Monday, 22 June 2015


How to lobby a Goan Minister

As new kids on the block and foreign females to boot we were acutely aware of doing everything by the book. The only problem: there was no book.
We have the dubious honour of not only being the first villa rental holiday company in Goa but the first in India so it was pretty much a case of making it up as we went along. Quite frankly nobody knew how to categorise us when it came to legal permissions, registrations, licenses, taxes etc.
We thought The Tourism Department was the obvious place to start and local advice was to go right to the top – the Director of Tourism? No, it had to be the Minister himself!!!
Now how does one go about setting up a meeting with a Government Minister? Silly us, just ‘go to his house of course’.
Dubious about this we decided to take this advice anyway and one sleepy afternoon we found ourselves outside an impressive Portuguese House with an extension at the back which obviously housed his official offices.
The security guard on the gate was no obstacle at all – he opened the gate and as we swept past he pointed us down the garden path towards the office block.
The first room we entered was totally deserted, as was the next and the next, a little confused we reversed out and shrugged at the guard who gestured us to continue deeper inside. It was a bit spooky being on the Marie Celeste and having reached the end of a corridor of empty rooms we turned around and the guard, who was now at the opposite end, gestured again but this time upwards.
Confused now and ever so slightly wary we noticed the only way ‘up’ was through a set of heavy wooden doors into a double height hallway with a sweeping staircase up to a broad gallery. We were now, very obviously, in the private quarters.
We tiptoed to the top of the stairs (it was so quiet it made us tiptoe) when a door opened – light streaming into the gloomy landing freezing us like startled rabbits in headlights.
A disheveled gentleman in his pajama bottoms and vest emerged and not at all abashed he courteously invited us to take a seat and enquired as to the nature of our visit.
We explained, in great detail, just who we were and why we were there and we had a little chat about the business concept. He then thanked us for informing him and wished us well with our enterprise and retreated back into through the door he had appeared from leaving us stifling giggles and desperate to get out.
And that folks is how you lobby a Government Minister Goa style, sitting outside his bedroom with him in pajamas. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Our first telephone line

Obtaining a telephone was probably one of the most difficult things we attempted in the beginning.
A telephone connection was a very prestigious status symbol and very valuable. The application process was not only tedious with a waiting period of years but it also involved nominating someone you would like to bequeath your line to in the event of your demise as you would the family jewels. As we were to be totally dependent on faxing and telephoning we were relieved to hear our landlord had applied for a line some years before his migration to Canada and Redu, our neighbor and his brother-in-law, was determined to shake things up at the exchange and track down the application. He returned triumphant: apparently the number had been issued and the telephone already installed – but where? Redu insisted they find it immediately as this was theft on the grandest of scales.

Later that same day a grinning lineman appeared at our door a roll of cable under his arm and a still warm clammy handset.
The phone connection had been traced to another neighbour in the village who had taken the connection illegally and by ‘eck did she pay for it.
She was on the phone, presumably eating chapattis judging by the crumbs in the mouthpiece, when the telephone hit squad raided, snipped the chord in two, and physically removed her instrument.
Almost immediately it was connected it started ringing. We had people enquiring about when their “stitching” would be ready all very anxious for their Christmas outfits, and later that evening a perplexed relative from Canada called who just couldn’t work out why a foreigner was at his Aunties place in Goa denying all knowledge of her and seemingly refusing to get her on the line!!

Once we had the phone we thought life was complete but we were wrong. With trepidation each morning we would lift the handset and more often than not it would be dead.  We quickly learned that tracking down the area lineman produced faster results than reporting it to the exchange so we often found ourselves getting the scooter out and scouring the area. He could usually be found up a pole somewhere in the village or if not in one of the many “feni bars” and the lure of a bottle of ice cold beer and Rs50 normally got him there that day.
Despite our resolve to not get sucked in to the bribery and baksheesh system so rife in India we found ourselves having to pay a bribe sometimes a couple of times a week just to keep in contact with the rest of the world.
It was over a cup of tea one morning with our neighbour, Joe Lobo, that the light began to dawn.  Joe’s phone last went out of order months ago – why is ours out of order so much. Ping! it’s a nice little earner a beer and Rs200 a couple of times a week – thank you.

We were damn sure paying him to do his job badly was not the way this should work. A meeting was set up. And it was explained that whenever we met it was always stressful, with our angry faces and lots of shouting loudly all the time. To make this go away all he had to do was give us his best assurance that our phone would never go out of order again then once a month we would be able to sit and chat, stress free, and have some beers and he could collect Rs250 as a thank you. From that day on we became friends and once a month as promised we always sat on the balcao and passed the time of day over some beers.
The line never went off.  Win win.
One day as I was driving home I was over taken by a push bike flying like the wind and when I turned the corner a very breathless and red faced linesman was shimmying up the pole outside our house. Apparently a lorry had reversed into our drive and snagged our phone line and he was trying to beat me home to repair it before we knew anything about it. Now that’s more like it, that’s what you call good service indeed.


How not to make a promotional video - French and Saunders eat your heart out.

