What is it? A single smoothly-tiled room beneath a house in Paddington. In some languages that would be a "ground floor flat", in other cultures, simply, "a dungeon".
Where is it? So near to Paddington Station that it might as well be in Paddington Station, which – if you've ever been to Paddington Station, it's just one long "Taxis This Way" floor-line that leads in the wrong direction, forever and ever in a loop, a couple of Delice de Frances and the impermeable air of malaise, visiting Paddington the closest thing to synthesising the tired bone-deep ache of a Sam Smith's hangover without consuming the required 12 pints of "Taddy" necessary for it – sounds like a living nightmare, frankly, like some previously undiscovered circle of hell.
What is there to do locally? Paddington being such a main thoroughfare for trains means the area around the (already enormous) station expands to encompass the idea of the station itself, so even when you're not in the station you're in the station, every restaurant or Pret or shop or pub you go into populated by the same people, people in stretched-neck T-shirts working through that high-tension anxious energy of people who have 40 minutes to kill before their train leaves, the looming reality of the train shaping everything they do – how quickly they drink, how impatient they are with wait staff, how many fucking backpacks they are carrying at once – and leaks out of them, poisoning the surrounding area, so basically you can do anything you want in Paddington as long as you don’t mind someone with unwashed hair and a four-litre water canteen strapped to their khakis clanking into you while they try to speed-eat a Leon burger before getting the 12:04 to Plymouth
Alright, how much are they asking? Wow, didn't really realise how many powerful and aggressive feelings I had towards Paddington Station before today. What other stations do I hate with the same dark energy that I don't even know about yet? How much baggage, truly, am I ever carrying around? £1,000 pcm.
We've talked before about my complex feelings about beds being positioned on floor tiles (*1). There's something not right about it, for me. In very, very specific situations, beds on floor tiles— well, they don't work exactly, but they don't not work, and though they are not good they are functioning, and those specific situations are "you are on the cheapest possible holiday you could afford, in a sticky-aired hot foreign country, and the cool breeze of the night air fans against you gently in lieu of air-con, a single droopy tendril of a net curtain extending like a ghostly hand to caress you in the darkness, cockroaches and locusts and streets where the tarmac just ends, a raw edge, and four-mile walks to the centre of town because the local taxis don't dare to go up the hill you are staying on because it's so steep, and ice cream so cold from the freezer that it stings your nostrils, and the shower works three days out of five and one of those days it just sprays out water that is yellow-then-orange-then-clear, like a day's worth of pisses after you double-drop a Berocca, but then the whole stay is costing £160 for three of you so you can deal with all that shit, can't you".
That is the situation in which I would accept a bed being positioned on some cool white floor tiles. Any other scenario, it is wrong.
Perhaps you are different to me – and that is fine, I suppose – or maybe circumstance has currently got it that you sleep on a bed positioned over some floor tiles. Maybe you can ignore the way the bed creeps forward over the completely frictionless surface whenever you move on it, and the fact that in winter months you have to step out of bed directly into slippers unless you want to be shocked awake by cold, and the specific way hair accrues on tile, and the squeaking juddering sound the whole arrangements makes when you fuck. Maybe you are fine with that, and OK. But would you be fine with this, which looks at first glance – and second, come to think of it, and third and fourth, the effect only starting to wear off around the fifth or sixth glance – which looks a hell of a lot like someone just wheeled a double bed into a bathroom:
Due to the tight angles and scant number of photographs available, it is hard to tell what the exact layout of this studio flat is, but we can take certain markers as indication that it is, to all intents and purposes, a shithole. Here are some:
1: The kettle and the toaster in the kitchen are a travel kettle and a travel toaster, something you don't actually notice at first – you are too preoccupied with the microwave/hob combi there on the side, or the fact that the only viable place for a knife rack is up on the draining board, &c. &c. – but then you notice the unerring difference in scale: a kettle should not be that much smaller than a microwave oven; a toaster should not only be able to handle one slice of bread at a time. I'm also not entirely sure, but if you look at the size of the kettle versus, say, the size of the fridge, and the height of the wall, it might be that the entire ceiling of the kitchen is impossibly low, so you have to stoop there, within it, to eat your single slice of toast, which obviously is unideal.
