What is it? I wonder, does London have any allure anymore? I always used to dream of London, as a kid: I was born in London and heard fantastical stories about what a shimmering, sprawling, intricate city full of life it was, and I craved to crawl back towards it. This, I thought, was the city where you made friends with people who went on to do wonderful things.
This is where you stood at the bottom of huge buildings and stared up to the distant point where they touched the sky. Glimmering lights blinking against the dark of the night. Hundreds of years of history, thousands of years of history, millions of years of history. This is where plagues and fires and wars broke out. This is where the movie premieres happen and where the billionaires arrive in helicopters. This is where they had Five Guys way before the rest of the country had Five Guys. This is where they had The Libertines way before the rest of the country had The Libertines. Models grace the streets and sports cars purr through traffic.
I grew up with a primal lust for a city where crucial bus services would run more than once every 25 minutes and I found it, here, the same place that poets and sea captains and kings all lived and fucked and died. The Victorians dug an intricate system of tunnels beneath this city and ran trains through them less than 60 years after trains were even invented. Now you go to London and you’re like: Yeah it’s quite busy and if you use an online queuing system and book 14 months in advance then maybe you can see that Harry Potter play they put on.
There are no public toilets and no good restaurants that actually take walk-ins and the only thing to do during the day is go on a graffiti tour so you basically end up housing a Pret baguette while standing in the same glam theatregoing outfit you came down on the train in, waiting for doors to open, waiting for the crowds to stop. Everybody is rude and no one wants to talk to you. All the pubs are the same chain ones you have back home just violently, violently more expensive. What is the allure of this place? Is there any? I am starting to genuinely think the coolest thing about London is Westfield. That’s not even a joke! I don’t even think I’m joking anymore! Have you walked down Oxford Street recently! It’s the least cool place on the planet!
Where is it? Oh, right, I’m writing one of these. Uh – Plumstead.
What is there to do locally? Looking at the map and doing some cursory research and I genuinely think the only thing to do in Plumstead is “go to Plumstead Common”. Is Plumstead Common a particularly revelatory or beautiful park? It is not. It is some trees and a path.
You know how some parks in London have an irresistible picnic-blanket-and-a-bag-of-tinnies-,-guys-lets-all-meet-here-for-my-birthday-! type energy? London Fields is a particularly good example: London Fields pulses with something primal and beneath the soil that just makes it particularly satisfying to sit on some dry grass and say, “What’s this we’re drinking mate? What’s this we’re –? Oh it is just Hells. Yeah no it’s nice” to someone’s mate’s doomed boyfriend who cares about beer and you’ve already heard from three different sources is getting broken up with the week after they get back from Paris. Other parks have “put up a marquee early in the morning” energy, or “play football on them” energy, or “Park Run” energy, or “BBQ” energy.
Plumstead Common is giving me a powerful read: “Your dog refuses to go there and pulls very hard on the lead when you try and walk them there because it senses something is dreadfully, dreadfully wrong about the place. The last time someone threw a frisbee here was 2007”. Beyond that Plumstead has: a Tesco Express.
Alright, how much are they asking? £960 PCM.
This week we have: a room. We almost always have a room – flats are made up of them, small flats are made up of fewer, and the really shitty end of the market often involves one, just sub-divided into zones – but this one really is, just, a room. I mean, look. Have you ever seen a more room room in your life?
So this is the room, then. You walk in through the door next to the kitchen – the kitchen is made up of only the two most essential kitchen integrals, “a sink” and “a fridge”, so you have all the tools to make food wet and cold but you do not have a single tool to make it hot – and past the door that’s been built out to accommodate the bathroom. And then you enter: The Room. And then you are almost immediately done with The Room, and you walk straight out of it again, through another door. At least 30 percent of this room is just doors, doorways, and that little quarter-circle radius of space you have to have to accommodate a door opening. The rest is that sink we were talking about, a little bit of fridge, and room. That’s it.
We like simple stuff, don’t we folks. We all got into sourdough and Dakota Johnson’s tasteful mid-century home. But I think we can also agree that simplicity does have a limit, and this space in Plumstead is perhaps an inch or two too simple. There is no washing machine, for instance. There is of course no oven, no hob, no microwave. I suppose you could heat up a pack of microwave rice by running the shower over it for a really long time, but that in itself is fairly unideal.
If you were to add the very basic accoutrements of human life and self-entertainment in the modern world – a bed and a TV, for instance – suddenly you will find you have run out of room in The Room. The worst possible thing you could do to this room is put a bed in it. At that point, The Room is no longer a room, it’s a shell that enhouses a bed. Calling it a “bedroom” seems like a slur on other, actual, functional bedrooms where you don’t have to step sideways around the very edge of the bed in the room to get anywhere or do anything, so it wouldn’t really work to describe what would be happening here. Put a bed in this Room and it becomes something other: not a Room, not a bedroom, but a third, much darker thing.
What else is going on? The bathroom is in complete darkness and you have to do everything in there with the light on – not a huge inconvenience, and not the worst thing about it, but I think there is something troubling about how many bathrooms in London are built so centrally in a space that natural light can never reach them, even through a fogged window. I am fairly sure none of the inputs for you to run a TV aerial or a WiFi router are actually available in this place, and there’s only about one and a half places to plug in anything electrical. There is no visible source of heating the room, so that’s something you have to figure out, too.
And, for some reason, it’s the sink in the bathroom that particularly troubles me: I am used to seeing small sinks on my travels, I am used to the concept that landlords buy and install these particular small sinks in their deliberately small bathrooms, and that there is a booming and healthy market for small sinks in the UK as a result. But this sink is really small, you know? Not only is it small, it slopes in on itself, becoming even smaller, even less useful. If you filled that sink to the brim I think the resulting water volume would be less than it takes to fill a standard British non-Sports Direct mug. Why are the rental class being denied access to normal sinks? What do landlords think we are doing with sinks that they do not like? Why do I have to wash my hands one at a time?
“We proudly present to you this spacious studio flat available to rent in Greenwich,” the advert reads, because words don’t mean anything anymore. If enough people use the same word incorrectly enough times then the anchors between the signifier and the sign start to fray and wobble and dismount, and you can change anything to mean anything by being wrong about it enough. This is what estate agents are doing with the word “spacious”.
“The flat is a nice neat tidy space for anybody looking for their own space to make a home.” The advert is preoccupied with tidiness because there is no other way to exist in this space – there is no storage, there is no space for storage, the ideal tenant will have a Mark Zuckerberg-esque repeating wardrobe of three trousers and five t-shirts that they keep folded neatly up in a kitchen cupboard.
“The property consists of a lovely clean kitchen area, a bedsit-type bedroom, and a tidy bathroom/shower room. Local amenities include local restaurants and convenience stores within walking distance.” The bathroom is tidy because nothing in it. The kitchen is clean because nobody has ever lived here. There is no place in London – or within about 150 miles of London – that doesn’t have local restaurants and convenience stores within walking distance.
Nothing is special in here. £960 a month, remember, in Plumstead, remember, to figure out how to warm yourself and your food up within the cold white embers of an ever-dying city. Turn back. London isn’t worth it. This is not a place of honour. Nothing of value is here. We killed all of this city’s allure and put up a neon-lit crazy golf venue in its place.