Debbie Summerfield was now running our sales office. She was the third member of our group on our first Goa holiday in 1992 but with a newborn she was unable to come again to Goa to familiarize herself with the properties - a slight disadvantage as “Head of Sales UK”. So when Bob Vingo (second cousin twice removed) came out that first season armed with a video camera it was too good an opportunity to miss. We decided to make a little video for Debbie.
We are all familiar with the business training videos John Cleese’s company Video Arts made, How NOT to Run a Meeting, How NOT to Impress Customers. We were just about to make How NOT to make a Promotional Video.
Totally unplanned we met Bob at D’Costa House and decided the best way to do it was a walk through video room by room. Standing side by side on the entrance steps cameras poised, no script, just by the seat of our pants we started.
Faced with a rolling camera I panicked and started babbling on like a scene from Who’s Line is it Anyway? Linda’s head swiveled in amazement at what was coming out and whilst I spouted forth moving from room to room she trotted behind me transfixed.
The result was hilarious.
It looked like a scene from Acorn Antiques with forgotten lines and moving scenery. The sleepy village of Para, where most of the time all you could hear was the swishing of the odd water buffalo tail, sounded like it was on the M25 close to Gatwick. Whoever would have known that the occasional little scooter putt putting past would sound like a Ferrari and that the idly turning ceiling fans would sound like helicopters overhead. All my impromptu dialogue was totally drowned out so it looked like we were miming anyway!!!
Scarred for life from this first experience we have turned down many opportunities for media appearances over the years. No, I am wrong. There was the interview about how to cook chicken cafreal for a cookery programme that was aired on Somerset Radio but that’s a whole other story.
We have since registered as French and Saunders Lookie Likies and are now available for weddings and bar mitzvahs (no prizes for which one is which).

Saturday, 28 March 2015


there are a lot of firsts…..

The summer of 1995 proved to be a hard one for me and Linda. We now had three villas in our care, all poshed up and ready to go and absolutely no bookings. From the sunny climes of Goa one minute we find ourselves in the North facing dining room of my parents place in sheepskin slippers and Aunty Betts chunky hand knitted cardigans (we were desperately feeling the cold) looking at a totally blank sheet. Kind of focuses you when reality hits home.
FIRST we needed some technology and a sales office. We called on old work colleagues, Anita Reynolds, our old boss in Sheffield, came up trumps with a secondhand Amstrad and dozens of floppy discs and Debbie Summerfield, who was conveniently on maternity leave, agreed to be at the end of the phone and fax line.
FIRST we needed bookings. So with our trusty little word processor,  a dozen floppy discs, one finger typing and zero advertising budget we set forth to tell the world about Lazydays in Goa.
For a small startup company Linda had remarkable success in grabbing the attention of the press. It’s quite probably because of the catchy but corny hook lines for the articles they wrote. “Busy days for Lazydays”, “Goa ahead – make my day”, “It’s all systems Goa – for holiday firm”, “Goa for it!” Goa with the flow, Go for Goa, Linda’s made a Goa of life, Goa getters, Pair with get up and Goa, When you gotta Goa, to name but a few. But we like to think it’s more to do with dogged determination and Linda’s persistence when she did manage to get a travel writers attention.
One minute we were local Sheffield girls, the next we were from Coventry, Wolverhampton, York and Bournmouth and the story “Local girls go to Goa” went viral  appearing in Wolverhampton Express and Star, Bournmouth Echo, Coventry Evening Telegraph, Sheffield Star and the Yorkshire Post. OK the Travel Mail would have been nice but baby steps….
Linda even appeared in a glossy magazine article about a selection of women who had made life changing career decisions.
You have to remember that all this was done by one little steam driven Amstrad WP, the photocopier at the petrol station and snail mail. It wasn’t until recently when saying goodbye to a lovely family of Mum, Dad and three daughters (early 20’s) that it really came home to me just how fast the pace of change has been in the last 20 years. The three daughters were interested to hear about the changes to Goa since we first came in the “old days”. They were puzzled at the concept of faxing between the UK and Goa offices – and that was only when the telephone line was actually working.
“Awww that would have been annoying but your mobile was still working though?”
“Ummmm no, no mobiles in those days”
“So you had to rely on emailing then”
“Ummmm no, no internet in those days”
“OMG you are joking”
I felt like Methuselah - Oh how times have changed!
Despite our homemade brochure, scant resources and even scanter knowledge of the publishing world, our modest success started to pay off and bookings started to come in.

Monday, 16 March 2015


and so the makeover begins.....

The biggest challenge I faced during the first couple of months was spending money. I was used to department stores with tempting irresistible displays of every imaginable household item, large out-of-town superstores with rows upon rows of decorative items. Mapusa, our local market town and nearest shopping centre came as a challenge indeed.

Has anyone ventured into Viranis? I spent many hours in there clutching my list. Most things were either in the ‘godown’ (I never discovered where this mysterious ‘godown’ was but it wasn’t for want of pleading with them to take me and let me browse in there) or, if it wasn’t in the godown, then a boy was shoved up through a hatch in the ceiling of the shop and after what seemed like an eternity would triumphantly throw a dusty packet down into the shop.

