Every week or so an advert for a London rental property appears that plumbs new depths of bad bastardry. Rent a bunkbed above a wardrobe, that sort of thing. Pay £1,500-a-month to sleep in someone's shed. They got so difficult to comprehend that we decided to start cataloguing them.
What Is It? A hollowly glamorous walled space in the shape of a 1:4 scaled-down apartment;
Where Is It? Leafy Islington, formerly Trendy Islington, formerly Stabby Islington;
What Is There to Do Locally? You can go to the Union Chapel for a gig, you can go the Hen and Chickens for some comedy, you can go to any area larger than a parking space for a farmer's market, farmer's markets as far as the eye can see, farmer's markets stretching into the horizon, an infinite vista of £4 bread loaves and men in Barbour jackets telling you the name of the pig he killed to make your bacon, the name being "Herbert", you are going home to cook up strips of Herbert. Herbert was loved, Herbert had a soul. The man is crying now. "Herbert was a good pig," he is saying. "A good, good pig. That'll be £8, though, for the Herbert bacon."
Alright, How Much Are They Asking? £780 per calendar month, water and gas included.
And so lo, and do behold, an example of the London housing market, distilled and decanted and turned crystalline and made flesh: a £780-per-month studio apartment in Islington. Because here is a thing most wizened Londoners will say when faced with such an opportunity: "What's so… well, what's so bad about it?" They will poke their heads around the tiny space and say: "Well, at least it is cheap." Such are the rules of the game in this city, the placement of the goalposts and the chalk lines: £780, per month, for a room to call yours and only yours, is deemed reasonable, cheap even, a good price for a good solid room. Londoners are playing an intense game of rugby on a boules green. They are firing shuttlecocks up a fairway. Compared to the rest of the country, they are playing a different game with different rules, playing so hard the squash court looks like a cricket pitch.
Islington is a middle-class enclave in north London, a place of coffee shops and green trees and decent transport links, a place of hope and modest riches. In Islington, you are never more than four metres away from a really quite passable almond croissant. In Islington, the bars – they have bars, in Islington, as pubs are too gauche – the bars are filled with men and women in shimmering glittered jackets and crop tops, howling toothy laughs into each others' faces, off home later to their million-pound two-bed flats, where they will have gleaming, clean, sweatless intercourse, then wash their hair and bodies with expensive shower gels and shampoos. Islington, a glimpse of London's future: a few years ahead of the gentrification trend, of an area once rough now whitewashed and forged anew, dotted with independent cinemas and wine shops, now post-gentrification, second-wave gentrification, a place you might take your nan if she comes down to That London and demands you take her somewhere nice for a roast. In 2035, Islington and other Islingtons like it will be the only places in London that humans are allowed to inhabit. Islingtons will be nestled between the skyscrapers and the thick roads. Islingtons will be on cycle superhighways and between big Waitroses.
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Anyway, until then, fucking look at this place in Islington. Because if you look closely, it is a perfect snapshot of misery, as if scientists programmed a computer to render the exact dwelling your dad might move into when your mum finally hits him with the divorce. You've got a tiny kitchen cabinet, just enough to hold food supplies for one. The microwave elevated to deity status with its own special high shelf. A door with a bed in front of it, a visual metaphor that screams "no escape". And there, the lipstick on the pig, the polish on the turd, high on the beige-grey ceiling and almost out of view, you see it: a glass crystal, shop-bought chandelier.
The echoed conversations of the ghosts who erected this howl through the ages. "How can we get rid of this sort of 'life is meaningless' aesthetic?" a landlord asks. "It's really putting renters off. They already don't like having to go sideways to walk past the wardrobe." And another landlord thinks on it a second and says: "I have a little chandelier thing in my garage, and it will really brighten the place up," and the first landlord says "yes" and secretly makes a note to tack £30 a month onto the rent.
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A fun game to play when you are trying to rent a flat in London – or, worse, a room in a flat, just one fucking room – is to put the quoted monthly rental prices into spareroom.co.uk and see what you could get around the rest of the country for the same price. You see yourself in four-bedroomed farmhouses in Cumbria and elegant country kitchens on the outskirts of Bath. You see yourself going for extensive walks without leaving your garden. You see yourself in a pool. And then you see yourself, with such grim inevitability, putting down the £780 deposit on a single room with a bed crammed in it in Islington, microwaving your bacon, weeping in a shower that's hidden behind a door near a toilet. London: the greatest city on earth. But also, secretly, even in its nicest, leafiest places and its most golden moments, still secretly very much a shithole.
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