What is it? Bread, of course, is always very fascinating to me. We live among so many complicated items now – WiFi! iPhones! Pore strips! Cod liver oil liquicaps! – and I don’t know how any of them work, but I can sort of see how a morass of technology has led to their invention: that the advent of electricity and microscopes and academic libraries have directly contributed to the head-spinningly rapid technological evolution that has brought us here, to now, to you reading these words on a glowing device. Fifty years ago we put essentially a go-kart on the moon, using roughly the equivalent computing power as those big calculators we all had to buy in secondary school. Now I can buy a drone and a GoPro camera and get halfway there myself with little more than about a grand’s worth of credit card debt. This is insane to me. It should be insane to you also.
Where is it? But bread never really had anything before bread. I want you to look inwards at your brain right now: you, above anyone else, know what it is capable of. Stare into the deep recesses of your mind. Turn inwards. Truly evaluate your creative capability. Now, think: you are snapped back to neolithic times. You walk past a field of wheat. Do you think your brain, as you have it now, is capable of thinking: hmm. I should take all the seeds off that and mill them between two big stones until a powder is formed. No. Exactly. Your brain judders to a stop whenever you have to do a council tax form. Your brain is made for skipping YouTube adverts and nothing else. You would have been next to useless in a time just after we invented fire. You would have been dinosaur food. I refuse to look up on Wikipedia whether that is technically possible or not.
What is there to do locally? This is the thing with bread: flour is just one deranged part of it. So you, a neanderthal, have somehow used your lizard brain intuition to pluck the seeds from some wheat strands and pounded them into flour: cool. Now you have to get a big scoop of that flour wet (where? Where can I get the flour wet? Can someone invent a bowl, please?) then knead that into a rough, shaggy dough. Now what do you do? The first person to try this would have just eaten it raw. Someone had to eat raw bread dough, go ‘not quite right… disgusting, actually… but maybe if—’, then cook it (can someone invent fire, please? Can someone invent me a grill?). How did we know yeast was just there, microscopic, floating around in the air, and if we left the wet flour dough in a bowl long enough it would bloom and rise? How did we take pounded seed powder and turn it into the most delicious item on the planet? And, crucially, how did every society on Earth also do more or less the same thing, at the same time? Someone was out there making pitta breads, and lavas bread, then bagels. Someone ancient with a brain sickness made pumpernickel. We think about how language divides us from the animals – gives us a shape to our thoughts, allows them to be communicated with others, spread like a sickness – but no animal I know ever got flour wet then hot then ate the remains. A hundred-thousand errors and decisions went into the evolution of bread. We did some fucked up things to invent that.
Alright, how much are they asking? Anyway, there is a point to all this. £1,100 pcm.
Here it is, look. Here’s your… your thing. Here’s the thing. Look:
Here’s the thing, right: yes, you are at first struck by the fact that this flat expects you to sleep in a cupboard. Like a despised orphan in a world of wizardry, you are expected to sleep in the alcove that other people might use to store their winter coats.
The special sleeping cupboard is above the bathroom, which itself bisects the entire room: as in, this would have been a serviceable bedroom once (a nice one, even! Natural light! A green view!), but then someone put a bathroom in it, then built a box around that bathroom, and on top of the box they put a mattress, and studded the box with a series of cupboard doors, so that for some reason you have three or maybe four ways of crawling into your bed-cupboard, suggesting I suppose that it was, initially, just supposed to be a cupboard, until someone put a mattress in there (a logical question: was the mattress folded in half and slid into the cupboard, or was the cupboard built especially around it?), and then it became a bed-cupboard.
The striking thing with the bed-cupboard – beyond the fact that it is there, and that it is ugly, and that you, an adult, are not only expected to sleep in it but pay £1,100 per month for the privilege – the striking thing about the bed-cupboard is this was fundamentally the least practical way of putting a bathroom and a bed into this room. This is a semi-spacious room. It could have been made, elegantly, into an en suite. It could have just about housed a toilet, and a standing-shower, and a door for privacy, and still had space in the remainder of the room for a bed to be there in a non-insane way. But that is not what has happened, here.
