What is it? For the first time in a reasonably long while I have absolutely no idea. A studio flat? I mean it isn’t, is it. It’s a single bed in what I’m pretty sure is half a corridor. But let’s move forward like a shark. I’m just going to call this one a “studio flat” and leave. We’ll be here all day if we try and actually define this mess.
Where is it? Paddington, one of those places that exists on a Monopoly board and on a Tube map but not, actually, in real life. It’s just a train station that got out of hand, we didn’t need to stick arguably one of the best area names in London to what is realistically just a station and exactly one pub.
What is there to do locally? I mean, maybe I am biased because every time I arrive at Paddington I end up walking around like a little red tosser because I follow the guidelines on the floor that tell me to either go to the Tube or the taxi rank and every time I do it loops me up out of the station, through central London, up past Watford (the tiny plastic wheels on my luggage have now shattered and sheared off, I am now just dragging the suitcase like a lump, and even the hardened plastic shell is starting to fray against the concrete), to Manchester, back from Manchester, past the Delice de France and then actually back where I was going all along. Paddington Station is an exquisite joke built just to be played on me. It is a labyrinth with, instead of a minotaur, two WH Smiths.
Alright, how much are they asking? £1,343 p.c.m.
I find ladders sinister. Why is this? I take one step up a ladder and my body is like, “Well biologically, I can’t cope with this”. I take a single step to get 11 inches higher off the floor than I was before I started and my brain explodes. Centre of gravity gone and remade anew. Do I trust my legs? Broadly, for decades, my legs have done a fairly fine job of keeping me upright. Couple of slips and falls here and there. A strange three-year post-puberty period where I would randomly fall over once a month like clockwork, surprised again by the extremes of my new height. That time my legs just buckled underneath me while I was stood in a pub and – still tall enough to see over the bar – I casually reached for my pint to keep drinking it while the landlord was yelling, “RIGHT, CUNT, OUT.” Like: broadly I trust my legs. Then I set one foot on a ladder and I am not sure I trust my legs. I am not sure I ever trusted my legs.
And so we all agree ladders are cloaked in an exotic mystique that the human brain can never truly decipher. Ladders are tools to take us from one vertical plane to another at the expense of our confidence. We all, agree, that ladders have the devil inside them. This is why I do not want one semi-permanently in my home. And yet:
I am going to try my best to interpret this flat based on the photographs provided, because they are extremely terrible photographs – strange angles, odd heights to be taken from, obscured visions of the flat as it is, one just straight up photo of a hallway – but mainly we are looking at a studio flat (a long a thin one leading to an outdoor space: I feel like, in a previous life, this entire flat was just a hallway, or possibly a storage space) with a single bed the exact size and shape of the alcove next to the door and window. There is also a small desk or dressing table built onto the exact width of half a wall, which I find quite profoundly strange. The whole thing is finished to that grey-on-grey standard that only estate agents find genuinely alluring, because none of them have souls in their bodies.
The kitchen, which I think is just a separate section of corridor behind that half-wall, is the usual Rental Opportunity shit we normally see: a custom-built two-ring electric hob, plus one of those ominous stainless steel mini sinks you always see in murderer’s basements in American thrillers, where the killer has made their basement especially for killing, and they flick on the strip lights one by one – tink, tink, tink – and you see on a hook their last victim, blood pooling black through a vent on the concrete floor, their liver removed and washed in the sink. This sink. This is that sink.
But what’s getting me is the ladder. There, just peek outside, roll over in bed and look through your door: there’s a ladder, there, up to another door. I cannot figure what is inside that door.
Is it… a separate room that has the bathroom inside it? It can’t be, it can’t be, and yet we can’t rule it out. Is it… someone else’s flat? Or is it: the entrance to your house, a doorway before the doorway, a door in another building you have to unlock (and tiptoe down a ladder) to get to your front door, which opens immediately into your bed? Is that what’s going on here? You have to climb up through someone else’s hallway, to get to the roof, to briefly step outside on to the roof and into a small structure on top of the roof, your flat essentially at this point just a well-finished shed?
Is that what is going on here with the ladder? I just feel that nothing good comes from having a semi-permanent ladder in your house. Normal houses don’t have ladders fixed in place inside them. It’s only weird-angled London shitholes that need ladders in them to get people around.
I think there’s nothing more sinister in a building that an entirely normal feature in slightly the wrong place: a hatch behind a bookcase, a door that only locks from one side, a cellar that is only half the size that the floorplan says it is and, hold on, is that a human fingernail embedded in the floor? This ladder hums with the same ominous “Austrian basement” energy.
I’m not saying the person who made this (and this has been made, and recently: the complete lack of marks or scuffs on the wall, the freshness of the paint and the floor veneers – nobody has ever lived here, which means someone has spent lockdown hiring builders to make this room a reality) has murdered someone, or built this place especially to keep someone captive in. But: hmm, no, where was I going with this? Lost the train of thought. I’m sure it’s fine. I’m like…. 80 percent sure that whoever built this has never done a murder. I am 85 percent sure!