What is it? You have a choice of answers here: it's either a simple laminate-and-kitchenette studio flat in south-west London (1), or a bubbling argument about manners wrapped up intrinsically with class (2), or it's just a tiny little room furnished neatly and pathologically with a bed without pillows (3). Actually, it's possibly all of them (4).
Where is it? In South Kensington. A semi-interesting anthropological observation: ten years ago, when describing South Kensington and other posh-adjacent well-monied west London enclaves, you would always adopt an Ab Fab voice and say, "South Kensington, darling." But with the Made in Chelseafication of the west, and the subsequent invention of the Instagram Aspirational Heir, the linguistics we associate with the click-their-fingers-at-waiters elite has changed. We now take on a "nodding at the ski instructor" voice and say, "South Kenny, bro." And it is all Spencer Matthews' fault. In this essay I will—
What is there to do locally? I don't know. The only times I ever head west are to go pick through their charity shops and then eat a full meal at the big Whole Foods they have there. I am a cretin, a troll, a goblin to those people. They have shiny hair and gilet collections and "a driver". I'm not entirely certain that it's actually legal for me to enter that area of London. I figure it's a bit like when you walk out of a shop with a security tag on an item, and a siren goes off and a guard ambles over and asks you what you're doing, only the security tag is "my bank balance", beamed to sensors from the app on my phone, and every time I walk down a stress in west London everyone near me gets a text message telling them I'm poor. Is that paranoid? Reading it back it seems paranoid.
Alright, how much are they asking? About £1,200 a month.
Let's get the actual room tour out of the way and then we can get down to the meat of it: is this the worst room ever seen in this column? It is not. It is, in fact, as "studio apartments" go, fine enough in the loosest sense of the term: clean enough, light enough, the furniture in it seems stable enough (a lot of the cheapest rooms in London also have the cheapest furniture in London, so you are paying like £800 a month to use a wardrobe where one side of it is creaking off and you have to hold it together with a gummed up old piece of sellotape, and when you ask the landlord if they can: i. replace it, or ii. you can throw it out and replace it with your own furniture, they simply say: no) (I once discovered the wardrobe in my bedroom was fundamentally supported by a large wad of Blu-Tack®).
It is not an ideal space to live in, but it has the vague stuff you need: a bed, a sofa, a gap between the bed and the sofa, the bed is not crammed up on a mezzanine shelf next to the ceiling, the sofa and the bed are not the same item of furniture. When the bar is on the ground it is not difficult to leap over it. Would I pay £1,200 a month to live here? I would not. Do I think £1,200 a month is a fair deal to live here? Fundamentally, no. But on the basis of every single studio apartment we have seen via this column, and the idealised movie version of a studio apartment (a storm hammers against your towering New York studio apartment windows and you, in pants and a T-shirt with your feet tucked beneath you reading a book on a leather sofa, the cavernous room behind you segmented by trendy glass-and-steel shelves, you huddle up away from it. You gaze out at the rain, and Feel Things), then this studio is closer to an actual studio than the fucking hovels we've seen before. It’s not Good, but it's not Fundamentally The Worst, and so it gets exactly one point for trying.
A review of the furniture and facilities therein: the kitchenette is neatly disguised in a cabinet-cum-wardrobe, a new trend I am noticing for 2020, where the tiny size of your kitchen (miniature sink, two-hob no oven, shelves with the space for around five, maybe six cans of soup) is conjured away by a huge, bulky, horrible towering piece of immovable furniture, as if that's better somehow, but fundamentally the knobs on the hob can't be hidden away, so they just stick out of it, so now you just have what is essentially a wardrobe with gas in it.
I know I mentioned it at the top, but they have dressed the bed in a way that allows you to imagine yourself living there, but there are no pillows on it, so I can only assume a vampire – who, remember, sleep rigid and motionless in wooden coffins – or some other supernatural beast without a true idea of human comfort arranged and took this photo. The bathroom has a gigantic and perilously-balanced vase with exactly two flowers in it, which again is not normal; nothing will ever stop icking me out about seeing a raw bed frame on a laminate floor. But also, fundamentally: there is so much furniture in this room. There is a sofa, and a bed, and a coffee table, and a kitchen cabinet, and a bedside table, and a desk, and a wardrobe, and a chest of drawers, and a small dining table. 'Why,' I thought, when I first saw the dining table. 'Why does this flat have a dining table? Simply… remove the dining table.' And then I realised that sometimes people eat dinner at the dining table.
Here's the thing: I, personally, am a TV eater. This is my curse. I sit on the sofa and consume my dinner in front of that, as I was taught to as a baby, and maybe you do also. Tables are for special occasions, of which I have none, so I never eat at my dinner table. It is a wholly useless piece of furniture, to me. But other people… other people eat at dinner tables, for, like, every meal. Here is a rough breakdown of how people consume dinner, as best I can tell from a Twitter poll I did this morning:
– Every meal in front of the TV; they have used their dinner table "exactly once".
– Every meal at the dinner table, including breakfast.
– Most meals in front of the TV, concerted effort to eat at the table once a week, possibly on Sundays when the meal is more huge and creaking, occasionally take to the table when the meal in question is especially sloppy or prone to spilling, a ramen perhaps, or a takeaway curry.
And a quick rundown of those people vs. how much they have their lives together, respectively:
– These people do not have their lives together.
– These people have their lives together. I feel like these people "do their ironing", as in, iron all their laundry in one big go, then hang it up, instead of panickedly ironing each item that ever needs it on a one-by-one ironing basis.
– These people partly have their lives together, but also are one bad month away from having to move back home.
These are the three base peoples that exist. But London, being London, subverts the rules, and so you have these unique-to-London sub-categories:
– Your landlord has not provided you with a table, and so, begrudgingly, you have to eat your dinner in front of the TV.
– Your landlord has provided you with a table, but it is in the wrong room – in a downstairs seating area, or somewhere equally difficult to carry food to; or it is in the kitchen while other people are cooking there, and eating while someone else cooks is loud and awkward, so you just end up in front of the TV or just not eating, really; you get a sandwich and eat it on the bus on the way home.
– You live with three housemates you don't really know and one of them is watching the TV – you know the type, rigid-backed sitting there on the sofa in their work clothes well into the evening, don't wear jogging bottoms, don't know jogging bottoms exist, and you can't really be bothered with that energy right now so you take your dinner to your room and get bolognese all on your duvet.
I had never thought about it before, but the recklessness of London landlords has a very real and tangible impact on our eating habits, and the decision to furnish or not to furnish us with a dinner table is verging on the vital. Though it doesn't bother me – a low fool who cannot eat pasta unless Ben Shepherd is quietly guiding someone through a tense finale of Tipping Point in the background – civilised people need tables to eat at, and landlords need to give them to us, but most often they do not, for reasons of space and money, and the London rental market is slowly eroding the way we used to eat – a carafe of water on the table, a placemat, a lit candle – and forcing us down, onto the sofa, with the crumbs and the hunched backs.
So, in a way, good for this flat for having a small, mostly-useless dinner table in it. I don't know exactly who you'd invite for dinner, or what you'd make them – "just going to reheat some soup in that wardrobe over there, can you cut bread on my desk please?" – but the option to consume it in a civilised way is an exceptional one. I mean, don't rent here, obviously. God, no. But points for having a table.