Where is it? You awake, bleary-eyed and with a faint ringing in the back of your head, VAGUELY IN THE VICINITY OF WEMBLEY;
To your [N]orth is WEMBLEY STADIUM AND A LOAD OF SHOPS THAT AREN’T ACTUALLY THAT CLOSE TO WEMBLEY STADIUM BUT STILL SAY “WEMBLEY” ON THEM;
To your [E]ast is A SEEMINGLY ENDLESS EXPANSE OF INDUSTRIAL ESTATES AND MEMBERSHIP-ONLY WHOLESALE RETAIL WAREHOUSES;
To your [S]outh is A 24-HOUR DRIVE-THRU MCDONALD’S;
To your [W]est is JESUS MORE— MORE FUCKING? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE. MORE INDUSTRIAL ESTATES AND MEMBERSHIP-ONLY WHOLESALE RETAIL WAREHOUSES AND CAR PARKS THAT CLATTER INTO ONE ANOTHER, GREY TARMAC STUDDED WITH THAT LOW SCRATCHY SCRUB THEY PLANT TO MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR PEDESTRIANS TO WALK ACROSS, AND THAT IS IT. WHERE THE FUCK ARE WE? WHERE THE FUCK ARE WE? GOD, GOD, GOD, GOD, GOD: HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME
What is it? Says here you’ve picked [S]. You try to go to the McDonald’s, but you don’t have a vehicle and they won’t let you go through the drive-thru on your bike. Your options are:
1. Put on your widest, most cheerful smile, knock politely on the window of the next car behind you in the queue, and ask if— no, listen, ha ha, I know this is a bit odd! — but ask if you can get in their car with them and order from there.
2. Pull up the Deliveroo app, make your order, qualify for free delivery because the distance is so short, and plan to intercept the Deliveroo rider seconds after they leave the shop with your McDonald’s, ha ha, I know this is a bit odd—
3. You could get an Uber, actually. If you order an Uber to the McDonald’s drive-thru, then get the Uber thru the thru, you could feasibly order your food like that. But then if it’s a long wait you’re just paying to sit in a car with an Uber driver, and there are only two kinds of Uber drivers: “Uber driver who talks about their kids” and “Uber driver who talks about Uber”. You’re basically paying to be in a car for 12 minutes with a man who is talking about his children – “So, what year in school does that make them then? Yeah, yeah, yeah” – and who gives you three stars out of five because the few seconds the bag of McDonald’s was actually in his car, he alleges, made the whole Prius stink of chips, and it’ll take you months to get that rating up again, possibly years.
4. No, don’t do the Uber thing.
5. I mean, realistically do you need a McDonald’s? There’s a petrol station over there and you could just get through this with a Lucozade Sport and a big Twix.
6. Peer at the petrol station and see they seem to have some sort of hot cupboard with pastries and patties in it. Dare you?
7. Dare you?
8. Hold on: aren’t you here to see a flat?
You are. I see here you’ve typed . I really do think you should eat first, before I show you the flat.
You’ve typed . The next car behind you is an incredibly ominous, tinted-out 3 Series that is exuding a quiet, menacing thump of indefinable music. You cannot see through the windscreen. You cannot see through the windows. You knock on the driver-side door but the window doesn’t go down. You pause a second and squint at the window. You knock again on the door. The music turns off and the region of “Alperton” goes incredibly quiet around you. Traffic noise stops; ambient psycho-geographic noises stop. All there is is the shock of silence bouncing hard and bright off the hard concrete around you. After a brief pause, you hear a single, heavy, metallic click.
 Maybe do the Uber thing, on second thought.
 Hold on, there’s a door. There’s a fucki— this is just a normal McDonald’s! I’ve been here 25 minutes!
McDonald’s, how can I help you? Yeah, uh, yeah, can I get a:
 “Triple cheeseburger, please” (you saw a triple cheeseburger advertised on a bus stop this week and you have not been able to stop thinking about it since. In those heavy, gluey minutes before sleep, as your thoughts go blue then grey they twilight, it’s been thrumming through you like a rhythm: triple cheeseburger, triple cheeseburger, triple cheeseburger.
 “Filet O’Fish, thanks” (Filet O’Fish people, I am convinced, are the McDonald’s equivalent of the old adage about vegans, as in: how do you find someone who orders Filet O’Fish as their McDonald’s meal at a dinner party? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.)
 “Medium Big Mac meal, Diet Coke, side order of Chicken Selects with sweet chilli dipping sauce” (Ah, a gourmand! A tastemaker!)
