All images: Gumtree
What is it? The goal of course is to eradicate every embarrassing memory or thought from your brain so that all that is up there is serenity and peace, a rolling green valley filled with neat clipped grasses and moss, like the Microsoft XP default wallpaper—Where is it? —but only a blunt instrument can take your pain away from you. You come to, cold sweat hot covers, jolting and alone in the night. You pant once, twice, three times in the darkness. You remember when you were at a party and you confidently said the word “nous” out loud for the first time without really knowing how it was pronounced. You just arranged the letters in your head and figured out a rough logical runover and just went for it.
What is there to do locally? “Sorry what’s that mate?” “Hmm?” “What’s that you just said?” “What, ‘nous’? It’s sort of a— err. A sort of soft-edged, pliable form of intellect, I suppose.” “Yeah no I know what it means. I mean: say it again” “Nous.” People are laughing now, more than one. You’re hot. You’ve gone hot. You know this about yourself when you go hot: it is going to be minutes, maybe 25 full minutes, stood in the garden smoking and shivering, until you unbecome hot. You have not grown hot, you have become, very rapidly, hot. Pray it hasn’t flushed to your face. “Ro, ro, you’ve got to see this: this cunt’s saying nous like it’s a French derivative. It’s from the Greek, you stupid fuck!”What is there to do locally? You sit up alone in bed, the darkness fizzing around you—What is there to do locally? “It’s from the Greek, you stupid fuck!”What is there to do locally? You don’t remember falling back asleep but you creep awake within the bruise-blue early hours of the morning.Alright, how much are they asking? £800 PCM.We’re in Oxford, this week, which is a strange little un-place to me. I went there once years ago, and have a curious absence of memory about it: I have no sense of time, or place, or where I slept or what I did, as if I entered a strange forgettable dream and only really started taking senses of myself again once I was on the Oxford Tube back to Victoria. Does Oxford even exist, does anyone know? Or is it one of those collective hallucinations we all just let wash over us, like Stephen Mulhern being considered charming enough to be famous? Why do— really quickly, without looking, what’s the boat race about? Is Oxford real?
I am sure hundreds of 33-year-olds who went to Oxford will get in touch to let me know that yes, Oxford is real, and they know because they went there. I remember working full-time at VICE and this happening often. “Oh, Oxford? Did someone over here say ‘Oxford’?”. Just all the time, just constant. Some guy from sales who nobody has ever met has come all the way down two flights of stairs to say this. It’s like he sensed the word through brick. “I just thought I heard someone say ‘Oxford’. It’s just I went there— yuh, you did too? Yah yah yah. What college? Maggy? I was in Trin!” Anyway, this room is where he slept when he studied there. The thing about this studio – which the listing has very generously described as a “Detached 130sqft small studio annex” – is it has unlocked a number of deep, well-buried memories within me: the claustrophobic brick-effect wallpaper, the all-green kitchen set, the green spoons and green mugs. We have all made aesthetic mistakes in our lives: outfits, haircuts, tattoos. I think they are often attached to the first freedoms you ever have: the first time you have enough money to buy your own clothes instead of having to go shopping with your parents, the first time you can choose your own haircut without needing to adhere to school rules about cutting and colouring, those first few thrilling years of adulthood where you have ‘a friend who draws’ and £80 and decide to make a mistake that will haunt your upper thigh for the rest of your natural life.
Broadly, our generation has not been able to make interior design mistakes because we have not been able to make interior design choices: very few of us have ever been allowed to paint a bedroom, for instance. But when you do see the few that grasp one clawed toe onto the ladder and immediately start a separate Instagram page for their home renovation, you do often see some very brave interior design decisions being made, simply because this is the first time they’ve been able to make them in their life. A dusky pink ceiling next to a petrol green bedroom wall is the ‘two nose piercings in one day’ of buying a starter home.
The first and last time I made an aesthetic interior design decision on my own was during that hallowed passing-of-the-baton pre-university trip to IKEA everyone seems to go on with their mum. You did this, right? You went to IKEA with your mum and bought like, plates and a pan and a really ill-advised rug, and she got oddly emotional at the tills while every other 17-year-old in the area also queued up to pay, full-sized ironing boards (“You will definitely need this”) jutting out of their carts, strings of fairy lights, CD towers? You experienced this, yes? You heard the sentence “The Times says you can cook anything in a wok” many hundreds of times that day, right? This is why you spent first-year heating supermarket-brand baked beans up in an unsealed wok, isn’t it? Because of this day.
Anyway: everything I bought was lime green. Plates, mugs, cutlery. Full-sized ironing board. Rug. Wastebasket. Shower caddy. Lime green, lime green, lime green. The goal of course is to eradicate every embarrassing memory or thought from your brain so that all that is up there is serenity and peace—I cannot imagine living in this room. We should of course confront the brick-effect wallpaper, because it is confronting us right back: it is very, very oppressive a pattern to have repeated over and over in such a small space. There’s no wardrobe, just a single bed, so the only clothes you can viably store in this property is ‘enough to fill the two drawers under your bed and nothing else’. The space for sleeping in the property (in houses and flats with separate spaces divided by doors, this is known as a ‘bedroom’) is just in the exact same space as the tiny kitchenettes, which is also brick effect, but also green. No washing machine, don’t be stupid. And a note about the door, too: recently I climbed up and down a double-decker bus with a backpack on and two tote bags, and it was a fairly inelegant and quite difficult operation, bumping into guard rails, crunching things in my bags as I rotated through a slender space, making strange noises, everyone looking at me, perceiving me. This is what happens every time you walk through the front door to this flat, without fail. If you want to use your body to carry a bag through this door and into the kitchen, you’re in for a bad time.The tiny flat with a two-hob heating element in a kitchenette and a tiny bathroom and a bed in the same room as literally everything and no wardrobe and also the bed is a single bed costs £800, which is a wild amount to pay per month for this (despite the fact the bills are included), and is in Oxford, which doesn’t even exist. There have been a lot of reports of ‘the rental market going crazy’ right now – a perfect storm of a cost-of-living crunch affecting mortgages but never house prices, the housing legacy of COVID, the eternal ghoulishness of landlords and estate agents and the bizarre fact that for some reason investment properties are a protected class – and I think an £800 kitchenette in Oxford is fairly good evidence for that. Hold off making a Pinterest board of cute ideas for when you have the opportunity to paint your first bedroom. You may be waiting a long, long, long long while.@joelgolby