What is it? It’s the start of a new and exciting series where I take this beloved feature on a “Great British Road Trip”, a little like the one every single TV channel commissioned during the deepest depths of COVID because it was impossible to make any other programme beyond the borders of the country, (Craig And Bruno’s Great British Road Trips, rated 6.5 on IMDb from 19 reviews). By that I mean: I’m going to search “small flat + the name of a city that isn’t London” on Gumtree for a few weeks and note how the pervasive disease of modern slum landlordism is slowly but surely spreading –
Where is it? And so by that I mean let’s start in “Sherwood”, in “Nottinghamshire”.
What is there to do locally? I grew up fairly adjacent to Nottinghamshire though the only time I particularly recall ever crossing the border into their zone was:
1) Once for one of those weird interminable trips you take in the car with your dad to do an incredibly boring task, which in this particular case was “selling a clock” – in my memory the drive lasted somewhere between 20 hours and 15 days, though I’m quite sure it was shorter, and anyway all I had for entertainment was a single Beano issue which I read and re-read until the pages went shiny;
2) My first ever gig, which was The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster supported by Pink Grease, and during the Pink Grease set the singer attempted to crowd surf but just jumped on me instead, and we both collapsed to the floor and he looked way pissed off at me but it’s like, I had my hands in the pockets of my zip-thru Kangol hoodie, this was a group failure not a failure of the individual. Regardless, the drive back from that gig was mostly in silence because I had a large and complicated bruise starting to bloom on my leg and we were 17 and my mate’s dad who took us just really hated him and was just sort of glowering in silence throughout, shouldn’t talk about this on such a public forum actually;
3) Like twice a year we’d have to have an assembly about Robin Hood or some shit. Anyway, what was the question? Oh: “What is there to do in Nottinghamshire?” Well as best I can tell it you can either leave or sniff glue –
Alright, how much are they asking? £495 PCM (which, obviously, in the grand scheme of this wider column is “not so bad”, but we have to make a cost-of-living adjustment now we are outside London, and in my opinion – scrolling through similar-sized properties in nearby but bigger and more bustling cities, £495 a month can get you a lot more in a lot nicer places than this, and so I am semi-confident in saying this is, actually, contextually, not just average but fairly expensive)!
I suppose a question I should lead with is: “How many doors, confidently, could you walk through in this house?” You never really think about doors, do you, until the dimensions are off. We take doors for granted. I’m a fairly tall person and I’m mostly unaware of doors until I’m in an old pub or house and they suddenly swoop low to greet me – a recent getaway to “the Cotswolds” had me essentially crawling on the floor of every restaurant.
That’s the point: Doors and doorways are meant to mark a smooth transition from one space to the next, to close off functions from one room to another, to enforce privacy. You are not supposed to feel claustrophobia when you pass through them. I would say there is not a single doorway in this house that I do not have to turn 90 degrees and walk through sideways. I think if I was doing one of my daily domestic activities – say, carrying a big plate of beans on toast between two rooms using both hands – the number of times I would thud either my head or the beans into the arch of the doorway would be in the dozens every week. Every wall would have at least one streak of bean juice down it. This is no way to live.
So let’s see what the advert says, here: “Please note; the flat is small and top floor.” Yes, it does rather seem so. This is the very major, very pressing problem with this flat: About 40 percent of the space you would expect to be able to use based on the sheer floor plan of the place is lost by the time you get to the ceiling. Essentially, there is not a single room in this flat that is not impeded by the solid and immoveable architecture of the roof, and that is a problem. You cannot ever escape the roof in this place!
Even if you could – even if every wall in this flat was at what I would call a “normal slant”, even if every wall was straight – it would still be a very very small and basic flat. So you are renting the floor of a small flat and the ceiling of a prison, and, in between: walls, wall, walls.
Worth taking a look at just how much the walls impede life here: I’ll start with the kitchen–living room, because there are some features in here I have never seen before ever in my life. So: Both sinks are fairly hard to access because the abrupt angle of the wall is leaning over them. If you were to stand up rapidly after loading the washing machine while the window is open, then you would hurt your head quite badly on the window.
Also, due to the sheer and insane irregularity of the walls, the kitchen has been botched in at bizarre angles just to accommodate them: Cupboard doors are fixed on backwards, the pattern of the tiles refuses to line up (a problem that could have been avoided by not using patterned tiles!), and, most insanely, there is a secret freezer behind one of the cupboards.
Look down in the bottom left of this photo: That’s a very small freezer (there is already a fridge next to the washing machine). Can you imagine how small and compact you have to make your body to wiggle into the special freezer corner of your kitchen to get some waffles out on a hangover! No thank you! It is a fairly large “no” from me!
Behind corner-freezer, you have an incredibly small area dominated by wall lean, which the estate agents have helpfully dressed for us in two different configurations: “blank” and “with two very low chairs and absolutely nothing else in it”. This, I suppose, is your living room section. Walk through the door (which has been sawn off at an angle because the roof gets too much in the way of them) and enter the bedroom, which has exactly enough room for a bed in it and then nothing else.
I cannot imagine the logistics of actually getting out of bed, because – I don’t know about you – but when I get out of bed I stand up, and the presence of the leaning wall next to the bed over the sort of “carpet corridor” space left behind means you can’t actually stand up, in it, unless you’re somewhere between two and three feet tall, so every morning you have to wiggle out of your bed feet first then crawl out of your bedroom into the rest of your spooky, crooked little house. The photo of the bathroom had to be taken at such an acute angle that you catch a little bit of the photographer in it – what is that, a shoulder? A head? – and basically there’s no way of using the shower if you’re any taller than a five-year-old. I think you’d have to perform some fairly intricate manoeuvres to get off the toilet after you’ve sat on it.
What’s worst about this flat is it’s so newly-finished, newly-painted and untouched that it means no one has ever lived in it before: Someone decided over lockdown to turn the little bit of roof they normally keep old boxes of clothes in into a full flat, and now they’re convinced they can find someone moron enough in Sherwood to rent it off them for five hundred quid a month. Quasimodo is looking at this and going, “Dunno, mate – bit sharp for me.”
You’d think, with the flat being shit, the advert would be amenable and welcoming, desperate to find someone – anyone! – who is willing to live here. You would be “wrong” about that. Here’s some excerpts from the copy: “pls note; must be in full time work, no children, and pets” – you need to be out of the angle-flat at least ten hours a day and for some reason you, personally, must not have children. Once again, we see the landlord class’s mistrust of freelancers: “[if] self employed we will want 4 months rent up-front” – never in my life have I seen either a rental that requests four months of rent up front or it couched in the language of “we will want”, let alone from a landlord.
There is a monthly service charge of £35 (!), though it is not in any way specified what services are provided for that, and it is not included in the already quite high rent. “first to see will let”, it says, confidently. Not so sure about that.
We’ve seen roofs rented out in London before, but never at an angle so tapered it may as well be the top of the Shard. It’s spreading! The disease is spreading! The disease is virulent and the authorities are doing little to nothing about it! Protect yourself from it! No one has your back but you!