What is it? The Gumtree advert says “Studio flat in Pier Road Pier Road, London, E16” but the photos say “property reclaimed from the police as a crime scene and sold at steep discount at an auction”, so hard exactly to tell isn’t it.
Where is it? On the grey lifeless spit of land that makes up “North Woolwich”, a sort of interstitial Thames island that sits between London City Airport and Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in a way that suggests to me – and please believe I am not a doctor just an enthusiast of not being killed by inhaling – that breathing the air there like, one time is enough to knock ten to 15 good ones off your life expectancy, and don’t even talk to me about drinking the water –
What is there to do locally? Nothing. Literally, nothing. I’ve never seen a Time Out blackout like this. There was once a short-run museum in the old station there, but that closed in 2010. I assume North Woolwich is just one of those weird acres of land that exists in central London for bankers to live in during the week, assembled out of grey-white concrete that reaches into the sky like a monolith, a London Docklands or a Stratford. I suppose you don’t really need any immediate cultural doorstep if the only thing you do outside of work is get an Addy Lee to Silk & Grain and pay people in cash to come to your house and rim you.
Alright, how much are they asking? £1,300 p.c.m.
Hey: what happened here? What happened here. What happened, here? What happened, in this space. Because looking at the photos like this makes me want to get one of my more “five astrology app” friends to come over and sage my laptop:
Theory #1 is someone assembled some sort of strange bomb that only emitted sand and dust and exploded it in this property, killing themselves. Theory #2 is someone collapsed and died and decomposed there for weeks, unchecked, seeping into those floorboards by the radiator, which is why they are all damp and swollen and frayed. Theory #3 is something more In Cold Blood happened – calculated murder rampage, entire family wiped out in an evening.
Something happened here, is what I’m saying, because never in the history of this column have I seen a house that says “until they took them down to take these photos, there were tarpaulins duct-taped to the windows so the press couldn’t see in” more. No other building in the hundreds of installments of London Rental Opportunity of the Week has said, to me, “someone was tied to a chair with an extension cable here”.
I feel like if you sleep in this property, all of the dangling lightbulbs will flicker and sway as if pushed by some invisible cackling man in a blood-and-sweat stained vest, and you will hear the buzzing of flies but you won’t see any flies, and, occasionally, you’ll leave the house in the morning to find a small, thin, weak bouquet of supermarket posies, left there overnight by hands unknown. Locals will make the sign of the cross as they pass you in the dead grey streets of North Woolwich. Tradesmen will refuse to cross the threshold of your home unless you pay them half the quoted invoice upfront.
Some days, you’ll come back and all the doors and windows will be open, but inside there is an eerie calm. Sometimes, when you chop red meat quietly in the kitchen, you’ll feel it: that close, purring feeling of a human being stood directly behind you, but then you turn – knife drawn – and there’s nothing there. You felt something, though, didn’t you? You felt something though, didn’t you.
“Mum, can I come over?” you say, and she says back: “I live in Harrogate, you prat. It’s 10 PM and it takes the best part of three hours to get here. No you can’t.” And you say, not crying but tears in your eyes, you say, “Yeah I know but I have to. Can Dad pick me up from the station?” And she listens to the fear in your voice, that sharp strong trembling, and knows something primal is wrong, something that makes you – right now – need your mum more than you need anything or anybody else, and she melts a little inside. But: “No, he’s already got his comfies on. But I’ll give you £5 for the taxi,” and you say: fine.
Looking beyond the Murder Vibe (“Please, ignore the Murder Vibe” – an estate agent, right now, probably, as the whispey fingers of a ghost tickles up their back as they show around a young-but-alarmed couple looking for their first place), this place takes all the classic markers of the Rental Opportunity of the Week Shithole and somehow makes them worse.
You’ve got the tiny stand-up kitchenette area that is inexplicably covered with a film of dust; one entire wall that is seemingly made of a creeping mould (which the listing promises will be “re-painted” before move-in, so that means they will paint over the mould, which obviously doesn’t solve mould, and then when the mould seeps through the paint, they will charge you for the repair out of your deposit), and the inexplicable fact that the two sides of the kitchen – the sink and the work counter with fridge and oven – are separated by a gulf of space, and seeing as the kitchen is also your living room, I assume that, should you want to, say, drain a burning hot pan of pasta, you have to slalom past your sofa and TV to do it.
Then there’s the fact they haven’t bothered to take a photo of the bathroom, presumably because it’s still crusted with blood; the fact that the listing has been copy-pasted over from another listing (estate agents are so mentally useless that they cannot even write one paragraph about a property without durr-braining back to their previous work and plagiarising it) so it suggests that this one-room property is actually a “fantastic two-bed first floor flat”; the fact that the bedroom is exactly the same dimensions of a double bed and nothing else and is eerily illuminated by a red lightbulb, which is a totally normal thing to have in houses where the survivors made it out alive; the fact, again, that this costs one thousand three hundred pounds a month.
I’m not saying “don’t rent the murder house in North Woolwich”. I’m actually saying, “don’t even enter the murder house in North Woolwich”. I feel bad for even showing you photos of the murder house in North Woolwich. I feel like I’ll get a staticky phone call from an unlisted Foxton’s number in a minute and then, exactly one week to the day later, be found dead.
If that does happen, I’m just saying now: can one of you avenge me, please? Bury the bones of whatever troubled spirit that haunts this house, put a lid on the well they were kept captive in, and, for the good of the rest of the people in this city, board this property up and never let anyone go in it again. Cheers. Thank you.