Rental Opportunity of the Week: Would You Pay £850 to Sleep By an Oven?

It's not just any oven. It's an oven in Slough.
A studio flat in Slough with a bed next to a kitchen
Photo: Gumtree
What is living in London like? Hell. Here’s proof, beyond all doubt, that renting in London is a nightmare.

What is it? Back in about 2016 or so, the first ever installment of this column – the pilot, if you will – was baffled and dismayed by the offer of a “bed in a kitchen”. The bed in the kitchen in question was actually part of a houseshare, so what happened was the three other people in the property decided they either couldn’t or didn’t want to pay the full amount of rent on a three-way split, and the best way around that was to get someone sleeping in a bed in the shared kitchen, to help defray the costs. I don’t remember exactly what I said at the time but the gist of it was like, “this is bad”, such as that, maybe “don’t rent here, in someone else’s kitchen”.


Where is it? A lot of critics might ask me why I intuitively knew that the collective flatmates in this instance had decided to rent out the kitchen and it wasn’t an insistence from the landlord and the reality is: In the first place I stayed in in London, after a mid-year rent hike, we all sat in the kitchen and discussed whether we “really needed” to have a living room and, based on the size of the living room, how much we could feasibly charge for the living room should we convince someone to sleep in our living room, which one of our flatmates assured us he knew, “loads of mates” who would “definitely think about it”—

What is there to do locally? Before the gun is turned on myself: We did not end up renting out the living room. But the motivation for having the discussion was: This unexplained and unexpected rent hike was beyond what we were all comfortable paying based on what we were earning, and no palpable changes to the property had been made. It simply cost more to live there on Monday for absolutely no reason at all, and we were all poor already. You might have noticed this happening to you every single year you’ve ever been alive— 

Alright, how much are they asking? But I suppose the moral of this story is simply this: Years ago, in those head-spinning column starting days when I still had a salary and once every Friday I was allowed one small can of beer from the shared fridge, we looked at a bed in a kitchen as something odd, freakish, worthy of contempt, special in its awfulness. Or, even: an inelegant but necessary evil in the face of blatant and government-protected landlordism (has your rent gone up since COVID started? Yeah, yeah, exactly. And your salary has th— it’s not? No, yeah. And how about— cost of literally everything else you buy? OK. Hmm that doesn’t sound right. We’ll definitely look into that).


And now it’s 2022 and we are in Slough (“Yeah so yeah so. Yeah. So you know when you get sunburn? Really bad sunburn. Exactly right. And it all blisters up but the blisters are in a really clear, sort of translucent liquid-filled pustule on your shoulder neck and back? Yeah and then the first day of the sunburn you’re hot, and the second you sting but you’re dry and cracked, and then the sunburn itself starts to pulse, to move around the body, to partly heal and go liquid. Yeah yeah yeah. And then the blisters pop. Right, slowly, right? Horribly? Right and then but the liquid doesn’t go anywhere exactly, it just gets incorporated into the burn. Yep. Yeah yep exactly. And when that burn starts to move wholesale off the body – in one big smooth go, like a raclette – yeah exactly, yeah it all comes off in one big wet skin tag. Yeah. Let’s name our town after the verb of that”).

We’re in Slough and it costs £850 a month to sleep in a kitchen and that’s now not just normal but long normal, that is very normal. Oh well! I’m sure the stable government in charge of our country are working on sorting it out. 

Anyway, here’s your bed in the kitchen (or, perhaps we should evolve the term “bed in the kitchen” – this isn’t a serviceable kitchen that happens to have a bed wedged into it, so that if you took the bed out of it, someone wouldn’t say, “Yes, this looks like a kitchen to me”. They’d say, “Why’s there an oven and a microwave in this small narrow storage room?”. Descriptively, “bed in a kitchen” is wrong, then – this is more just a room that has a lot of things in it, one of them being a bed that fits the entire width of the building) for this week: 

A studio flat in Slough showing the kitchen next to a bed

If I had to have a bed in my kitchen, I’ve often thought, I think I’d prefer not to have it directly next to an appliance. If I had to, you know? I could maybe deal with a bed shoved up against the cool back of a kitchen island, for instance, or nestled at the end of a row of low cupboards. I wouldn’t like my bed to be next to a fridge, because a fridge makes that low hum all night, and I wouldn’t like it next to a washing machine, either (I sometimes run laundry at night – it’s a practical way of staying on top of the constant flood of it! – and having a bed next to a machine that pounds and judders around for two hours of an evening isn’t really practical for me).

It’s not even about sleep, in this house: If you put a load of washing on while you do anything in that room, you’re going to be disturbed by the immediacy of the spin cycle. Do you think you can sit cross-legged on your bed and focus on a Zoom call or an e-mail while that’s going on in the background? That you could listen to the radio or catch up on some TV? You could not)). So appliance-wise, I don’t want my bed next to one. I definitely don’t want my bed directly next to an oven?????????

Is that a fire risk? I know that’s a boring question to ask, but it really does feel like a fire risk. Beds catch on fire if you fall asleep smoking in them, or if a charger cord is left on them wrong – if not a fire risk, then I do feel turning over in the middle of the night and touching the still-warm side of the oven then there’s a burn risk, there (again: I know this is boring).


That’s before we even factor in the very baffling fact that you are able to operate the oven while being in bed. We have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years to become the humans we have become, even before we developed society, even before we developed all of this shit, and throughout that process there are some leftover sediments of weirdness hard-coded into our animal brains that makes it, for instance, “a bit of a weird feeling to eat a Müller corner with a tablespoon”. I cannot imagine how hard that fight-or-flight fragment goes when you kneel up on your duvet and slowly stir a pan of beans roiling on the hob. When the beans are done? Simply lean back in bed and eat them there, because it’s the only place you can possibly sit down in this property. 

A studio flat in Slough showing the kitchen

Is the rest of the flat nice at least? No! There is no fridge, so my immediate fear about sleeping next to one is resolved: phew. There’s also no wardrobe: There’s only actually one cupboard that isn’t the awkward one underneath the sink, so maybe you could fold t-shirts in one side of it and have peanut butter and dried spices &c. in another one. The bathroom – directly next to the kitchen, because everyone famously likes food prepared in a room that is constantly exposed to toilet miasma – is a tiny space where the toilet butts right up against the shower cubicle and the sink has been wedged in on top of it all.

A studio flat in Slough showing the tiny bathroom

Essentially, I cannot think of where you can put your legs while sitting on the toilet in there, unless acrobatically above your head (The most boring guy you’ve ever met in your life will one day tell you this is “actually the most scientifically graceful way of taking a shit”). And then of course it’s all cleanly finished with that horrible soul-sucking grey-and-marble-effect-and-grey-laminate-effect “newly refurbished” aesthetic unstyle that buy-to-let landlords have been ruining this country’s scant supply of housing stock with for years now.

If this “room with a bed and an oven in it” was listed in the most central part of central London – I do not understand why anyone would want to live in central London, personally, but property prices there do sort of suggest that the closer your building is to M&M World, the more value it has, for some reason? – I could maybe just about argue that positionally it is worth the money it is on offer for, (£850 p.c.m.), just. And even then: just.

But this studio flat is both in Slough and not even near Slough station: It is a 15-minute walk to the place that will allow you to leave Slough. Who is this for? Who are the business minds who hope to capitalise on this property? How long will it take for them to find someone who wants to pay £850 a month to sleep with their head next to an oven? Doesn’t it seem weird that I am the only person who is ever asking that question?