What is it? A white little room with a single bed in it. Perhaps one way to think about it: there is a magic collection of spare rooms you have stayed in, in your life. Your old childhood bedroom has since been turned into a spare room by your mum: OK. But the other odd rooms, too – that friend-of-your-girlfriend’s place you stayed at in Brighton, where they had a little camp bed folded down in a weird cold room behind the kitchen; that time you had to go to a funeral and sleep at your aunt’s house and, as youngest, you were given this strange small room (painted: green) (curtains: lace, around 15 layers of them) (furniture: for some reason there are about six chest-of-drawers in this room, all of them threatening to topple over, constantly, and you have to tiptoe past them to get to an old iron bed frame you’re forced to sleep on, the bed you’re not-entirely-convinced the recently deceased didn’t recently decease in); a friend of yours rents a really big house in Cardiff – for some reason? – and their housemates are away for the weekend so you and eight others cram over there for what promises to be four days of excess, but you overdo it on the Friday and have to spend two days on a futon in a room without natural light puking thinly into an IKEA bowl. Spare rooms, spare rooms, spare rooms. A thin plastic-filled duvet with a bobbly cover. A pillow as thick as a single folded newspaper. A drawer that is just filled with hundreds of soaps and conditioner bottles stolen from hotels. You are in a spare room, now: a shelf with 60 books you have never heard the titles of; a blue crocheted blanket exactly like the one your nan used to have on the sofa (is this… the same blanket? It smells… the same as nan’s blanket?); you are in the room equivalent of “the magic IMAX seat”, so you can hear every noise in the house, amplified enormously, whispers as loud as shouts. You’re in a spare room, and it’s shit, but at least it’s fine enough before you have to drive home for three hours tomorrow. Think about this, before you ever rent a place: is this room worse than every spare room you’ve ever stayed in? If the answer is “yes”, don’t rent it. The answer to this one is: “yes”.
Where is it? Listed as “Dulwich”, which obviously conjures up the magical imagery of Dulwich Village – glossy-haired people walking prams in the sun! Rich people who don’t know what money is dropping designer clothes off to the charity shop! Nice restaurants and glorious pubs! A playground that doesn’t have a single piece of graffiti or chewing gum on it! Big murals! – but actually you’re more on the Sydenham side, which is just a load of roundabouts in a row and a load of grey roads that have those little “pavement lawns” along them. You can call anything anything in property, can’t you. Sydenham can be Dulwich if you want to charge another hundred pounds a month.
What is there to do locally? I think the only thing you’re legally allowed to do in Dulwich is get caught in a conversation with a 41-year-old graphic designer who regrets having kids about the minutiae of the school run and how he can never quit his job because he’s making “shitloads” (he is yet to buy you a pint, though, despite you including him charitably on your round the last time you went to the bar, but your glass has been empty for a really long time now and you don’t really know the etiquette here: can you… buy one… just for… you? Surely he knows how rounds work. He’s 41. And yet… and yet) before he leans over to you and says, “Listen, mate… and don’t tell the wife, but… have you got any coke?” Buddy, it’s 12.30—
Alright, how much are they asking? £750 pcm. You come back from the bathroom and he’s drinking a double whiskey and texting someone really, really frantically. There is not a drink on the table for you.
Well, you know, it’s a room, isn’t it. In olden days, the form of the room dictated the function: this is a small room with a single blurred-out window, though it looks like the direct light from outside is deflected slightly by an external fence or wall, so if this was just a room in a real house— your mum just moved into that new place with Kevin, and they say you’re welcome up there whenever, but when you do go up Kevin starts doing a really stern passive-aggressive cough every time you put your feet up on the sofa or put a cup down on a surface without a coaster, and he’s always watching F1 for some reason, even on non-F1 weekends, so fundamentally it doesn’t really feel worth it, long-term – but if your mum and Kevin had this room, it’d be, like, a larder, or something. “The room with the printer in it”. Just a load of stacked up box-shelves with all your old school reports in it. A single Reebok-branded elliptical that you’ll one day be roped into – “you know computers” – selling on Facebook Marketplace. That sort of thing.
But it’s London, The Broken City, so this is actually now a bedroom, for a single person to pay £750 a month to live in. I say “single person” because the advert insists upon it – “Single Person Only” – but also because it has a single bed in it, barely, so it does make you wonder why they insist upon that. Like: did they have couples applying? “Hey, there’s two of us. We’d like to cram ourselves slender into a thin single bed then drive each other to the verge of insanity by cooking and shitting and living and sleeping in the same small room, together, in a pandemic. We really want to fight over who can plug their laptop into the only available electrical outlet until we break up.” Well, you can’t. Try somewhere else. This room’s for one.
What do you want to talk about first: that you can’t open the wardrobe because the bed is in the way, the fact that they put a fridge on a TV stand, or that the bathroom has been cleverly photographed so you can’t see that the shower and the toilet are just in the same wet room?
Personally, I’d rather focus in on the ghouls renting this one, because as the advert states, this property has “Access to communal Garden” (even the communal garden is joyless: 70 grey paving stones with no other features beyond a washing line) suggests this is just a room in someone else’s house, converted into a tiny studio so they can make an extra £750 of DSS income every month.
Does that weigh heavy on the mind, I wonder, doing such a thing? Locking someone in a room of your house and making a very tiny toilet–shower for them? Do you hear them, easing out of bed and straight over to the hot plate/oven combi, and do you feel any guilt? It’s Saturday night. You’re trying to watch Strictly. You hear them, upstairs, like a ghost, taking a shower. Their toilet pipes gurgle above you. Are you sweating, in this situation? Is the tender skin beneath your joints – your inner elbows, the pinch under your thigh – are they starting to prickle?
You turn Strictly up a little. They don’t have space for a TV and you’ve forbidden them from mounting anything on their walls, but you hear them start a YouTube video on their laptop (you insist they share your internet connection: unknowingly, they are paying for the whole thing), and your TV stream stutters and freezes. You did this to yourself, didn’t you. You had a spare room and you couldn’t stand to turn it into a big stack of boxes of things and an elliptical. You had to have the extra £750 a month so you could finance a slightly nicer car.
You hear the bed skid along the laminate floor – they need to get into the wardrobe. Are they going out? At this time? They better not wake you up, coming in. Mentally, you start drafting out the email you’re going to send them at 7AM tomorrow complaining about this. You didn’t think this through, did you? You didn’t think about the human cost (yours, obviously, not theirs). And now your life is ruined for the next 12 months and theirs is, too. Well done: you put a shower in a box room and rented it to someone desperate. The Entrepreneur of the Year awards just called. They said being a landlord isn’t a job and to try something different.