Tag Archives: London

How to find a house in London

Start your search early. Far too early. Take a cursory look at Gumtree and Spareroom and find loads of properties that match your reasonable requirements. Confidence level: 100%.

Then start your search for real. Find all the good places have gone, but that’s okay, because there’s still time. There’s still time to be choosy. Laugh scornfully at adverts boasting ‘Lovely and good’ or ‘Cheap and nice’ rooms. We all know what that means. You’ve got standards, thanks very much. Confidence level: 90%.

Go to a few viewings. Find that the rooms are not anywhere near as ‘gorgeous’ or ‘spacious’ or even as ‘good-sized’ as the ad description suggests, but that’s okay! It would be unheard of to find somewhere decent straight away, right? It’s London! Confidence level: 80%.

Go to more viewings. View several houses with palatial ensuites that can only be accessed through a partially open door as the adjoining bedroom is a cupboard. View a house occupied by pasty, translucent boys that all but wet themselves shaking your hand and ask if you have many single girl friends. View a house with giant pictures of vaginas all over the walls and be scolded by the landlord for looking at them. View a house where the available room is advertised as having its own conservatory but find that it’s basically a lean-to featuring a clogged toilet. View a house where the door is opened by an imposingly large Turkish man who yells ‘YOU A CLEAN GIRL, OKAY?’ in your face. Confidence level: 50%.

Eventually, find a place you really like. Text the tenants to express interest. Hours, then days, pass without a reply. Become wracked with self-doubt as your self-esteem takes a battering. Maybe you came on too strong. Maybe your joke about baking a chocolate cake was interpreted as needy, or mental, even. WHAT’S THE BLOODY ETIQUETTE FOR THIS SHIT? Struggle with the idea that the tenants have put you in the same league as sweaty hands boy, or mad vagina lady.

Spend hours and hours on room share sites. Destroy your phone battery by hitting refresh every five minutes. Send hundreds of awkward ‘I’m super cool and normal!’ emails to people who never respond. Find dozens of gorgeous houseshares advertised by awesome-sounding people requesting gay applicants only. Damn the gays and their beautiful mould-free houses.

Manage your expectations. Broaden your search parameters. You don’t really need a garden. You don’t really need a living room. Sure, you can work from your bed, and it’ll be fine sharing with four couples. Fun, even! Confidence level: 30%.

Lament your woes to your friends and listen to them wax lyrical about how hard they found that one week they spent searching for a flat, or how they had to view ‘like, six or seven!’ places before they found their current house, or how it actually took them upwards of two months to find somewhere because the lettings market in London is completely fucked and they’re not telling you this to dishearten you, but ‘you know…’.

And you do know. You ‘know’ to the point that you’ve started viewing rooms that have been advertised without pictures and wishing some kind of property Lemon Law existed so you didn’t have to spend whole hours traipsing around an inhabitable dive answering questions about what you do for a living and listening to fucking News of the World jokes. You ‘know’ to the point that you’re starting to think that an advert mentioning the fact that the room’s radiators have valves is probably pretty useful to know actually, and you ‘know’ to the point that you’re seriously considering responding to the likes of these ‘Cheap and lovely’ adverts you’d previously pooh-poohed.

Looks nice.

Looks nice.

It would have taken exactly 30 seconds to clear that crap off the bed.

It would have taken exactly 30 seconds to clear that crap off the bed.

JUST THROW A BLANKET OVER IT OR SOMETHING.

JUST THROW A BLANKET OVER IT OR SOMETHING.

Can only assume that bedside cabinet had eaten the previous tenant, hence photographers reluctance to move it back 10 damn centimetres.

Can only assume that bedside cabinet had eaten the previous tenant, hence photographer’s reluctance to move it back 10 damn centimetres.

Look at all these rooms to rent at the Tube station!

Look at all these rooms to rent at the Tube station!

Literally, take FIVE SECONDS to pick up the damn chair.

Literally, take FIVE SECONDS to pick up the damn chair.

I can't even.

I can’t even.

Confidence level: 5%

And then one morning, three and a half months and 23 viewings later, sit in the bedroom you’ve come to hate and load up Gumtree for the millionth time, and find a new advert. A new advert with pictures, and an adequate description written by people that sound sane, and go into your message drafts and copy/paste the same tired message you’ve looked at five times a day for the last 117 days. Send it off. Expect nothing. Don’t even allow the smallest sliver of hope or optimism into the dark, rough void where your soul used to be, for only disappointment resides there now.

Receive a reply straight away. Go through the motions, arrange a viewing. Plaster a smile over your tired, lifeless face and trudge to the address. Ring the bell and take a deep breath as the door opens…

Confidence level: 100%.

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

 

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Wildlife. In London.

