Monday, October 25, 2010

Paradise Lost

Over the years, on the Scottish Home, I have blogged extensively about The Isle of Gigha which - for me at least - was like a little piece of paradise. Some years ago, I wrote a history of the island and its inhabitants, God's Islanders, which was very nicely published in hardback by Birlinn. We visited the place just about every year, usually staying in the same little cottage, down by the seashore and, when the island was the subject of what was then the biggest community buyout in British history, we were very happy to make our small contribution to the island economy. The book was, of course, a labour of love. It was never ever going to be a project to make me rich, nor did it, but I adored the island, so the time was never wasted.
Over the years, 'our' little cottage, Ferry Croft One, had become a bit shabby, while the price had crept up, but we didn't mind. We didn't mind the slightly faded decor, or the large burn mark on the kitchen floor where some careless visitor had set a pan down, the shabby furniture, the chipped paintwork, or the fact that the bathroom window opened all by itself, the shower was a bit dodgy and the bathroom tended to be icy, even in summer. We loved the little house, loved being on Gigha, and looked forward to our visits.
Last May, we arrived, to find that Ferry Croft One had been very nicely refurbished. It was a bit like finding that the Fairy Godmother had waved a magic wand in our absense, and we had a very happy week on the island. Which was just as well, because, as it turns out, it will probably be our very last visit to Gigha after an association lasting some forty years for my husband, some twenty five years for me .
We paid £385 for the week, which was a rise on previous years, but still seemed reasonable enough especially in view of the refurbishment. Much as we love it, this is by no means luxury accommodation. The cottage is open-plan, with a mezzanine containing two single beds. There is a smallish double sofa bed, downstairs, and the kitchen is part of the living room. There is a tiny hallway and a  bathroom, with a shower over the bath. It will, therefore, sleep four, but only if you know each other very well . We have visited it with close family and on one occasion with a close friend, but there is no possibility of privacy (except in the bathroom!) and it is essentially a two person cottage, with room for young kids or grannies. Still, we were very comfortable there and appreciated the new decor, furniture, bedding, etc so, a few months ago, I went online to book a week for next spring. I thought I might get some intensive writing done. I actually considered booking a couple of weeks. Except that the cost is now £485 for the same week, rising to £610 in summer. A quick search online reveals that this is very much at the high end of the market for such a small cottage in Scotland. We could rent an almost comparable cottage on Arran, sleeping two, for £285 at the same time of year. For £400 we could have a two bedroomed luxury barn conversion on Coll and take some friends with us, without living in each other's pockets for a week.
I wrote to the Trust, expressing my concern and, while I was at it, wondered if it might be possible for the hotel to stock my book, since it isn't for sale anywhere on the island.
 'We appreciate that our prices are not low, but the community is in a difficult position...' the management team replied.
As, of course, are we all, especially those of us who work in the arts. But this does beg a vital question: shouldn't the need to maintain self catering accommodation to a reasonable standard be 'built in' to the business model? Why should the customer have to pay a vastly increased price, not for luxuries but simply for the standard of comfort and cleanliness one would expect as a matter of course?
The management team finished by informing me that they would be more than happy to have 'your published book about Gigha on sale at the hotel as we do encourage sales of merchandise. We would normally look for a percentage of the sale of the item and this is currently 40% of the sale price.'
I've replied, briefly, pointing out that when I say that we can't afford to stay on Gigha, that is exactly what I mean. There is no longer any accommodation on the island that is both affordable and acceptable and I can only assume that they are after a different class of visitor. 
I've also pointed out that whether or not my 'piece of merchandise' is on sale on Gigha makes no difference whatsoever to me at this stage. And any negotiation about percentages must be between them and my publisher. My suggestion - which I doubt if they will be following up on - was entirely for the benefit of the island. Ironically, while all this was going on, I had a very nice email from the Trust's administrator, asking for some help with a piece of historical research which she wishes to undertake for the island. Well, it was kind of her to ask me, the research is very worthwhile, and none of this is her fault. All the same, I don't think I'll be doing it, somehow!

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