What is it? A viral tweet that you can stop sending me now, thank you, thank you very much obviously but you can stop –
Where is it? It’s in Notting Hill, home to "Hugh Grant affectedly stuttering over a sentence he started there in the year 1998, trying desperately to get to the end of it before he dies" and "a sort of grimy antiquarian market scene". It’s quite strange that those two very distinct sides of the London character co-exist here so closely – upper echelon middle class vs. old boys without teeth selling war badges near a rusted-out taxi – and so it turns into something clashing and fantastic and weird, where you can somehow buy a Celine jacket from a charity shop on the same street but at the same time pay £35 for a roast dinner in a pub. Notting Hill is, if nothing else, a land of contrasts.
What is there to do locally? Well that, obviously, and then also Carnival, a fairly good source of passive income in just waiting for the Bank Holiday weekend it’s on and charging people £2 a piss, £4 a shit to use your bathroom. If coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that the UK’s provision of public toilet facilities is disastrously short-stocked and short-sighted, and successive governments and local regimes have, for years, ignored the idea any of us might ever need to shit outside our own houses. If I was a smart man I would have quit writing the moment lockdown started, bought a Portaloo on eBay, and spent my days hauling it around London Fields, charging people to blast piss into it. "Golby’s Quick Piss". Apprentice semi-finalist by 2022. Piss billionaire by 2030. All of that. But I didn’t, and now you have to read this.
Alright, how much are they asking? Sale, not rent, this time: £200,000, which is, I’m sickened to say, "cheap for London". But, then. Wait until you see it. Wait until you see it. Wait and see.
Please stop sending me this tweet:
You can stop sending me the tweet. Here are the photos, by the way, from the link in the tweet. (That you can stop sending me, now). The message here is clear: stop sending me this tweet.
Is this the worst one ever? It’s up there, that’s for sure, but we have seen some crap. The fundamentals: a flopped-in single bed, a sink–hob combi directly next to it, a pan rack sandwiched between that and the shower. Think about it like this: if this were just a room with a shower that close to a single bed, it would be Top 10 Worst-troublingly Bad. But it isn’t, because it’s got a kitchen sandwiched in there, too. I had to check the floorplan to see if there was a toilet, because for a worrying minute I thought the intimation might be that you had to shit in the shower and just blast it down there with the pressure jets, but there is a toilet, locked in a tiny cupboard in the corner of your room, presumably lit with a single fluoro bulb. (There are no photographs of the toilet: if these are the photos they are happy to let people see, imagine how bad the toilet is that they are censoring it from us.) Ten tiles on the wall. Wall art ripped out of the frame and balanced on top of the kitchen. TV plugged precariously into a wobbling set of shelves. Window screen in a permanent state of semi-closedness. Two hundred thousand. Pounds.
I always like to think how I would spend my life if I lived in one of these. The sad reality is I could probably live here just fine, but in a way that would make me miserable, wholly miserable, down-to-the-soul miserable, in a way where you don’t notice it – the misery – building, trickling in like sand, until you sit up one day and realise you cannot walk to the shops because your body feels too heavy, weighed down as it is with your soul, and you spend a whole day and a whole night lying rigid on your bed, staring at the ceiling but with Netflix playing constantly in the background on a loop, and you’re not paying attention and you can’t see or hear anymore but here you are, in the dark and in the gloom, in the thin grey light, wracked with a misery you never invited in.
I could do that, here. I don’t need much. I could set up a PS4 and a big TV at the bottom of my bed. Some nice quilts and that. Dunno where I’d put my clothes but I’m thinking of becoming one of those "five white t-shirts and two good sets of trousers" lads anyway, so could do with downsizing. I, seriously, could just live off a diet of cereal bars and beer if I wanted to, and this kitchen could stock both (it does not have a fridge, washing machine, bathroom sink, but for some reason it has a wall-mounted soap dispenser). It is horrible, sure, but I could – if I was condemned to by the UN – live in this room. I just wouldn’t notice it was killing me until the very last second.
So we need to zoom out a little wider. Who owns this room, who lived in this room before, and who is trying to sell this room? Crucially, who is trying to sell this for £200,000? The property listing – ”a wonderful opportunity to create a London bolt hole in this prime central location in W11” – specifies that this would be a cash-only purchase, and that’s because there is no bank on the planet that would secure a £200,000 mortgage against this. Who is selling this for two hundred thousand pounds, cash? Who told them that was an appropriate asking price? How do "Douglas & Gordon – Notting Hill" estate agents live with themselves at night?
The more I write this column, the more I learn about the various uses people have for properties like this – contexts where studio flats with a kitchenette and a single bed could be useful. There is a whole sub-class of commuter city workers, for instance, who live in mansions in the sticks during the week – beyond the commuter counties, as far as Wales if needs be – but live in the city four nights a week without their family, and for that reason, a tiny studio that does the bare minimum but is a quick bus-ride to work makes a rough kind of sense: OK. There have been rental properties that have come up where people have quickly pointed out they could be a no-frills base for a sex worker, for instance, just enough space for them to do their job and have a shower afterwards: also very fine. I don’t think anyone can get any use out of this, though. There is no world I can imagine where someone is happy to pay £200,000 for this.
So I’m left in a quandary, I suppose. Am I looking at a tax dodge, here? Am I looking for something more sinister than that? Or am I looking at the natural end point for a series of lacklustre regulations – a government report published this week found that a planning law relaxation five years ago was allowing developers to convert existing properties (shops, offices, &c.) into residential spaces without planning permission, and this is the obvious fruit of their deranged labours – a tip of the iceberg, the start of many to come? Uh… good questions. I would love to know the answers!