During my first year at university I lived in student flats in a green and hilly part of Wales. One day, one of my flatmates – a girl from Birmingham – and I were leaning out of my bedroom window having a fag, and we spotted a rabbit frolicking around on the grass outside.

I remember thinking the most striking thing about the scene was that the blighter wasn’t riddled with myxomatosis. Coming from the countryside, you can’t really walk anywhere without tripping over poor little mites huddled in the middle of footpaths with their eyes all gooed up.

This girl, however, lost her shit. “OH MY GOD. Is that a real rabbit?” She was physically flapping at this point, and whipped out her phone to call her mum. “Mum, guess what? THERE’S A RABBIT OUTSIDE.” She put her hand over the receiver and whispered to me, “Do you think it could be somebody’s pet?”

And that’s when I realised that not everyone had the same nonchalant attitude towards wildlife as I did. It was quite eye-opening, really; I was living with people who had, quite literally, never seen a wild rabbit before. Anyway, I chalked it up to the great city / countryside divide, and thought nothing more of it.

Until I moved to London. When I moved to this sprawling concrete wonderland, I knew I’d miss the countryside a bit. What I do really miss is the backdrop of rolling green hills that had been a constant eye canvas throughout my moves around Wales, and even in Bristol. Now it’s just buildings, offices and fried chicken shops. But whatever. No-one moves to London for the scenery.

What I’m missing the most at the moment, though, is that in the countryside, you know what the fuck is going on with its wildlife.

People tend to think the countryside is some wild, untamed animal free-for-all. That there are just pigs and sheep milling around wherever they please. That rabbits are pouring out of the ground and every single household owns a chicken. But this is not the case at all.

Wildlife in the countryside is kept in check. Farm animals are accounted for, few people own chickens because they’re bastards and rabbits, badgers and foxes keep to their bloody selves. On the rare occasion a cow starts munching your hedge, you just run at it with a novelty umbrella and they stomp off to the corner of the field, ready to be taken for milking, or turned into burgers.

You know what’s what in the countryside.

NOT LIKE SODDING LONDON, THOUGH, where the amount of wildlife I’ve encountered in the last two-and-a-bit years is simply extraordinary.

First there were the rats, which I blogged about exasperatedly at the time. What started as the odd scratching noise in the kitchen (It’s just the house settling!) quickly turned into episodes involving housemates and I hysterically throwing spoons at them as they scuttled across the cooker. Thanks to the heroic efforts of my other half, we (we – thanks for nothing Wandsworth Council and every bloody pest control agency we called in thereafter) managed to catch the offending pair, unceremoniously turfing their huge furry brown bodies into the bin (as instructed by the authorities), and leaving their nest of babies, cosy and out of reach in the ceiling, to squeak and scramble for days, until one day the noises simply stopped. It was horrible.

Then, without rats to deter them, in came an army of mice. Mice, which are able to squeeze themselves through gaps smaller than their heads, fact fans. Many weekends spent shoving wire wool down every single gap in our Victorian terrace and substantial investments in traps and sound-frequency deterrents eventually put pay to the problem, but not before several ‘hilarious’ attempts at catching the strays that saw fit to scuttle into the lounge while we were watching TV. How many grown adults does it take it catch a mouse? Seven, apparently. Five to flap around impotently, two to actually do something, but the whole group to create enough noise and panic that the poor thing eventually just drops dead from fright.

Then there were the spiders. And I don’t mean spiders. I mean spiders. Huge spiders. Over the course of one month in September, we averaged one of these monsters every two days. You’d walk into the kitchen, take a cautious glance at the floor, then go to the sink or cupboard or whatever. When you turned around – BAM. There it was. Squat and hairy, from nowhere: phobia ninjas. Both of us eyeing the other, waiting to see who’d make the first move. I’d reach behind my back, slowly, grasping for a bowl, a saucepan, anything, but its thousands of repulsive eyes would gauge the movement and it’d scuttle towards me at alarming speed, sending me tearing out of the door screaming for my life. The September rains stopped, and they left. But I know they’ll be back.

Then – and throughout our tenancy – there are the birds. We’ve an enormous tree in our back garden (some folk say it’s the tallest in Tooting), home, initially, to a pair of wood pigeons that seemed to be constantly embroiled in a domestic. I don’t know what the problem was, or indeed, what kind of problems wood pigeons have, but every day the tree would shake and they’d squawk at each other furiously, turfing bits of twigs and fluff out of their abode, which they eventually left. Maybe they split up, maybe they needed a fresh start somewhere new? Who knows? What I do know is that the tree is now home to a pair of mentally-challenged magpies that don’t understand their size and insist on flying at the tree with comically-oversized sticks, and then being all surprised when physics doesn’t work out for them. As such, the garden is covered with bits of branch and wood, and it all looks a bit Blair Witch. Which is great.

