London Rental Opportunity of the Week: An Ecuadorian Hell-Hovel in Knightsbridge!

Few caveats on how you qualify to rent there but we can work round that.

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May 20 2017, 9:00pm

What is it? A small one-room studio office-cum-bedroom with really high speed internet in it;
Where is it? The Ecuadorian Embassy, right behind Harrods, so Knightsbridge;
What is there to do locally? Lean out of your balcony once every six months and wave to the adoring crowds who sometimes assemble there; run on the spot on a treadmill while spending 17 hours a day on the internet; inexplicably have Pamela Anderson come round to maybe shag you sometimes and write you poetry;
Alright, how much are they asking? Your total cooperation and five years of freedom;

London is a complex, textured city. We see a lot of rental opportunities in it, all of them bad: the damp, mould-black peeling walls; the toilets, creviced into corners and plumbed in as an afterthought; shower trays glued to the floor with fat wads of sealant; landlords, knocking the fraying panes in your splintered windows, asking you for the rent, in cash, to–day, or fuck off out; flatmates who eat entire plates of noodles, standing up, looming over you while you go on your laptop. London is a brilliant, flawed city where the possibilities are endless as long as you don't consider "living, alone and unbothered, in property you own" to be a possibility ever. It is a place that is very exciting to live in, but also very impossible to live in. Do you know what I mean? Go over it again if you didn't quite get it.

Anyway, what most people understand about London – the devil and the beast – is that anyone living in one of the city's many many shitholes is doing so by necessity alone. Nobody chooses to live in a £650-a-month squat-lite in Balham. Nobody wants to live in a flat where the boiler breaks every November without fail and the landlord doesn't get round to fixing it until January. Every person living in every one of London's crap tiny cramped overpriced bad shit awful shit terrible shit houses and flats is doing so because they want to live in the city but they can't afford it: they are living in the only place they can find to house them.

Apart from Julian Assange, who's been living in Ecuador's smallest room while he desperately avoids going to trial over crimes he's been accused of. But maybe that all ends today, now Sweden has dropped its beef with him! Hard to know for sure.

It's still a bit smudgy on whether Assange will be able to leave the embassy he's been holed up in for five years. The Metropolitan Police, in a statement today, said they are obligated to arrest him should he step outside of the building, although it's unclear whether he would then be extradited to the US to be shot to death by Trump, or what, really – but now is as good a time as any to examine the dwellings Assange has spent half a decade being occasionally visited by Lady Gaga in. Guess what: they fill the exact criteria of a London shithole.

(Photos via the 'Welcome to Ecuador' press pack)

From a Mail article in 2012:

"He ushers me into the modest quarters that have been his home since he entered the embassy. The studio room has space for little more than a mattress on the floor, a rickety shelving unit and a small round table with leatherette chairs. But this is, for the time being at least, a cell of his choosing. So how is he then, living in this small corner of Ecuador with just a shared bathroom and a glossy red kitchen the size of a broom cupboard?"

Sounds very "your landlord doesn't live in the country and you're sharing with three other PhD students in Acton", doesn't it? Let's go deeper: we've seen a few photos of Assange's Big Room, most clearly from this mock-up art project in 2016, and as best I can tell there's no real room for a bed in it. That's because, as Assange told Who magazine in Australia, he sleeps in a toilet due to all the road noise leaking in from the Knightsbridge surroundings:

"And the quietest room is the women's bathroom, the only room that's easy to sleep in. So I thought I'd try and somehow get hold of it and renovate it. Eventually, somewhat reluctantly, the staff relented. They ripped out the toilet. They've been very generous."

See, this, to me, is very "your landlord, two months after you moved in, realised you didn't have space for both a bed and a toilet, so crushed one to make the other – Green Lanes, £800 pcm". Also, if you think you're depressed because you don't have any curtains, just a big sheet stapled to the wall above the window, consider Julian Assange, who has to bake himself under a mains-powered UV light to simulate the warming heat of the sun:

"Rest has become elusive. 'I work a 17-hour day, seven days a week. Sleep is difficult because of the police movements.' (Certainly his room is noisy.) 'There is an absurdly oppressive police presence, which is not a productive way to deal with the situation. I have a blue sky-light frequency lamp which mimics blue sky shining up to the ceiling. I have to have it on a timer or I am like a battery hen – I stay up all night working,' he smiles.

There's also not really any kitchen or kitchen surface, which is how Assange ended up spending £9,000 on takeaway in one year alone, according to the Standard in 2013:

9,000 pounds. Assange's estimated spending on takeouts since he entered the embassy. Favourites include Wasabi on Knightsbridge, which charges £12.40 to deliver chicken teriyaki temaki, Sunomono salad and Pokka green tea. The whistle-blower's personal wealth is not known, although he reportedly earned £56,000 from WikiLeaks in 2010, and has generated thousands from his unauthorised autobiography published in 2011.

In the same article the paper reckons Assange lived in £33,800-worth of rent-free living, and cost the police ("AND BY EXTENSION," your dad is roaring, Top Gear on mute while he's on the phone to the council, "AND BY EXTENSION, ME: JOHN Q. TAXPAYER, THE GREAT BRITISH MUG") £11,600 a day up until 2015, when they just sort of stopped guarding him because they figured if he hadn't made a run for it yet, he wasn't going to any time soon.

Anyway, this is all just to put your life in perspective: next time you weep in a shower of cold water, or come home to find your puny front door kicked off its hinges, again, or when you get back and find your flatmates have nicked all your Babybels out the fridge and finished the milk, and you are paying £725 a month for this, far more than you can afford, and you can never see any way out, and you're never saving any money and the landlord's just emailed to say he's raising the rent again, third time in 12 months, and you hate this city and you hate the life you live, think: at least you're not spending £9,000 a year on takeaway, costing £12.8 million in police fees and however else much in missed rent, just to be a pale silver boy in the middle of a gilded cage, sleeping peacefully in a women's toilet. At least you've not gone that bad, yet. At least you're not Julian Assange.

@joelgolby