Dave Chappelle once did a routine on the gender divide. He said that a woman’s test in life is material. A woman seeks security and a comfortable living environment. Whereas a man’s test in life is a woman. If he could attract a suitable mate while living in a cardboard box, he wouldn’t buy a house. Now, whilst that makes me laugh, I don’t necessarily buy into the somewhat old fashioned sentiment. Besides the fact it generalises a tad about the fairer sex, speaking as a man(child) I can say that trying to secure even a cardboard box in London will be one of the biggest challenges a man faces.
I’ve recently undertaken that challenge.
Wanting to avoid the lottery of finding a spare room in a house with strangers who later turn out to have some kind of international arrest warrant out on them, I decided I might like to live with my fellow SCA students. There’s only a small group of us, we’re all on a similar path, they surely can’t be that mental. Thankfully a group of fellow students more proactive and resourceful than myself had had the same idea and were already trying to form a group of flat hunters. Then a once large group was whittled down to just three, an embattled platoon of troops being picked off by the hostile forces of Foxtons and Sons. The surviving combatants are myself, the Englishman, and two Freedom Fries lovers*, Nick and Jeremy.
I’ll save you a detailed description of the torturous process of finding a suitable property; perhaps a property that won’t make you nauseous, and then trying to arrange subsequent viewings with the amenable landlords of London. If you haven’t done it, let me just say: that bit sucks.
We had settled on a property that we liked. Our lettings agent, Ashley^, had poached us from another agency with the promise of a better deal. We nearly ripped his arm off. So Jeremy drove us to the agency’s office to seal the deal, and using a driving style that I can only imagine he has learnt from careering around the Arc De Triomphe during a race riot, he mounted the entirety of the pavement to park directly outside the agency’s front door. How you like me now, punk!? As soon as we walked through the door, we were rushed by some dude telling us we “couldn’t park there”. Ashley clocked us, and sprang to our defence. He assured his colleague that we could in fact park there because he was about to extract from our good selves an astronomical figure of money. We sat down ready to do business, and it seemed we were ready to sign contracts within 5 minutes.
We’ve since encountered some obstacles between then and now.
Now my first draft of this piece included a page long chronological list of the quite ridiculous difficulties we have faced.
But ultimately, could I make the reader care about the teeth grinding minutiae of securing a tenancy agreement? Even if it was peppered with moments of absurd comedy, and astonishing examples of the invisible hand of the market punching us in the face? Honestly, you probably wouldn’t care. You have your very own first world problems. So this is the heavily abridged version.
Cut to the present moment, where I write this, speaking from a position of quite enormous trepidation, tempered with a bit of optimism. The landlord has signed the contract, along with Nick and Jeremy. I couldn’t make it at the last minute, as I currently live in Hastings on the south coast of England. I have to make the 6 hour round trip tomorrow by myself to do the damn thing.
So at this juncture I am being forced to contemplate a (whisper it) potential life in London.
As I sit reading the Evening Standard, which will now doubtlessly serve as my Daily Bugle, the headline at the top of page 6 announces that “London’s £34 billion annual housing bill bigger than entire Bulgarian economy”. At second glance, I soon realise this isn’t referring to the economic performance of Uncle Bulgaria and co’s waste recycling venture**. It is referring to the actual country. Further inspection of the article reveals that for those renting like myself, “the £16.4 billion paid to private landlords alone is more than the entire output of Estonia”. My rent alone will be equivalent to the GDP of Altja, a medium sized fishing village 90km from the capital Tallinn.***
Reassuringly for Londoners worried if life in the Big Smoke is really worth having to sell your kidney on the black market, opposite on page 7 the headlines announce “I heard some stun grenades and then rat-a-tat-tat”, and another horrific incident I won’t detail. Which means you get to enjoy ISIS style theatres of war without the actual benefit of the middle eastern sunshine.
Well, this looks like it could be my life for the foreseeable future. Living, specifically, in Battersea.
I’ve never been to Battersea before this week, but I can honestly say that my only mental image was of a huge derelict power station heaving with feral cats and dogs committed to fluffy penitentiary. I’ve since discovered that Battersea Dogs Home is not the same thing as Battersea Power Station. Another (perhaps less valuable) lesson learnt on this property adventure.
I’ll be again visiting tomorrow, ready to put pen to paper and commit to this new life. Wish me luck. With the week I’ve just had, I genuinely need it.
**Shout out to anyone old enough to get this reference.
^Name changed to protect the innocent.