And then, most recently – and the catalyst for this lengthy rant (sorry) – the foxes. The fucking foxes. Urban foxes are as much a London landmark as Big Ben, or drunk girls falling out of Infernos. They’re just standard. The norm. But they’re utterly fearless, and whereas in the countryside they’re likely to sprint away at the first sign of a human, here they’re more likely to pull a knife on you and take your wallet. They’re everywhere. And now they’re LIVING IN MY GARDEN.

I came back from a few days away to find a family of them had dug into the plant borders around the sides of the garden and had set up camp in a the mound of earth beneath the tree. And they’d dragged a load of crap in with them: half-empty cat food tins, crisp packets, a broken plant pot (?). And, as it’s illegal to harm them with traps or poison (not that I would want to hurt them), short of shouting ‘PLEASE LEAVE’ at them through the safety of the window there’s nothing I can do. So now they join the rodents and the spiders and the stupid idiotic birds in a gang land-style territory takeover.

At least they’re keeping the cats away, I suppose. Ah yes, then there’s the cats…

Sod off

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Please help me find my attacker

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How to live with rats

1)      When you first suspect that you might have a rat problem, assure yourself that you don’t. That scrabbling sound is just the ‘house settling’ and it was probably you that ripped up that teabag last night when you were drunk.

2)      When your housemates ask, ‘Did you hear that?’ or ‘Why the Hell are there tiny bite marks in these tortillas?’ shrug and say ‘Fuck knows’ and go back to watching South Park or talking about how you’re definitely going to wash the shower curtain this weekend or whatever.

3)      That squeaking noise is probably the dishwasher.

4)      Reluctantly admit that you might have a minor vermin issue. Invite a resourceful friend over to shove some bits of wood around gaps in the kitchen, then high-five each other and drink beer because the problem is now totally sorted.

5)      Be completely indignant and dumbfounded when you continue to hear noises and find rat shit by the bread bin.

6)      Receive a text from housemate saying: ‘Melon-sized rat is in cupboard. Calling in the pros’.

7)      Call in the pros.

8)      Sit around and drink wine and lament the £200 spent on pest control but be very smug about finally having the problem sorted and ‘really we didn’t have any choice’ and ‘London, eh?’

9)      Two weeks later, hear familiar scratching noises. Rat problem or horror film opening plotline? Debate personal preference.

10)   Repeat steps 1-5

11)   Throw plates at the floor when melon-sized rat runs across your feet as you make toast.

12)   Keep all doors shut. Only enter kitchen with a broom to hand. Shout at the cupboards, ‘I’M HERE NOW, SO FUCK OFF’. Punch every unit before tentatively opening cupboard doors. Fear an avalanche of rats pouring out and eating your eyes.

13)   Throw shoes at the kitchen door as you watch TV in the lounge and hear them squeaking victoriously to one another. ‘Why won’t they just leave us alone?’ sobs one housemate uncontrollably. Scream ‘LOOK WHAT YOU’RE DOING TO US YOU RAT BASTARDS’ through the door, but don’t enter. Never enter. That room belongs to the rats now.

14)   Eventually summon the courage to make a hasty dash into the kitchen. That Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference cookie isn’t going to eat itself. Nervously push the door open, and find a family of rats sat at the kitchen table, playing cards and smoking cigars. One of them is wearing your sunglasses. As they turn to look at you, whisper ‘sorry’, before backing out of the room and closing the door.

15)   Call in the pros.

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The green, green grass of… where?

These aren't helpingThe weekend just passed marks six months of me living in London, and I still don’t know which way is up.

My initial vigour, when I first arrived, in exploring this enormous city, was quelled slightly by personal faff which unsurprisingly went awry, and means that lately I’m feeling quite a lot like I did back in January, except this time my excitement and enthusiasm for London is considerably less, and is no longer shared by my friends who have spent the last six months getting to grips with it all. They know which way is up.

But I suspect that my feelings towards London are inextricably linked to my feelings about all the other banal actualities of my life: being skint; trying to make a go of self-employment; my (ridiculous) love-life, and so on. I think I’m fickle like that. I remember living in Cardiff with huge amounts of fondness, because life was good at the time. Yet I do recall feeling claustrophobic and stifled while I was there. I remember my third year uni digs with happy nostalgia because I’ve so many good memories of the place, and yet in reality the house was a crapshack and I spent a lot of time feeling worried and scared about the future.

And yet on Saturday night I spent a long time defending Bristol – the city I essentially fled six months ago – to a man who’d been there a couple of times and didn’t think particularly highly of it. For as long as I was living there, I wasn’t that fussed on the place. Granted, it has everything you could want and is very beautiful indeed, but I was always a bit ‘meh’ about it all. And now there I was defending it ardently.

