What is it? Sad to announce a new classification in the ever-undulating taxonomy of London rental properties, as per the estate agents and landlords who advertise them: the "semi-studio", a new term that has popped up over the last couple of weeks or so (*1) to manage your expectations about how much space you might get out of a studio room. "Yeah, a studio's good," the semi-studio says to you, "but have you considered… half of one instead?" I hadn't! Now I am forced to!
Where is it? Shepherd's Bush, an area of London you might remember from that one time you had to go there and you were on the tube for so long you said, "This really is taking a long time, isn’t it," out loud, even though you weren’t with anyone at the time, you were just on your own in a mostly empty tube carriage, and that's what Shepherd's Bush has done to you: it's made you one of those people who say non-sequiturs out loud to no one, like your mum when she's out in BHS and remembers she has some chicken to defrost ("Chicken!")
What is there to do locally? Shepherd's Bush has an O2 venue, a Westfield and a branch of Soho House, so I suppose the answer to that question is: "Spend money, in abundance." If you haven’t got money then I don't know what you’re supposed to do. Die?
Alright, how much are they asking? £756 pcm.
We will never synthesise certain childhood experiences in adulthood. We will never know the agony of falling into a nettle patch. The lightning-in-veins fear of a nearby wasp. The ability of a single squished dog turd to ruin your day irreparably. When was the last time you idly worried about wetting the bed? When was the last time you were genuinely excited for your birthday? When did you last quench your all-day summer thirst with a fluorescent orange ice pop? And when did we lose the thrill of the sleepover, the squabble over who gets what bunkbed, who gets to ascend up a small ladder to sleep elevated (like a king might!) and who gets to squat down in the bottom bunk like a pauper. Was it puberty that took these thrills, these aches, these loves away? Or was it just the wash of grey cynicism the world has imbued us all with as we get older? Hard to genuinely enjoy blowing out candles on a cake when you’ve got student debt, isn't it. Anyway—
To Shepherd's Bush now, where you can rent this, if you want to. Why would you want to? A good question, and one I can't answer. You’ve got two ladders up to your bed, bending as they do around a corner, so you can climb up into your mezzanine bunk and sleep a few inches away from the ceiling (is the bed up there a single mattress? You know it is). You've got a chair that is directly next to (but positioned at a 90-degree angle to) a sort of analogue-old computer screen, which if you figure out how to you can watch videos on at absolutely point-blank range.
The theme of this apartment so far is: "things that shouldn’t be that close to your face are very, very close to your face". You’ve got a wardrobe encased in a spray-tan shell. You’ve got a two-hob/sink combo that makes up your kitchen (I do not know where you buy these two-hob/sink combos: are there special landlord forums where the lizards communicate in a cursed and wretched tongue, and they Have A Supplier who does all of them for every shit-hole in London? Because I cannot begin to imagine where you would buy a sink with a hob built into it otherwise). You've got a fire blanket stapled to the wall, which always seems a classy decorative touch enforced – not by a genuine compassion for the safety of a tenant – but more a rectangular red threat, the idea that the house might not fundamentally be safe in the first place. Obviously your shower opens directly into the kitchen space. Obviously that space is also your bedroom and your living room.
But there are two peculiarities that mark this property out. One: of the scant amount of space available to you, a baffling decision has been made to give a cupboard over to a washing machine as well as a tumble dryer, stacked one on top of each other – which yes, technically, is a luxury (though: can you imagine erecting a laundry rack in this room? Putting all your socks along… what? It would immediately erase all of the available space. Perhaps the tumble dryer is actually just a sheer necessity to make this place in any way liveable at all) – but it also feels like the space could’ve been used for, like, allowing someone to live in it; and then, secondly, The Void:
The Void is just a gaping and ominous hole in the top of your property here, and I’m not saying it’s a portal to hell, but I am saying it has "portal to hell" energy. The Void is not to be looked into, you cannot look back once you do. Ostensibly you are supposed to climb the half-ladder and store your items in the void – a suitcase, some shoes, a stack of old magazines, that keyboard you said you’d learn but never did – but do not put your things in The Void, as The Void will eat them, and it will eat you too. It will eat your arms.
The Void is wretched and raw and dripping with blood like a mouth is. The Void is a wound on the skin of the universe. The Void is a puncture, a mistake, a gap and a crevice, soft drums like a heartbeat leak out of it at night; The Void hisses at you, sometimes, in a miserable high voice when you are sleeping. Feeeed meeeeeee, The Void says, and even though it is a mouth like a maw, you think you see eyes, terrible eyes, scrunched up above it, sheer black like coal is and staring into you. A thin vapour escapes The Void. The smell of sulphur. Is it not bad enough that you have to tumble dryer the, like, six items of clothes your house has space for because any more than that will render the room unusable? Is it not bad enough that you have two hobs hammered into a sink? Is it not bad enough that your shower is a narrow cupboard in the kitchen, and not a shower at all? Is that not enough for you? You need me to contend with a flimsy and gossamer-thin hole between our world and Hell Itself? For £756 a month? Absolutely not. Absolutely get to fuck with that.
(*1) I don't want to say "I'm the only person who sees these patterns as they emerge", but I am definitely one of, like, four of them. If you think about it, not really enough people consistently stare at the London property market with a sustained and critical eye, which is probably why it's (technical term) "all fuck up". Like: take you, for instance. You only look at the rental market for a frenzied two week period before each time you have to move, and then you clock out.
Estate agents and landlords and the milkers at the top of the hierarchy look at it only as a tool with which to gauge market rates so they can price their properties accordingly, and don’t look at it in any wider or changing way: it’s just context for them to get money out of. There are people working in, say, social housing, who have to look at the market every time they have to rehouse someone or find a five-bed for a family in crisis, and they just sigh and have to accept it at face value. But who is really looking at the market, week-in and week-out, and going, "Nah mate: it’s fucked"? Shouldn’t someone be… doing that? Isn’t this what MPs are for? Do we need to have a "czar"? Everyone goes mad for a czar. Should we push for a czar? I know Brexit is happening but… really do want a czar. Can I be a cz—