The Return of the Llama Freeloaders
We thought we’d seen the last of them, the people who turn up (and always at the worst possible times) and “just want to see the llamas”.
In our early days, the majority of these freeloaders were elderly locals who’d heard of the newly-arrived llamas and were determined to see them. Practically without fail, every Sunday as we were sitting down to tea around 5.00pm (we stick to Irish mealtimes), a carful of old biddies in various states of decrepitude would hurtle down the drive. From 5pm to 6pm is a dangerous time. It’s the ‘Now What Do We Do?’ hour for French people. Lunch has finally been digested and dinner will be at 7pm so there’s an empty slot in the early evening that needs filling.
While we shovelled a few more mouthfuls of our tea in, knowing it would be cold by the time we got back to it, the car’s creaking occupants would heave themselves out and proceed to frown and tut as they looked around. What did these foreigners think they were doing, putting a new roof on and double glazed windows in this two-hundred-year-old cottage? What’s wrong with leaks and draughts! We’d greet them at the gate and smile through gritted teeth as they asked if they could “just see the llamas, for five minutes”. That was optimistic, given that it would take them that long to make the few yards to the llama field. And yes, I’m being mean, but I feel justified!
Anyway, once we’d started the llama trekking business, we became rather more robust with the freeloaders, and told them sweetly that if they wanted to see the llamas, they’d have to book a trek. We occasionally capitulated and gave a free guided tour, but it was becoming a chore.
The freeload mentality meant that our llama trekking was doomed from the beginning. People simply weren’t prepared to dip into their pockets to pay a few euros to spend an amazing hour strolling through the countryside with a selection of our trained, patient, calm-exuding camelids. We kept prices as low as we could and hoped to make a few extra quid from selling souvenirs. I sourced genuine Peruvian trinkets via a Trade Fair type organisation that ensured the money went to the people who made the knitted finger puppets, model alpacas, friendship bracelets and what have you. We also made some badges with pictures of our llamas and I knitted little things from llama wool. But even though prices started at 50 cents, and there was nothing over a tenner, very few visitors treated themselves. Rors spent hours making rock monsters which he sold for 30 cents – he’s an entrepreneur in the making! Those were too dear, it seemed.
Even those people coming to our free guided tours on Tuesday mornings in the summer holidays, which we ran for a couple of years, were reluctant to part with more than two or three euros. And we’d entertained their whole family for over an hour with seeing all the animals, doing a llama hair craft and a wool quiz. Pfft!
Finally realising we were working for a fraction of the SMIC (lowest minimum wage) with the trekking, and that we’d be far better off doing, well, anything else really, we retired llamas Oscar, Bernard and Denis, and alpacas Brendan and Seamus (Shaymooos in French) and hung up their halters for good. That was four years ago now.
We still get calls about treks and have to explain that, unfortunately, we don’t do them any more. All the callers are disappointed and a good few are pretty indignant, even though we obviously haven’t advertised the trekking since we gave it up. I have no idea where they’re getting the details from. I patiently and pointedly explain that we were never able to make money from it and so stopped. Some will still ask if they can come and see them anyway, but I politely refuse.
However, today, a shiny sports car that probably cost more than our farm, swished down the drive. Two smart people – Parisians, judging from the car’s registration – sashayed out and asked about the llama treks. Now, we were in the middle of showing some friends around the farm. I was hanging onto an excited Tobi, who is still somewhat ambivalent about new people. She’s wagging her tail but she’s also nervous about the encounter. The farmer was working in the field across the house lake so there was a bit of background noise going on. It was fairly obviously a bad time. I launched into my “sorry but we don’t do llama treks any more” to the usual “since we’re here, can’t we just see the llamas” response, when, catching Chris’s eye, we silently agreed that it would be easier to give them a quick eyeful of some of our camelids to make them go away. The Parisians, not the critters.
So Rors and I took the visitors to the llamas’ field and told them about the animals, who very obligingly came over to look at the people who were looking at them. Rors told them anecdotes and chattered away, in his fluent French of course, and was a brilliant little guide. A good quarter of an hour later, the visitors said they needed to be heading off. Now surely, I thought, they’ll give Rors a tip – a euro or two maybe – to thank him for being an entertaining host and giving up some of his time. But did they? Nah. The tootled off in their fancy car without a backward look.
And that’s precisely why we stopped doing the treks. Somehow people seem to think that we spend our days, gazing longingly up the driveway, hoping that some smart city person will come and grace us with their presence, wanting to see our llamas. Clearly we country folk don’t have anything better to do with ourselves! And equally clearly, the llamas fell out of the sky and don’t need insuring or medicating or feeding or financial investment of any kind!
Amazingly, another car hove to in front of the house a few moments after the tight-fisted couple had gone, wondering if they could see the llamas. Needless to say they got a polite but terse negative response!
I guess this must be a problem for many micro businesses. Because you’re small, you can’t really be serious. You don’t really need paying, surely? You’re doing this for fun! Yet these same people that want something for free from the people who can least afford to give it wouldn’t even think of asking Marks and Spencer if they could just taste one of their TV dinners, without paying for it, or have a quick look at the animals in a major zoo for nothing?
Funny, frustrating old world, isn’t it! I think I’ll have to put a ‘Fermeture Annuelle’ sign up (which translates as ‘closed for our summer holidays’). They won’t argue with that!