What is it? Bed in a kitchen, the usual. We’re all locked in our houses in absolutely exceptional, world-changingly unusual circumstances, but still, somehow, the fundamentals remain unchanged: some cunt in a tactical quarter-zip fleece and GAP’s worst pair of jeans pulled down tight over brown Chelsea boots from Next is still trying to rinse us out of a grand a month for a bed in a kitchen.
Where is it? Belsize Park, a proper "stressed about school catchment zones" area of London.
What is there to do locally? There is nothing to do in Belsize Park except talk to other parents about your graphic design company, take up two tables at once in any of the coffee shops in the area and maybe, like, marry Daisy Lowe’s mum or something.
Alright, how much are they asking? £950 per month.
Loathe as I am to take this column down the avenue of "raving about the coronavirus" – in months and years, when we look back at how frantic we were during the first empty weeks of isolation, how we coped with the changing faces of social contact and direct commerce, and how much we sheerly talked about coronavirus, how easily we linked it to everything, we’ll get great wave-like tinges of embarrassment, like reading back through a teenage diary but worse – but coronavirus is happening, in the background, grey and looming, and the government is briefing us daily on the baby steps they are taking to respond.
Tied up tight within that is the housing market: on Tuesday, they announced plans to offer mortgage holidays to homeowners who were expecting to struggle in the face of drastically reduced income due to coronavirus, which was very nice for homeowners but, obviously, entirely forgot the 37 percent of households that still rent and are reliant on either private landlords or social housing to, you know, not be homeless.
It is perhaps optimistic of me to expect the Tory government to hastily follow up with some plans for renters today – I am confident that the reason they prioritised relief for homeowners is because homeownership is so deeply, concretely tied to the Conservative identity that a number of their policymakers just plain forgot renters and the concept of renting existed – but for now, broadly, we are all on the hook for our rental payments next month. Doesn’t matter if you lost your job, had your hours drastically reduced, are living off scant savings or emergency sick pay: your landlord wants their rent, and they are going to be a cunt about getting it.
That is the current reality.
But real life still exists, in a reduced fashion, and I am feeling for those who cheerfully signed tenancy agreements last April, thinking, “It’s fine. When we need to move again this time next year, there won’t be a global pandemic shutting great factions of society down. We will find a place, easy,” who have been proven fundamentally wrong about that, and are now having to look for a room somewhere. Imagine this, right, imagine this but also having to look for a new place to live while it’s happening. Hell; hell. Sheer and utter hell.
Belsize Park this week is a kitchen someone wedged a single bed into. Do not be tricked by the fact that there are two pillows laid neatly out on the mattress: that is still a single bed (and do not be fooled by the fact that the bed is made and has a duvet, either – those are props that the photographer takes to each house, folding some towels up on the bed like a hotel, unfurling a clean tea towel like a flag in the kitchen, then putting them all back carefully in the car when they leave and offering the house to you as close to unfurnished as humanly possible).
Your bedroom area is demarcated by some white wooden boards along the edge of it. Everything outside of the boards is not bedroom, it’s listed on Rightmove as a “good size reception room”. The kitchen is the bit on the slate tiles. The bathroom is the bit with all the bathroom bits in it, but it is small. Your telly is on the counter above your fridge. Your hob is built into your microwave. Everything at once, all in the same room. The kitchen is for some reason segmented into two half kitchens. This is one of the most dizzying studio flat shithole layouts I’ve ever seen.
A fun imagination game I like to play with myself when I see a flat like this is, "Hey: What Room Was This Before?". The rules of the game is you imagine what this room was before some landlord fitted it to be a very tiny, very rubbish studio apartment. Do it with your mind, now: scrape out all the furniture, the carpet ceding to slate, the kitchenette, the wooden boards. What, in this blank space, would this room be used for? It’s quite long and thin, so probably not a master bedroom. It’s not really broad enough to be a comfortable living room. Could be a spare room, maybe, in a wider house, or maybe an office. On its own, it could have been a bathroom, but the wall-to-ceiling unfrosted window at the front of it suggests not.
If I was to guess I’d say "bunk bed bedroom for a cracklingly furious adolescent late teen". Some kid with a self-done lip-piercing painted exactly one wall of this room black and tried to teach himself bass guitar in here, and kept pissing in big two-litre Tango bottles so he didn’t have to abandon any games of StarCraft. That’s the vibe this room has. But that was a lifetime ago, and the house has been sold now, moved on, and someone wedged a single bed into it and two half kitchens, and a fridge and a shower and a telly and some folded towels, and it trying to make you – you, with your coronavirus and your panicked need to move – make you pay £950 a month to live in it.
If I was a betting man, I’d bet that leaving this room folds you out into a corridor which leads to a series of other rooms similarly fitted out like this. That you and five others sit in your long little rooms, sleeping in your single beds, trying not to glance at each other in the hallways. Your breakfast nook is an offcut of worksurface inexplicably mounted low beneath a spare kitchen cabinet, and your view is "the tarred rooftop above someone else’s bay window". I know it’s hard out there, I know coronavirus has us pedalling backwards. But please do not rent this place. Please, please keep looking for something else.