I am a rose-tinted spectacle wearer, no doubt about it. Which is why last night, as I was watching Pride and Prejudice with a room full of girls (and one of their terrified boyfriends), I had a moment where I very seriously contemplated moving back home to the ‘Shire. Everything’s so much simpler there, I thought wistfully. The air’s fresh and green space isn’t bordered by roaring traffic, and I’m not subjected to the banalities of millions of unstoppable morons on a daily basis, and men are men and don’t wear moccasins with rolled-up chinos and I can get a bottle of rosé from a pub and have change from a tenner… and all the rest of it.

Bollocks.

Yes, the air is fresh and there’s unscathed green space as far as the eye can see, but that’s why you have to drive for half an hour to get a pint of milk. And the unstoppable morons are fewer, yes, but they’re just more unstoppable. And the men are more manly, but they also can’t speak coherently and for the most part have the intellectual prowess of a potato, of which they eat a lot, hence the ruddy complexion. Mr Darcys they are most certainly not.

So, with renewed enthusiasm, let’s try it again. Come at me, London (but if you could give me a bottle of rosé with change from a tenner, that’ll help things along nicely).

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My first bomb scare

A couple of weeks ago I was working a shift in the City when news filtered through that there was a bomb threat somewhere in London.

Somewhere, and at some time. That was the info that was given by ‘the authorities’. Because of the highly vague nature of the threat, Londoners were being asked to be ‘vigilant’ and ‘aware of their surroundings’.

The very fact that people were being given this seminal advice struck me as odd. Surely, in the face of this potentially catastrophic news, people would be extra vigilant, no questions asked? Surely people in London are pretty vigilant anyway, given the city’s nature of a target for terrorism? They can’t be that apathetic, can they?

Apparently they are. Well, some of them. The people in my office either ignored the news, or lamented the likely extra commuting time, but otherwise didn’t give it a second thought.  I, meanwhile, am frantically checking the news and (typicially) mulling over the worst-case scenario and wondering why people aren’t DOING ANYTHING. This is a bomb we’re talking about! Shouldn’t we go to a bunker or something?

Well obviously not. I was, of course, being ridiculous. Talking to a friend who’s long since earned his stripes as a Londoner simply reinforced the idea that constantly worrying about that sort of thing weakens both the city and, I suspect, an individual’s mental wellbeing. That it’s not so much a case of ‘apathy’ but a kind of self-preservation.

Of course, this I already knew, but on the day it was nonetheless a bit of a shock to see people so complacent in the face of it all.

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Friends and flakes

One of the many reasons I moved to London was to be closer to my nearest and dearest, and indeed, I’m lucky in that I either live with them, or they live within a 10 minute radius of my house. Which is super. I’ve met a few new people since I’ve been down here, and I’m working on meeting more too. Excellent. But this weekend I was introduced to a concept that has left me pondering the nature of friendships: convenience. And it’s not what you think.

On Saturday night we had a housewarming party. It was brilliant. The house was suitably trashed and everyone had a really good time. Someone even graffitied ‘Rach is so hot’ onto the wall in the downstairs toilet (yeah, thanks for that). I was particularly pleased because I got to see a lot of the friends I’d left behind in Bristol, because they all bothered their arses to trek across the country to see me. I even had folk from Bournemouth, Essex and Oxford make an appearance. It was great to catch up, and I was really flattered that they’d made such an effort to come. One of them even wore a kilt. I don’t know why. It was cool, though.

Now, contrast this with some of the people my housemates invited. People who live in London – a couple of them only a few Tube stops away – who were no-shows. This, according to housemate L, is a common capital trend, also known as ‘London Flakiness’, where on the face of it, it would seem that convenience is somehow inversely proportional to likelihood of attendance.

But why? From the horse’s mouth (so to speak), housemate L, who has been living in London for a few years now, says:

“I think this flakiness thing stems from people being deluged with choices every single day. Constantly having everything on your doorstep or within an easy Tube ride makes it easy to think you have so many options to choose from, so you don’t have to make any effort.”

And I’m inclined to agree. I suppose if you feel like the world’s your oyster then you can afford to take a more blasé attitude towards exploring it. But what about your relationships with others? One of my friends, N, moved to London last summer, much to the delight of his mate S, who also lives in the city. Plans were made and much hypothesising about potential adventures took place. But how often have they seen each other? Maybe two, three times. In fact, since N moved, they’ve probably seen each other more in their hometown of Manchester than they have in London. And they’re within easy Tube distance of one another. Ditto my housemates and some of their city-based friends.

Would this be the case if we were talking about a different city? Somewhere a bit smaller and less sprawling? Or is it just the ‘London way’ of thinking? I wonder, if any of my friends moved further away how often would I see them? Or would I become the London flake, thinking ‘Ah, it’s fine. We live in the same city. Maybe next week’, and then turn my attention to the zillions of other things (‘options’, as L says) I could do instead?

I hope not.

 

 

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