What is it? Simply, “someone’s loft”.
Where is it? In Stockwell, and I just had to Google “Stockwell tube station” to visually confirm that I’d ever been there (I had: I mistakenly got on the wrong train, yes pissed, and it terminated at Stockwell, and I came up the escalators blinking into the dusky summer air, and thought ‘fuck’, and said “fuck”, and then did that thing where you Citymapper your way home but the route is so complicated – sorry, two buses, then a tube, then another bus? I think I’d rather die – that you just end up getting an Uber instead, which I did, and it burned me for like £30, so I’ve been harbouring some anti-Stockwell sentiment for a while, all related), and anyway the tube station has exactly one Google review, a rating of one-star. Here’s the review in full: “Victoria and Northern lines in the Stockwell”. Seems harsh.
What is there to do locally? Tentative research suggests Stockwell has three things going for it exactly – the city’s biggest Portuguese community, a skatepark and a Grade II-listed bus garage. So your options are eat a pastel de nata, fall asleep at a bus terminal, or get fingered by someone who “just always has an eye infection”.
Alright, how much are they asking? £932 pcm. Why the £2, do you think? Why not just £930? Which is a weird enough price point as it is. Why that? Why that number?
Fig. a: When I was a teenager, my mate Adam had an attic room and I thought it was the coolest fucking thing in the world. And this is despite all the trappings of adolescent boyhood inherent in it: the crumpled posters on dust-adhered Blu-Tak, the towering mahogany CD stand replete with obscure Nine Inch Nails EPs, the PlayStation plugged in just “on the floor’, a squidgy blue carpet, a CRT TV screen parked horizontal next to the bed we all sat on and he slept in, crushed residue of NikNaks everywhere, old deflated two-litre bottles of Coke, the blinds down until 5 o’clock in the afternoon. A section of the room that was just pulled-off black hoodies and polystyrene burger boxes. A wire bin overflowing with tissue. A lighter with the weed leaf on it. Boyhood.
So anyway, the attic room. As a teenager, the difference between an attic room and just “a bedroom on the same level of your parents’ room” is infinitesimal: that extra layer of privacy, a door-to-a-staircase, a whole floor’s space between you and the bed your parents sleep in, an extra muffling layer for you to blast music, stay up until 2AM with the lights on, watch full pornography on a desktop computer. Figures of authority can check up on you, sure, but they have to walk up an entire extra flight of stairs to do it, so they rarely bother, and they leave your laundry on the steps for you. You can eat up there and sleep up there and breathe the same recycled teenage air up there, and nobody even knows you’re alive. Bliss, nirvana, a layer just below god.
Fig. b: I am older now, though, obviously, and I’m the same height as an adult, and the appeal of living in an attic has dulled. I could study in an attic, maybe – the light is unparalleled; an attic is a perfect place for a desk – but I think I’d struggle to sleep in one. I’d struggle to exist in one, frankly, because the loped ceilings would very quickly feel oppressive: I am a fairly tall person, and I can only really walk freely down the exact centre of attic rooms (often taken up by the staircase into them), so I’m never fully happy standing up inside one. The temperature of the attic room is quite often dictated by the rising temperature tides from the rest of the house, too hot when you don’t want it to be (warm air rises) and too cold when you don’t (in winter you are inches away, at all times, from a freezing layer of slate). Hanging arms out of a horizontal attic window and shouting “youfuckingNEB!” at passersby doesn’t have quite the same thrill as it did when I was 15.
Fig. c: So you will have noticed that the bed here has next to it a table that acts sort of as a dining table, a bedside table, and also at once a kitchen. This, we have to admit, is unusual. It is a dining table because it is a dining table: it’s folded down, but it’s a dining table, though why it’s placed next to another dining table (glass) I don’t know: this attic flat does not have a kitchen, so why it needs tables to seat up to ten people to eat, I don’t know. The dining table is also a bedside table because it is next to the bed. But also look what’s on the dining table – a microwave, a toastie maker – and realise there is no actual kitchen in this room. That is the kitchen, there. Those two pieces of equipment are the kitchen. Come round to mine, lads! Stoop in my attic and I’ll microwave ten tins of beans! From bed!
Fig. d: And then, finally, the bathroom, the biggest victim yet of the slanted angles of this roof. You can sort of scuttle to the toilet, I suppose, though it might be easier to crawl. You can’t stand to wash your hands but you can kneel and do it. I don’t know what the shower looks like but I imagine it opens abruptly out into some ceiling. And there, here, in this little tiled room mostly taken up by the sheer concrete taken to mount a window, you may piss and bathe and shit, for just under a grand a month.
I could see myself existing up here quite happily as a 17-year-old, yeah. I could flick through old magazines I’ve for some reason kept in a holy condition and sit in a beanbag and pretend I can’t hear people shouting for me from downstairs. I could nip out to the Spar up the road at five-to-ten and stock up on enough junk food to see me through the evening – big thing of Irn-Bru, bag of Walker’s Sensations, family-sized Dairy Milk and something erratic and psychotic in the mix, too: some Munch Bunch, some jerky, something like that. I could stay up until sunrise playing and replaying a demo disk of Rayman 2 I had lying around. Listening to music on a CD player I spent weeks eyeing up in the Argos catalogue and finally acquired, shiny and new, on the day of my 15th birthday. Yeah, I could do enough revision to get a C-grade GCSE up here quite easily.
But now? Now I’m an adult? Could I really sit on a sofa with a borderline passive-aggressive “There’s No Place Like Home” cushion, situated next to my two inexplicable dining tables and my bedside microwave? Then stoop into my bathroom to get my socks out of the only chest of drawers I have in the place? Eat three toasties a day in between knocking myself unconscious on the ceilings? Hmm, possibly not. Possibly, possibly not.