 “Sorry, I’ve had a really hard year. I haven’t really articulated that to anyone, you know? Because everyone’s had a hard year. But I’ve had a really fucking hard year, actually.” You’re crying now – not fully crying, because you’re fighting it, but you’re sniffing a lot and your eyes are welling up. This is like that time you got told off in front of everyone in the school during that assembly and you spent so much energy on not fully crying – even though you were clearly crying! Your face had gone pink! – that you let your focus drift on the other facilities and, long story short, you wet yourself standing up. “So, can I just have a Happy Meal please?” The toy this week is Spongebob.
You chose . Good choice. The McDonald’s worker gives you what you think is a warm, knowing (perhaps loving? Fuck, maybe) smile behind her PPE and points you towards the kid’s table, where they have those big table-mounted iPads that you can do some colouring in on if you want to. You realise your battery is dead and you’re meant to be meeting that estate agent for that thing, so you try to “jailbreak” the device and log in to your Facebook so you can message them and say you’re running late, and also what is the address again mate?
 Do you really think you can “jailbreak” a device that has been issued by one of the largest and most litigation-resistant organisations in the world, just so you can go on Facebook Messenger while you wait for a children’s burger?
 You easily jailbreak the McDonald’s iPad and Facebook message the estate agent and eat your burger in warm cosy silence, but then you forget to log out and some local teens find your account logged in and – even though it’s been a hundred years since you heard this word, even though it’s been a thousand years since you heard this word – they proceed to “frape” you and post a number of Facebook updates that are so shockingly vile that, on Monday, your boss calls you in to a meeting at work – even though you’re not even friends on Facebook? So how the fuck did he know? – and an HR representative has to explain to you that the company does not support Nazism and to clear in full your desk
_YOU HAVE UNLOCKED A HIDDEN OPTION_!
You go home that night and log in to Facebook to the dreadful clunk of 20+ new notifications and six new messages from friends, and spend the next hour-and-a-half deleting all the weird not just racist but bizarrely horny messages and selfies the teens put on your page from a jailbroken McDonald’s iPad, and put a big contrite message up on your wall – “Sorry, guys. I got hacked by some Alperton burger hooligans. I have made a small donation to a charity about this.” – and forget the incident ever really happened. Everyone your age admits it was a fair and honest mistake. Let he who hath not left their Facebook logged in on a public iPad children use to do colouring in on, cast the first stone.
But now it’s two years later and it’s Christmas and your aunt is being weird with you. Really weird. Why’s she being so weird with you? I mean, it’s an aunt, who cares. Realistically – and I like my aunt – but who cares. I mean, come on. You can live a whole life with an aunt being a bit off with you. It’s an aunt. But you’re one of those weird close families who, for example, actually has their aunt around on Christmas, and the offness is getting to you.
You’re in the kitchen now, with mum. “Mum,” you say, “Why’s Aunt—” I don’t know your aunt’s name. I’m just going to put a placeholder name in there. “— why’s Aunt... Sheree being so off with me?” And your mum does that thing – mums have a lot of dramatic cues they’ve learned rote from soap operas, and inflect their own lives at truly dramatic moments, and you know you’re fucking for it when she abruptly stops slicing a carrot, drops the knife to the chopping board with a click, hunches her shoulders forward then breathes in hugely.
“Do you not remember you called her a ‘fuck..,, cunt,’?” your mum asks you. “Do you not remember calling her a ‘fuck…,, cunt’ on Facebook two years ago?” But that wasn’t you, you explain! That was some rowdy pubescents from the Alperton branch of McDonald’s! You would never call Aunt Sheree a fuck…,, cunt! Why would you call Aunt Sheree a fuck…,, cunt?! Think about it, Mum!
“I don’t care what story you’ve made up—”
“But I haven’t made it up! I left my Facebook logged in on a greased up iPad!”
“Family is important in this family.”
“What does that mean?”
“I think you should go and apologise. Now.”
So now you have to spend Christmas telling your aunt that you’re sorry you called her a “fuck…,, cunt” on Facebook 24 entire fucking months ago, and did she not think it was worth bringing this beef up at some point before that instead of just silently—
Feels like we should look at the house: Yeah, yeah, fine.
 Look at the house.
 Fast-forward to Christmas Day 2023, where for some reason Aunt Sheree’s really hard stepson has turned up – that short hench bald guy who is still rocking a goatee in 2023, for some reason, although for all we know maybe that’s very chic in 2023, although it feels like it isn’t – and is walking really aggressively out of his car, and fucking hell is he holding a crowba—
Alright, here’s the flat then:
So here are the pertinent details: this is a one-bed flat in that way where it’s actually just two thin-mattressed single beds lined up in the kitchen. There is no photo of the kitchen, but after years of doing this column I can guess exactly what it looks like: all along the wall opposite the two single beds is the “kitchenette” area, which is some ugly flecked grey countertops with one of those two-hob/microwave combo devices on top and a silver-grey fridge beneath, possibly a washing machine but possibly not, and then one very slender and unusable sink. That’s what the kitchen is. Even though I have no photographic evidence of it, I know this.
