. The trouble was she couldn’t open the kitchen door because, like the main door, it too had a key in the lock inside.
“We hadn’t put it there!” insisted Sue.
Anyway, to Peter and Sue’s amazement the maid straightened her key ring to make a wire lock-pick. She pushed it into the kitchen lock and wiggled it about to try to push the inside key out the other side.  
“It didn’t work, but she's wasted as a maid,” said Sue. “She had a lot more gumption than us. I suppose we can claim that we were so dumbstruck with the gravity of our situation - and a possible huge bill for a call out to a specialist locksmith - that our synapses by then had suffered a total shutdown.”
The resourceful maid fetched stepladders. She, Peter and the management lady started scaling fences, climbing walls and putting chairs up against windows to try and find a vulnerable spot. The new uPVC windows proved not to be of the highest quality. The management lady managed to force one open. This set off the burglar alarm. Happily, no one seemed to take any notice. 
“The maid managed to climb through the window and disable the alarm before the cavalry arrived,” said Sue.
“A trusting neighbourhood is a wonderful thing,” said Peter later while in contemplative mood. “As for the rest, we were profusely and lavishly apologetic.”
“To say we were relieved is the biggest understatement ever,”  Sue added. “ Sherpa McCall needed a very strong drink. And I needed a new pair of pants!”
Invigorated by their latest Algarve holiday, the McCalls have already booked accommodation for a five-week stay next spring. They will be near Carvoeiro for all of May and the first week of June – in a different villa.  


  1. Thanks for the following comments received by email.......

    “That’s just the sort of thing that happens to us!! Very funny to read it, but not live it! “ - English family who have been coming to the Algarve annually for many years.

    “Yes, a typical Algarve story.” - Former Algarve home owner emailing from Paris.

    “Hilarious and a great piece of writing!”- Australian living Down Under who has yet to visit Portugal.

    “Personally I have a horror of this and our hillside is littered with keys I have hidden and lost.” - British expat living in the Algarve.

    “:-) It would make a good sitcom episode.” - New Zealand author living in Australia.

    “Very entertaining! I've offered to rent them a house with no alarm, no key safe and all one floor!!” - Algarve villa manager.

  2. A couple more comments by email....

    “Ouch! What a story!!!” - Alentejo resident.

    “That did make me smile. I thought things like that happened only to me!” - Algarve resident.