Hundreds of thousands of insane decisions have been made over the course of human history, and now there’s a cupboard you can sleep in in Stockwell. Somewhere along the way, we veered wrong.
This, I think, is one thing that gets neglected about landlords, as a class of vermin: obviously we hate them for the sheer transaction of having to pay for somewhere to live, beholden to their rules, not allowed to put anything up on the walls to make living there a little brighter, constantly waiting for the boiler to be fixed, and then suddenly, oh, a year has passed and somehow the rent has gone up again. We hate them, simply, for that. But we should hate them, too, for their complete anti-aesthetic, and the fact that they make large-scale decisions that we are forced to live with, and they make them with a complete absence of logic and style.
I have always wanted to go to a landlord’s house, to see how they actually live: blank walls, I imagine. Off-white, high spec finish, a joyless grey-tiled bathroom, a portrait of the Queen. A human who lived in a nice house, and enjoyed being alive, would never make the decision to put a bed above a bathroom then wedge out a section of the available floorspace with an ugly chunk of kitchen. The only person who would actively make those decisions with this room is an alien who lives ten months of the year in a Travelodge. That, or, simply, this was the cheapest way to do it. It was probably that.
Why do landlords never look at a flat like this and think, ‘Am I really trying to make someone live in here?’ Do they have any experience of actually living life in a space before they try to rent one? There is a desk next to the ladder up to the bed-cupboard that I don’t think you can actually put a chair under, unless you detach the ladder entirely and hang it somewhere else. The narrow enclave the toilet is in – wedged next to the shower – means you have to sit on the toilet with your legs tightly clasped.
There is no comfort to be had in this house: the mattress is flopped onto a hard, wooden surface; the sofa is a futon, and we all know futons are deeply uncomfortable; the only other chair is a hard wooden kitchen one, and there are two of them, along with a tiny table, which again has been added thoughtlessly (there is a deranged amount of ugly, immoveable furniture in this tiny flat: the addition of a table you will never, ever use is just yet another inconvenience left by the landlord before you – if you live here for 12 months, you will spend 12 entire months navigating around a table you will use for, and this is an optimistic estimate, about two meals).
For some reason there are curtain rods all along the length of the toilet–bed–cupboard. You see how this is a loaf of bread gone wrong? So many decisions have been made to turn this spare bedroom into one of the top 100 worst flats in London. Layers upon layers of wrong things done to what was once a fairly nice room. And for what? For £1,100 a month and shared access to a bit of gravel outside in lieu of a garden?
A pitch, and a radical one: before a landlord is allowed to rent a property in this country, they have to spend 31 continuous days living there. There are more loopholes for changing your name or buying a car or getting married than there are for landlordism, and we need to change that. Make landlords spend 31 days living in their properties – they are allowed to leave the house during the day, to synthesise the feeling of having a job, which of course they do not – but they have to sleep there every night.
Suddenly, the fact that most people I know rent a flat where not every ring of the hob actually works will no longer be a problem. Thicker windows will be installed against ambient neighbourhood noise. Ideally, the landlords will have to do this in deepest winter, to know how ineffective the thin electric radiators they install are, as well as summer, when they can learn why putting strange plastic stoppers on windows to stop us from fully opening them is a maddening and pointless frustration.
Let landlords spend 31 days in their property, and they can learn that all of their furniture is both ugly and on the verge of collapsing, and about 60 percent of it is pointless, and they can stare at a blank wall every evening from an uncomfortable sofa that smells, and they can get annoyed at how the fucking washing machine gurgles water back out into the bath.
I have had a lot of ideas in my life, and none of them have in any way been useful, apart from this one. Can someone who knows how the country works get this cooking for me, please. I genuinely think it would be good.