What is it? Two towels, two skulls and a canvas of Audrey Hepburn.
Where is it? Willesden Green, a dead-zone between the following clearly made-up places: "Mapesbury"; "Church End & Roundwood"; "Stonebridge"; "The Brent Park Branch of IKEA". Occasionally, no matter how long you live here, London has this supernatural jag to it, where, creaking open the narrow gap carved by an A-road between two recognisable boroughs, London manages to expand open a few acres, calling the new zone "Bury Lanes" or some shit, stud itself with concrete-grey structures and chain-brand furniture shops, and pretend that it has been there all along, that you just have not noticed it. Do not pretend to me that "Dollis Hill" is real and was there when I moved to this city ten years ago. It has clearly been made up and retconned on afterwards as some sort of larger government conspiracy.
What is there to do locally? One of the top five things to do in Willesden as listed by Time Out literally includes "quite a nice alleyway", so I’m willing without further evidence to declare the answer to that question is: "fuck all".
Alright, how much are they asking? Just the £1,140 pcm, thanks
I am ever more convinced that this column is my eternal damnation for a crime I committed in a previous life, some sort of karmic rebalancing for the person I was before, maybe I slaughtered witches or hanged innocents or worked children to death in poor houses (all of which, let's be honest, is going to come back in vogue if we get a Tory government again), my soul a sort of tattered soiled scrap that has been tethered to this blameless soft-edged human body in which I reside, and that my own personal rock to push up my own personal mountain is that every Wednesday I have to go on fucking Gumtree or whatever and look at shithole rentals. This is my public service to you, these are the lessons I have learned, let me tell you this so my liver is not pecked out in vain: never rent a place with two towels crossed over each other on the bed:
Never rent anywhere with that same oat-coloured Audrey Hepburn canvas print on the wall:
Never rent anywhere with a TV mounted high up at a CCTV-camera angle like you're watching an episode of The Chase in a GP's waiting room, hoping the cough is just a cough, it's just a cough, right, doc? Come on, tell me it's just a cough—
And never, very crucially, rent a place that has a special small sink mounted in the bathroom, smaller than a train or aeroplane bathroom one is, smaller than a Portaloo, because, for £1,140 a month, in fucking Willesden, do you not believe you deserve the space to wash your hands and face in relative comfort? Or did you slaughter the same witches I did, back in the day, and this is how you pay for it? In one of those big ye olde tyme hats? Kept talking about "thy familiar!" and invoking the wrath of the church? Had a big powdered wig and once a year you had to watch your horse die? All of which – again, let's be honest – is going to come back into vogue if we get a Tory government again.
Because to properly assess what is happening here: a very small space has been renovated up to a high for renting-in-London standard, peppered with generic gee gaws and decorations (a 3D geometric skull with slightly ominous energy; the same Audrey Hepburn canvas print The First Girl To Cry In Your Halls Of Residence had up in her bedroom; two small flowerpots; yellow towels crossed over like a Freemason's coat of arms) and, because of those generic decorations, been deemed to be worth about £200 more than it could feasibly, realistically be rented for.
I am saying that the asking price of this flat has been inflated by about 30 percent because someone hooked a £25 print to the wall and made the bed. Is it a nice room? If you rented it for a weekend on AirBnb when you were in a city ostensibly to enjoy the sights and not actually spend more than seven hours asleep in it, you wouldn't be mad. To live in it full time, without a wardrobe and without space and with Audrey staring at you, constantly, beatifically, while you sleep, craning your neck up to watch the television, using the two small towels afforded to you to dry your body after you squeeze out of the shower past your tiny sink, and then when you go outside you are still, somehow, still in Willesden, with nothing but an alleyway to look at? Becomes less and less fine the longer you think about it.
Anyway, let's think what else I might have done to deserve looking at this sort of thing, again and again and again. Maybe I was a ship's captain who gouged the eyes out of my shipmates and made them toil in the rowing room, blind and pulling and moaning in the salty water. Maybe I set fire to the camps of natives in a country I was invading, pulled down their monuments and erected stone statues in honour of myself. Maybe I bought children at the slaver's market in ancient times and put them immediately to work in my gladiator factory, fighting their way up the pipeline until they could bleed to death in front of an audience for me. Maybe I lashed animals with my whip and, when they keeled over, exhausted with the stress of working down on their bones for me, I finished them out with a single bullet to the centre of their heads, told my men to strip them of their skin and ivory and teeth. Maybe I was just a landlord.
I definitely did something bad, that's the moral here. I definitely did something to piss off God.