The gut instinct – that silent warning that jolts you around the midriff at the first sign of danger. Sub-conscious recognition that something, or somebody is not quite right. It’s never let me down except when I’ve ignored it, which I have done to my cost.

We recently hosted a working guest under the Workaway scheme. She contacted me asking if she could stay with us for a week to ten days in exchange for helping in our garden. When I looked at her profile on-line, gut instinct reacted with a loud warning bell. An eerily disturbing photograph of a single, 51-year-old woman.

But she was in a predicament, and we could use some help, so after numerous phone calls from her, I agreed she could come to us. Even while I was speaking to her I knew, in the back of my mind, I was making a mistake.

gut instinct

I know I can say with honesty that we are kind and generous people, and we worked hard to make her stay with us enjoyable. And it was hard work. She was a particularly fussy eater and a cold personality, and I found her presence deeply uncomfortable. Nevertheless she stayed for a week and did some gardening work and became a little more relaxed, even appearing friendly. We went far beyond the usual terms of the working guest arrangement, taking her out to a restaurant, driving her around sightseeing and giving her unlimited use of my personal computer.

During that week we received a phone call to say my son was critically ill in England. She seemed very sympathetic as news came that his condition was deteriorating.

On the day she left, we drove her to the airport, where she thanked us profusely and said how kind we had been, and what a pleasure it had been to stay with us.

The following day, I left to go to England to be with my son at the hospital. During that time our guest wrote a friendly little email asking if I would leave feedback for her on the Workaway site. Feedback is important for both guests and hosts, as it gives others an idea of what to expect. I immediately left generous feedback, without mentioning any of the difficulties we had experienced with her. I noticed she did not reciprocate.

After five extremely distressing days, my son died and I had to return home to France.

There I found an email from the Workaway administrators saying they had received a report of a worrying incident, from an ‘informant’ who wished to remain anonymous. As our recent guest was the first for eight months, it was clearly her.

The ‘worrying incident’ was something that any normal person would have laughed off, and was dismissed after I had spent considerable time outlining the behaviour of the woman during her stay with us, and referring to the glowing feedback from all our previous guests.

Had I only take the advice of gut instinct, I would not have had to deal with the malice of this sad and spiteful creature who, despite being aware of what a terrible time this was for our family, deliberately added to our grief. Surely a low in human behaviour.

I wish I’d trusted that gut instinct. I hope you do, too. It’s a gift given to you for a reason.



  1. Firstly Susie, my condolences. I am deeply sorry to hear about your son.

    Secondly, I’m a big believer in gut instinct. I really go on first impressions. You could argue that what you perceive becomes true, but, as with your experience, when I’ve gone against my initial feelings, time has always proved them right.

    A bad time for you. Hope things improve and you get some good karma, I’m sending some up through Spain to France for you 🙂

  2. My Dear Susie, I had to read this through twice to take this heartbreaking news in,my condolences to you.
    And yes I agree you must go with your gut instinct always,but what is done is done, and now you must just deal with your grief in your own way and stay strong.

    Sending a cyber hug to you x

  3. Dear Suzie,
    I’m sorry I lost your email in switching computers so can’t email privately. I’m so very sorry to hear about your son and the last thing you needed was more stress to heap on top of it. Cow is too mild a word.

    • Hello Victoria,

      It is good to hear from you. Do you not blog any more? I’ve not received notifications for a long time now. Are you still writing?

      Thank you for your kind wishes.


  4. Hello Susie – May I offer my sincerest condolences at this very sad time. There are no words anyone can use to convey the feelings you and your husband are going through at the moment.
    We too have used Workaway/ Helpx people – some good experiences and more recently bad ones. Like you, we had a couple who were not all they seemed, and it was a very stressful time for the 8 weeks they were here, as I was here most of the time alone without my husband.
    My first visitors on the scheme were a delightful couple from New Zealand, and I had no reason to doubt all volunteers on these schemes were like them – how wrong I was.
    To think your guest made this time worse for you is unthinkable, despite your clear and generous hospitality.
    Anyway, my thoughts are with you at this time.
    Kind regards
    Helen Aurelius Haddock

    • Thank you, Helen.

