What is living in London like? Hell. Here’s proof, beyond all doubt, that renting in London is a nightmare.
What is it? People are moving out of London. This has always happened, in waves: people move down here a year after graduating and settle into a fine enough office job, and spend two to three years drinking around the city on a meagre budget, and then meet someone in a bar or on Tinder and kind of click, and then they move out of their flatshare and you move out of yours and you decide: hey, why not move in together, it’ll be cheaper, and then
Where is it? before you’ve really noticed it you’ve proposed on holiday and gone to their parents’ for Christmas and invited all those London friends – all those London friends you half-made a few years ago and started neglecting recently in exchange for the blissful bubble of domesticity – to your wedding, your wedding held at a marquee outside a country house an hour outside of London, because you don’t actually really like the city, paid for in full by your collective parents, the wedding, and you’ve both clambered onto the very bottom rung of the property ladder thanks to a generous stipend from their dad and
What is there to do locally? one day they come out of the bathroom, trembling, holding a small white pissed-on stick, and you feel your stomach drop out of you like a lift hurtling to the ground, but it’s good, the fear, it’s not the horrible fear, it’s the fear that nothing will ever be the same again, but you never wanted it to be anyway and
Alright, how much are they asking? then you both sit down and decide that, before the Baba comes, and you have both decided to call it “the Baba”, you should probably move out of the city: this is not a place – you both decide, because you have no real connection to it anyway, it’s just where you happen to live and work – this is not the place to raise a child. So you sell up and move to, like, “Maidstone”, and the exact day you move out in an expensive double-berth van some former art student from Leeds with too many earrings arrives in King’s Cross with exactly one suitcase and a heart full of dreams, and so the cycle begins anew, and again and again and again, forever and ever and ever, the cycle will go on, until the heat death of the fucking universe. This city desires flesh to crush and it will have it—
So people are always moving out of London. But they are especially moving out now, because: well, obviously. The city, like the rest of the world, is dead. So you may as well move out to a satellite British city – a Birmingham, a Leeds, an Edinburgh – and at least be cooped up in more room for less money; or you may as well just hunker down at your mum’s house for a bit, seeing as she moved out to that nice place with all those rooms and the heating on; or you could “move to Margate”, as that seems like a thing people do now, instead of having a crisis. So, right now, London is depleting its near-constant stock of people, and nobody is actively moving in to the capital. Now:
I was taught that there is a very simple equation that underpins the iron-tight capitalist grip we live within, and that is “supply” and “demand”. When people want something, and you have it, you can charge more for it. But if there is less of this so-called “demand”, the need for supply is lessened, so the price fluctuates appropriately. Was I taught that at school, or did I dream that? If fewer people want to rent flats in London, surely the much-promised property crash is not only incoming, but actually happening, and should as such be reflected in our rents? Right? Or is this cunt really trying to charge £1,750 pcm for a raised-kitchen two-bed in Victoria Park?
So here’s the thing: this is a two-bed flat, and if you and a mate move in you both get a fine enough bedroom (one, opening abruptly on to a grim grey concreted garden space, which is presumably freezing in winter as a result of being so exposed to outdoor windows; the other, with an immovable single bed in it, is replete with an excess of ugly built-in wardrobes) and a shared kitchen/living room space for cheap-enough-but-not-actually-that-cheap rent, right on Victoria Park.
You can go to Victoria Park every morning, can’t you, and queue up among prams to get a loaf of bread from Pavilion, then try to navigate your way back without getting clattered into by cool dads teaching their lanky 12-year-old – who has always had long hair, even as a little boy! They never had a haircut! – how to skateboard. You could do that and that could be your life. But when you come back, to your flat, with the cold bedroom or the single bed, and you consider making your bread into some kind of breakfast, you have to go to the mad kitchen which is inside your living room on a weird special plinth.
I am, of course, seduced by the mania of this kitchen. This flat had a problem (it has two bedrooms, a bathroom and a living room, but no kitchen) and the person who fitted it found a solution (create a special mezzanine level, apparently wrought out of the fucking iron they used to make trains out of in the 18th century, and mount the kitchen on that).
The idea of an entire kitchen being an afterthought is stunning, to me, very gorgeous. The fact that such a well-crafted kitchen plinth exists – where do you find a plinth like this? How did you get it up the stairs? Why did you not just fit a kitchen in the corner, without the plinth level? – fills me with a delightful horror, the same way those little two-hob ovens that only landlords know where to buy, or those little half-sinks that only landlords ever fit in bathrooms, do.
Who looked at this room – this perfectly normal room – once, and thought: ‘Can we put a fucking steampunk kitchen in here, like something imported from the inside of a felled zeppelin full of regency princes, can we put one of those, in here, at great cost, for no reason? Is that a thing we can do?’ And a builder sighing next to them beheld that corner and said: “Yep.”
What am I mad at, really? Am I mad at the kitchen? I’m not: I mean it’s something to talk about, isn’t it, when people come over and ask, “Why is your kitchen mounted on the wreckage of the 1999 Will Smith vehicle Wild, Wild West?” And I’m not mad at the two-bed on Victoria Park, because it’s fine enough and I’ve definitely lived in worse. But am I mad at the mechanisms in place, the great unseen metal-giant mechanisms, which make the people who own this think it’s worth £875 per person per month, with a kitchen elevated on a dais, with a single bed and too many wardrobes, rent scrabbling up and up and up, ever higher and ever higher, yearly contracts eclipsed by new, even higher yearly contracts, and that rent is yet to dip even in the middle of a fucking global pandemic that has seen numbers like never before leave the city. That’s what I’m mad about.
Anyway: Happy! New! Year!