What is it? “Don’t you get bored, Joel?” they ask me, the hordes, the beloving hordes, when they see me in public and gather to my feet, to sit cross-legged and receive of my wisdom. “With the flats, with the London Rental Opportunities? Do you not get bored, do you not tire of them? All these flats, all these just-white walls and knotty-wood wardrobes and little kitchens and grey laminate and cramped bathrooms, all cramped in the exact same way. Do you not bore of these? Do you not grow tired and weary?”
And I say to them: Hush, sweet summer child or children. There is always innovation to be found. If you look at something long enough, close enough, you can see the granular variations that the lay person— I gesture to them, and they nod in acceptance — that the lay moron cannot. And by that I mean: this flat in Bristol is designed so you can’t actually put the bed down in it.
And they say: “What?” They say this, in a disbelieving tone: “What?!”
And I say: Yea, for it is so. You can’t put the bed down, like horizontally down, in this flat. That’s why the bed is upright in the pictures. Because there is no configuration where it can go… down.
And they say, “No,” and, “That can’t be”, and, “But surely if they – ”
No I know what you are about to say. No. It can’t go lengthways along the window because it won’t fit, and even if it did fit there wouldn’t be any way of opening the fridge without flipping the entire bed up in the air again.
And they look at the pictures anew and puzzle over them. “Surely if the –”
Nay, I say, and nay again. If you put it widthways along the wall you have to accommodate for the space heater. There is like a six, maybe seven inch gap between the bed and the — well, I don’t want to say ‘kitchen’, but. ‘Kitchenette’. You basically have to sit on the edge of your bed to heat up beans.
“But surely there is – I mean if they turn it around there must be – ”
There is no more space in here, child. This photo is all the space in the flat. Behind it is a strangely angled door that leads to the bathroom, which shuts off all possible configurations for the bed to go in. Fuck alone knows where you’re meant to put that chest of drawers. The fact of the matter is this: there is no way you can take that mattress from vertical to horizontal and have space to access your kitchen, and it is not a fold-down bed. So you have to choose one or the other.
Alright, how much are they asking? “How much is it, again?” they cry. “Surely, this being one of the most impractical rooms ever rendered, it is some bargain price— £20 a month, maybe, £30 a month?”
It is £700 a month.
Where is it? “Then surely it must be in central London,” they weep. “Surely it must be in Buckingham Palace it’s very self, for that much money, for that unusable a room?”
I just shake my head with a smug chuckle. Nay, child, I say. I put a single heavy hand on their shoulder to prepare them for this news: when they hear it, they are not going to like it. Nay. The £700 room where you can’t put your bed down is in Bristol.
“As in – Bristol? Sorry: Bristol?”
“It can’t be Bristol.”
Check the postcode.
They pull up Apple Maps (?) on their phone and type in ‘BS14’.
I did say.
“That’s fucking – that’s Bristol.”
“And not even particularly central Bristol.”
No it’s definitely on the outskirts. Like it is a one hour twenty walk to the city centre.
“And even then you’re only—”
— only in Bristol, yes.
I have to float above it, all this. The mess beneath. Every week I have to sift through dozens of flats on offer in Britain right now, today, and decide which is the notably worst one to write a column about. And there is always a choice of more than one. I suppose what’s worse is the hundreds of flats I’ve looked at and gone, No, it isn’t bad enough. The ones that are a single barely-lit room with a soiled single mattress in it and a washing machine taking up half of the bathroom, but because it isn’t exactly notably flawed enough it doesn’t make it through to the write-up.
The beautiful red-brick houses that have been segmented into a pitiful little HMO half-flats with new grey carpets and new white walls and a load of visible fire blankets: not bad enough. There needs to be a hook, there needs to be a unique fault. There needs to be a mattress and half a bed frame arranged vertically in the kitchen. That’s what gets the spotlight. What doesn’t get the spotlight is the dirge, the dross, the flotsam: the endless river of unliveable properties that aren’t unliveable enough. We are never going to evolve away from the human need to live with a roof over us. That is never going to go out of vogue. It is insane that such a vast number of roofs available to live beneath in the UK are so sub-par as to be a flimsy sort of normal.
I mean thinking about it – and I consider myself a man of impeccable taste – I’ve lived in about, what, three properties that were actually liveable and nice in my entire career in renting? One place was a nice front room and then this weird jutting angular hallway that swerved into a kitchen and went up a steep step into the bathroom, and the landlords lived above us and went mental when the recycling was “done wrong”.
That place with the terrible sofas and the one really small bedroom that we had to flip a coin over (I have won one coin toss in my entire renting career and participated in dozens) and that I considered a fairly good flat, sort of, even if a lot of the floor space was actually just in that weird alcove we couldn’t really use for anything. The flat with the screaming family downstairs who never fixed anything for ten years then evicted us, did the remodelling, and tried to sell the place for close to two million (making the flat nice is not necessary for the people living in it, it is only necessary for the people who might one day live in it).
Providing a place for people to live is a fairly necessary function of society and we are failing and failing and failing and nobody is holding the people failing us accountable at all. Every renter is simply told to “work harder” and buy their way out of the system when the system is clearly failing. Like I hate to be all, “can we not do a law about it? A little law, maybe? Lovely little law?”, because it’s not like the legal system is a perfect solution to basically anything, but it would be a start, wouldn’t it.
Like literally, how is it legal to offer a flat this small and this impractical with a wild west of a self-governed rental price policy? Why is this… allowed? Why is anyone on earth allowed to make a flat this small and useless, and then rent it? In Bristol? For £700? It’s a failure of society! It’s a failure of society!
You are still cross-legged at my feet even though you are getting a bit cramped, now. “Yeah but like, it’s just… it’s just the thing, isn’t it?” you say, and yes, yes. It’s just the thing. It’s just: it is just the world. This is the world we made, and we made it in a way where mattresses stand upright in kitchens, and if the tenant wants it flat on the floor then that’s their problem. But is there anything wrong in saying: “This is bad”? I know it doesn’t change anything, but let’s all say it. Come on, just shape the words out with your mouth. Look at the Bristol mattress kitchen. This is bad. This is bad. This is bad. I know it doesn’t help, but it soothes me to say it. This is bad this is bad this is bad.