“Perfect! just what I wanted I will have six in that size and colour”
“Sorry madam – out of stock”
“Ok show me what six matching pieces you do have in stock”
“No sorry only two-two pieces” I came to realise meant pairs.
I often felt like I was about to lose the will the live. Before leaving the UK one of my pet hates was shopping but oh how I longed for a trolley and wide aisles.
The next biggest challenge was learning to ask the right question.
Dharmendra (DDK upholsterers) came highly recommended for any upholstery or curtain requirements. He was summoned to meet me at Gonsalves House where we spent several hours discussing the soft furnishing requirements resulting in a long shopping list.  I promised to drop the fabric off later that afternoon but Dharmendra somehow found it impossible to give me directions to his workshop struggling with opposite, behind, next to, in front of. To put him out of his misery I stopped him in mid flow.
“I know the village, is there a sign that can be seen from the main road?”

“YES there is a sign” he shouted triumphantly.

“Don’t worry then, I will find you” and I shot off to shop ‘til I dropped.

Later that afternoon – the car piled to the roof with curtain poles and bolts of fabric - I was driving slowly through Nerul looking for his workshop. Suddenly a very excited Dharmendra leapt out in front of me pointing towards a small building with the roller shutter door at half mast with just a glimpse of a row of sewing machines. Thankfully Darmendra had been on the side of the road that afternoon otherwise to this day I would never have found it. I was puzzled to say the least

“Dharmendra – good you were here, I was lost, I thought you said you had a sign!”

“I have” and pointed proudly to a large sign above his workshop that proclaimed ‘CHICKENS’

Despite the steep learning curve I managed to get our first three villas ready, photo shoot done and prints posted (yes I know posted) back to Linda in the UK.
Meanwhile life went on for Linda who was leading a double life at her word processor (note before Pc’s). One window open with a policy paper on some topic or other and underneath it the draft of our first brochure. Her colleagues, well aware of her escape plans, would walk across the office shaking the soil out of their trouser legs much to the puzzlement of her boss. Steve McQueen and Dickie would have been proud of Linda’s escape tunnel plans.

Sadly no copy of this magnificent first attempt brochure exists today (unless someone has kept one knowing they would be collector’s items one day).

The villas ready, the brochure printed now all we had to do was tell people.


foreigners can cook??????

By the mid 90’s Goa had been welcoming tourists for quite a number of years. First came the hippies and then the 2 week charter brigade. When we floated the idea that maybe some holiday makers might like to stay in houses (villas) it raised a number of quizzical eyebrows. One of the main concerns was who would cook their breakfast? We said they would have a cooker, microwave and toaster so they would do it themselves. WHAT? Foreigners can cook?
There are many people over the last 20 years who we owe a big debt to for their unstinting support and advice but none more so than the three visionaries I met next.  My mission was to source suitable houses of which there were many but I soon realised that wasn’t going to be the problem – the problem was finding a landlord who was happy to let two mad English women have a loose rein with their properties and also believed foreigners could actually make their own tea and toast.
A big thanks has to go to David Gonsalves, who’s charming Gonsalves House in Arpora, was the very first Lazydays property, David totally understood us and threw himself into the project with almost as much enthusiasm as we did.
Next there were the D’Costa’s of Parra. Isadore D’Costa still lived in part of this rambling old house whilst we took over the rest of it and he was to be a great source of pleasure to our early guests with his old stories and twinkle in his eye when he shared a bottle of Honeybee.
And finally Gordon Epps. Gordon had just completed the renovation of Saligao House which, of the three properties, was the closest to being “guest ready”.  Gordon was to become a firm friend and staunch supporter of Lazydays over the years to follow.
A big thank you to David, Gordon and the D’costa Family as without you there would be no Lazydays.
It was already May and time was an issue, I had to get both Gonsalves and D’Costa Houses as ready as possible before the rains hit in June making a photo shoot impossible. Meanwhile Linda was sitting, pen poised, ready to start the brochure………………….

Friday, 13 March 2015


so now what do we do……….

It had been a year of back breaking searching for that “des res” in the sun and all to no avail.
Linda was heading reluctantly back to the UK and I was staying on in Goa with no clue of what to do now. Goa had worked its magic as we know it always did. I was now well and truly growing Goan roots having lived in this mad place for a year and wasn’t about to head home just yet.
It was on the journey to the airport and out of desperation that the lightning bolt struck. We had seen dozens, if not 10’s of dozens, of wonderful houses all unlived in so why not a villa rental business
We were both died in the wool civil servants and by nature civil servants are not entrepreneurial, and certainly not risk takers, so for us to be standing in the check in queue at Goa airport planning – no not planning - hatching something so off the wall that would change our lives forever certainly went against the grain.
But that’s exactly what we did.
All our ingrained business skills training went right out of the window – no business plan, no product and no market – what on earth were we thinking.
Linda headed out and I was charged with going back to a few local home owners and floating the idea with them, I was to lease a small number of houses, tart them up, take a few pictures and Linda would write a brochure and launch Lazydays in Goa to the unsuspecting British Public – easy, what could go wrong?
So that’s how it all started