What is living in London like? Hell. Here’s proof, beyond all doubt, that renting in London is a nightmare.

What is it? I, like you, have been excited to find out what new development slum landlords will spring upon us – the unsuspecting shelter-requiring public – in this, the hell year 2021, that will make things worse than 2020, or 2019, or basically every year between 1997 and now. What new development will they crowbar into our flats to make them smaller, more compact and worse, in an effort to slim those flats down even further, so the available necessary space for one human to occupy becomes smaller and smaller and smaller, ever smaller, until they can take the flats we occupy (already small) and split them into two half-flats (smaller still), with a hastily erected plasterboard wall and an insanely-designed hallway corridor in between them, and rent those two half-flats out to two unsuspecting cunts (us) and charge the same as one flat’s rent for each half-flat, maximising profit ever more, on and on and on forever, until we are all bled dry like lizards and die, penniless, on sun-scorched stones. And I am happy to announce that I have found it. I have found the thing that will make all our lives worse.
Where is it? It’s near Notting Hill Gate tube station, which will mean something to you only if you frequently go to the west side of central London (i.e. you’re one of those people who goes to town to go to Harrods rather than the Big Primark: you and I are therefore ideological opposites, and cannot possibly have a thing in common) or, more realistically, you’ve queued outside it for the last train back after an absolutely thumping British Summer Time performance in Hyde Park, possibly by Robbie, but also possibly by The Strokes.
What is there to do locally? Someone got mad at me the other day for not having a comprehensive local knowledge of every single area in London to answer this frankly time-wasting bit of this column, suggesting I “Google Maps it” and “zoom in and see”, and what I can see from Google Maps in this area is: a Pret, a McDonald’s and a Leyland DIY store. This is all London is, by the way. Every time people in London talk about how great and vibrant London is, that is what they are really talking about: a street with a Pret on it, a McDonald’s nearby, and then a Leyland DIY store. “Sometimes IKEA do a pop-up event in Shoreditch!” we breathlessly tell our northern friends, who own homes and shiny cars and don’t have panic attacks when they go to the cashpoint. “Like once every 18 months or so! They did one where there were beds in a nightclub, aha!” Our northern friends quietly pause the full package Sky TV they have on their beautiful OLED television (all the sports; all the movies; crisp, crisp, astonishingly crisp 4K). “So it’s a bed in a nightclub?” they say. “Is that fun?” You don’t know, you say. It was a sort of ticket-only thing and you missed the drop. But you saw the queue. “I walked past the queue.” A nod. “And then the rest of the time it’s just Pret, McDonald’s and a Leyland DIY store?” they ask. Yeah, pretty much. “Hmm,” they say. “Pints up here cost ten pence—”
Alright, how much are they asking? £370 per week, which I make out to be £1,550 pcm.

Beds are interesting, politically, aren’t they. When you’re a kid, you just sleep in a single bed (sometimes levitated over a desk, the bed; sometimes in a bunk arrangement, for example if you are a twin, or on a really shit British seaside holiday where you and your entire family rent out a small, grim, grey concrete “chalet”, and you have to share a room with your cousin who is eight entire years younger than you and smells sweetly of piss), and then somewhere around young adulthood you graduate to a double in a way you can never go back from (I would put this somewhere around 19: once you hit 19, it’s close to impossible to sleep in a single bed again), and then once you’re in a double there’s no turning back from there: as you increment through adulthood (and your salary keeps going ever up, supposedly) the bed beneath you becomes bigger, more sumptuous – a Queen, then a King, with a memory foam mattress protector stretched taut across it – and, barring a wobble in your twenties (your twenties are a time when you can sleep in a bed where there’s no pillowcase on the pillow and there’s, like, 80 percent of a full takeaway sweating in a bag next to you) (or: your twenties are a time when you can sleep on a sofa at a party while the party is actually going on, and you wake up covered in cigarette ash or some girl who has sat on the end of the sofa to charge her phone and has just decided that, essentially, you are no longer a human but a cushion she is mad at) (or: in your twenties when you stay out too late and your mate offers you to stay over you can, feasibly, sleep on two firm sofa cushions sprawled out over a linoleum floor, with a single sheet stretched over you as a rudimentary “duvet”; once you hit the age of 28 you can no longer do these things), your bed trajectory is on a fixed path upwards.

I think what I am trying to say is our idea of “bed” is fixed fairly firmly quite early into adulthood, and we rebel against any new ideas beyond “a bed”, and struggle, truly, to find comfort without it. One Day You Turn 19 And Sleep In A Mattress Bigger Than Your Body And Life Is Never Really The Same Again. Apart from, of course, if you are a human being beholden to a landlord, because:

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What you are looking at here is – and it took me a while to figure out, too – a bed that, due to a special mechanism hidden from view, gently lowers down onto the sofa beneath it every night for you to sleep on, and then, in the morning, rises up and stirs quietly next to the ceiling. Your bed, in this flat, is not just an afterthought (much like the kitchen, which is hidden in a wardrobe), but it’s actively treated like an inconvenience: it’s as if the bed huffs at you every evening, a questioning look of “what, again?” then slumps its way down to almost the floor.

A lot of the time when I argue that landlords are, say, pulseless monsters whose heads should decorate the streets beneath my bloody boots, I get “flack” for “that”. But I would like to say that whoever thinks a bed on a pulley system is an artful and humane way of delivering nightly comfort to someone paying fifteen-hundred pounds a month in rent should be shot to death on live television.

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Anyway, the rest of the flat: it’s shit. This isn’t, per se, a flat, more a front room – and a small front room – that someone has crammed all the just-about necessary facets of human life into to make it something rentable: the bed, as we’ve discussed, a looming afterthought; the kitchenette, hidden in an ugly cupboard unit, a shameful secret; the shower room just off to one side, more a repurposed cupboard than anything, curiously gloomy and wet; and then, angled against the wall in a way that is bizarrely ominous, a fire extinguisher, for when this flat inevitably goes up in flames.

What, exactly, are you meant to do in this flat? Sit underneath your bed and watch the TV pinned to the wall at an off angle, occasionally moving a yard in front of you to use the kitchen, or three yards to the right of you to piss and shit? And you are paying £1,500+ a month to do this, because of the dazzling central London location that nobody is legally allowed to make any use of right now, because it’s a pandemic? Does the person who owns this property truly believe a person who might rent it – i.e. has £1,500 of disposable income available each month but, bizarrely, has a “living in prison” kink they need to have met – will live in this for a year? Are… are landlords OK? 

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Anyway, I am probably part of the problem now, aren’t I. I am convinced landlords read this column to get ideas from other, more evil landlords, on how to be more evil in their landlordry. Here they all are, look, gazing at a bed that lowers down from the ceiling and going, ‘I hadn’t even thought of that!’ Going on their little landlord forums. Going to their little landlord supply shops. “Yeah, have you got the bed on a cantilever? I treat my renters like scum, but not enough like scum. I’d like to change that”.

By making HoverBed mainstream, I am, unwittingly, inspiring future purchases and installations of HoverBeds, condemning more of you to one day sleep in them. Am I, personally, the worst thing to ever happen to the London rental market? No, that’s still Blair. But it’s possible I am the second-worst. And for that, I can only apologise.

@joelgolby



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