      I am sorry you too have had an unpleasant experience with working guests. Eight weeks must have been dreadful, that’s so long to have to put up with having people you don’t like living in your house especially if you are on your own.

      We have until now been very lucky. With one exception, a bit of a misfit but not malicious, all our guests have fitted in and become part of a happy family with us, and beyond. We are still friends and in regular contact with two of them.

      In future we must all be more careful. Our awful person’s feedback for other hosts should have rung a bell, apart from her photograph and general attitude. We live and learn.


  5. Hi Susie, Just wanted to send you my love and prayers for your terrible loss. Your books have given me great pleasure over the years. I live in Romagne and so if you fancy meeting up for coffee that would be great. With my very best wishes, Annie Noel

  6. Just to say so, so sorry about your loss.
    The rest is an unfair annoyance but one you will rise above.
    Love and big warm hugs


  7. I am so, so sorry to hear about your son’s death – and I find it absolutely unthinkable that someone could behave like that knowing what you were going through. A low in human behaviour indeed. Sending you lots of love from Devon.

    • Thank you, Neens. It must take a very sick soul to repay kindness and generosity with sly malice. Thankfully people like that are a minority. How lovely for you to live in Devon. I used to spend my early childhood holidays there, at Seaton, where my little brother is buried.

  8. Dear Susie, I am so sorry about the loss of your son. My thoughts are with you. To have to suffer from such insufferable behaviour from your ‘Workaway’ is inexcusable. Please take heart and hope that you are right, most people are good and reasonable and want the best for others . Kate
    p.s with love

  9. I am so very sad to hear about the loss of your son. My heart goes out to you.
    As for that horrible woman….words fail me. Hope you can put the memory of her behind you, and think of all the kind and amusing guests that you have had in the past.

  10. Hi Susie, what terrible news about your son! I’m so sorry, and horrified that that woman could distress you further with her callousness.

    My thoughts go out to you with love.

  11. Hi Susie, So very sorry to hear your sad news about your son. My thoughts & prayers are with you & Terry at this time.

    Yes, like you i have failed before by ignoring my gut instinct. Like you i can normally sum a person up in the first ten minutes. I don”t understand these people & i have a lady like the one you mentioned she is a relative. I have put up with her vial attitude to life keeping my mouth shut but last year i just had enough & decided at 65 i needed to speak my mind just for a change. She is now out of my life thank goodness & i feel better for it. You now need to put the memory of this horrible lady out of your mind. Sending hugs. xxx

  12. Hi Linda

    Thank you for your kind thoughts.

    I am pleased to know that you have removed the horrible person from your life. I know that it is difficult to do, because people like us don’t like to be unpleasant, but for our own good we need to keep clear of such people. Our sick-minded guest will soon have faded from memory into obscurity, along with all the other negative junk. Susie x

  13. Hi Susie,
    I read with immense sorrow about your loss and much as I wanted to immediately send my condolences I hesitated as it is so difficult to put into words my inner thoughts.
    As a Dad to two wonderful sons and grandfather three times over I simply can’t imagine how I would cope with the loss of any of them. I guess it is one of a parent’s worst nightmares for your offspring to go before you do.
    I can only agree with others above on the delightful lady you had the misfortune to encounter. One hopes that one day her sins will be counted and come back to haunt her. What sad lives some lead that their pleasures come in such a weird form.
    My sympathies go to you both on your loss and if anything positive comes out of such disasters it might be that we all take a long look at all the good luck we have in our lives and thank our lucky stars for that.

  14. I am so sorry to read of your loss. Of course no words from me will make any difference but I do offer my heartfelt sympathy and warmest wishes to bolster you in the days ahead. To outlive our child is wrong in every way – the unthinkable. I am so so sorry. And as for batso woman … I hope HER foul karma trips her up very soon.

  15. Pingback: Past, present, future | Susie Kelly - Writer

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