The bathroom: a fine-enough very small grey-green abomination in a small alcove between the bedroom and the doorway. The garden: a bizarre angular jag of sand, whatever. The car parking spot: bizarrely over-emphasised in the advertising copy. The curtains: there are no curtains, but I’m sure if you negotiate with the current tenants you can keep the half piece of cardboard they are currently using. The price: the price is £1,100 pcm. For, may I remind you, “Alperton”.
The problem with this flat isn’t the flat, exactly, though it’s obviously shit – it’s just a medium-sized room with two single beds in it, and maybe a bit of kitchen, but remember I am speculating that a kitchen exists in it, I am giving the landlord the benefit of the doubt by assuming they might have put a bit of kitchen in – but with a decent enough bed and the right attitude and absolutely no one else existing in this space with you, you could maybe live here – not happy exactly, but happily enough – for four or six months. The flat is tiny and horrible and should be against human rights, yes, but also in the grand scheme of this column it isn’t the worst we’ve had.
What irks me about this flat is not only the prohibitive cost – £1,100! Two single beds! Alperton! – but the attitude that stinks off the advert regarding the prohibitive cost, and the amount of income you, the cunt renting it, have to be making. Look:
Available to a single person or a Working Couple. No Kids or Pets. No Smoking Please.
Close to Supermarket shops & local Transport, a few minutes walk to Alperton Station (Piccadilly Line, 0.6 miles), Perivale Station (Central Line) (1.1 mile). Only working professionals need to apply.
Landlords need to have someone in full-time employment with a provable stable income and clean credit history. Generally, tenants will require 2.5 times the rental. If the income is low or tenants on housing benefit or UC will require a guarantor who will need at least 3 times the rental income.
So just to clarify: to qualify for this shitty little shit-hole flat in Alperton, you need to have a spotless credit history, stable (professional) employment and be making £33,000 a year, or know someone making £39,600 a year who can guarantee you. The average London income right now is currently around the £37,000 mark, a stat obviously skewed by city workers and CEOs more than it is by, say, cleaners, so you need to be making close to that – and I think I’ve only made that at about two jobs in my lifetime? – to then be able to then qualify to spend a third of that annual income on a shitty little one-bed flat in Alperton.
It is clear the landlord has had some sort of issue with a previous tenant in less-than-stable employment not being able to pay their absurdly high rent, and that has coloured this demand, but can I also point out that: i. We’ve spent the last year living through a fucking pandemic; ii. Landlords are not owed stable return on their investments when the house itself is an asset that they can always, if they are hurting for a grand, sell entirely at a massive profit; and also iii. The landlord could always try getting a job if they need money so badly. The flat itself is a shit-hole: the wage demands you need to even qualify for it are shitholier.
What sucks about this for me is the impact this attitude has on the wider renting and buying market, and yes I understand I am extrapolating data wildly here, but at least I’m not still talking about McDonald’s. What the “2.5 times the rental” demand in the ad copy makes clear is the thin veil between your income and what you immediately owe in rent: we all think of rent in monthly terms because it helps us not throw up every time we realise we have to give exactly one-third of what we earn to a landlord. This advert is an overt land-grab for, not the money that is owed on the property, but the proportion of your income – it’s less about the precise figure of the money, and more the portion of your worth that is owed to them. That, my friends, is what we call a '“big yuk”.
And also, the £33,000 income bracket is close to having “made it” in this city. If you’re in a couple – and this property will let couples rent this kitchen and parking space together, if they want to! – then two of you on a £33,000 income is £66,000, and at that point the two of you could feasibly think about buying, the holy grail of spinning out of this sickening rental market forever. But how exactly are you supposed to save to get out from renting if a literal third of your income is going to the landlord above you? How are you supposed to want to, when you live in a grey parking-space-with-a-kitchen-attached non-flat like this? The point is, you aren’t: places like this are designed to keep you trapped within them forever, because you’re more valuable to a landlord as a renter than the government as a buyer, and the government doesn’t respect you until you are a buyer anyway, so you may as well stay a renter forever. The London property market is an elaborate Saw set-piece none of us can pull the barbed wire off our legs to emerge from. This isn’t a blip: this is the purest distillation of the game we’ve ever seen.
Still! Parking space is nice. Though how you’re also supposed to afford a car in all this, I truly don’t know.