2: A previously unexplored indicator that a Rental Opportunity of the Week is shitty is "a single square mirror tile glued to the wall, absolutely never in the centre of the wall or positioned in any way that would suggest a degree of planning, but just there, hanging weightlessly, a frozen moment of reflection in an otherwise sparse and white space", which this property has a near-perfect example of.
3: The only other furniture you have is a fold-out table and a plastic chair, and the fold-out table has a TV on it, as if you are to sit at a desk and watch TV, directly up against it, nose on the screen, so close to your third Brooklyn Nine-Nine rewatch that you can almost absorb it.
4: Uplighters, a bizarrely dramatic lighting choice for a flat that is so tiny – so bizarre that, again, you must assume the uplighters are there by an un-decision rather than a specific intention, that the builder putting the final finish on this room just happened to have two uplighters spare from another job and told the landlord they could fit them in as a discount, more than these being actively there by design.
5: The bed is the entire width of the room it is in, which is literally never good.
6: A single mysterious floor-hatch.
7: The bathroom similarly has a bizarre low-to-high ceiling that makes me confident the only way to shower here is squatting down nude like the start of Terminator 2 and, finally:
8: Ominous Yellow Mattress Stain. It is possible of course that this property has a number of wide, open, high-ceilinged, spacious hallways that connect all of these shithole rooms together, and the photographer just neglected to take pictures of them. But it is far more likely that this is more-or-less the same small space photographed from a variety of different angles. Your kitchen is your bedroom is your TV-desk is your living room. A door away, as a treat, you are allowed to curl into a ball and take a shower.
I listened to the episode of 99% Invisible this week (*2) that celebrated the life and work of architect Michael Sorkin with a reading from his work Two Hundred And Fifty Things An Architect Should Know. It's worth listening to the piece itself, obviously, but what I took from it was a central idea of knowing the space you are in, a localised learning we all do in every space we ever, truly, occupy. The same way you know where all the light switches are when you walk through your house in the dark. The same way you know which of the burners on the hob is the rubbish one that never lights up, so to use one of the other three if you want to make rice. The way you have to move the bin to open the freezer door but not the fridge door. The way the hinges on the door to the front room are much looser, so if you just kick the door open – say you are carrying two cups of tea, or one cup of tea and a packet of biscuits and your phone – the door will swing hugely and wildly and leave a big dent in the wall behind it, and you'll have to hope your landlord doesn't see it when it comes to deposit time.
The routes home, the opening hours of the local shops, exactly how to leave all the various doors on all their various latches when you need to sprint from the shower down to the bottom of the stairs to get a Hermes parcel. The slight way you have to lift your bedroom door to properly click it shut at night. The one mostly useless electrical socket in the hallway you all, without discussing it, use to charge your toothbrushes from.
This is how we really live in a space: by learning all the quirks of it, untold and unacknowledged and unexplained, and, in a way, those quirks fitting to you, the same way a shoe slowly moulds to your foot. It's imperceptible, and it’s nuanced, and it’s unique only to you. But that’s living. And now every time I look at a shithole double bed wedged into what was someone's bathroom once, with a single-slice toaster and an impossibly small kettle and a mattress stain and an unexplained hatch, I think: 'Well, that isn't living, is it?'
There are no quirks to this place that are joyful to learn. There is only misery, here. Misery, and Paddington, and uplighters. No.
*1: Weekly schedule, unloading of feelings, I get to talk within my own echo chamber about the things that annoy me with very little space for reply: this column is just therapy, isn't it? I've managed to scam VICE into paying me to do therapy.
*2: At this point it's not even therapy, is it. This is just my desperate need to have a chat with someone clanging against my internal stream-of-consciousness, constant as it is, and because the lines of society and sanity have all blurred and the rules are inverted I guess this is how I write now. I write in the same way I frantically text my friends at 4AM, in the quiet calm of a sesh, telling them how much I love them, i.e. pathetically and without any external mask.