I have been living on my own ever since moving to London 4.5 years ago. It may seem obvious to most non-Londoners – after all, isn’t that what one is supposed to do having moved out of the parental home and finished one’s studies? The quality of life should rise along with one’s income, level of education and, inevitably, age. We do not spend all these years chasing degrees just to stick around our parents’ homes or student dorms for too long. We want to get done with it and move out. Move out to the better lives – the lives of our own; the lives ON our own.
Sadly, this seemingly simple formula does not seem to work well in London. Earlier this year, I wrote about the famously high level of rents in the UK capital. The Global Property Guide research consistently lists the usual suspects of Tokyo, London and New York among the world’s three most expensive megalopolises to rent in. For example, to rent a 120 sq.m. flat in a prime London location would cost USD 1.6k. That’s USD 230 per day – in other words, not the money most of us are seen casually throwing around.
Blame the high rents or look for scapegoats elsewhere – it is no news to anyone that many Londoners live in shared accommodation. Flatmates do not have to be related, married or even to have known each other for too long before moving in. Some find one another through impersonal online portals, of which there is no shortage in London. It may seem to be of limited concern with whom we Londoners end up sharing a home – as long as that second bedroom is indeed occupied by a diligent rent payer.
Gunnar, my perfect flatmate
And yet I continue surprising many of my London friends by living alone. My usual excuse is that I spent 23 years of my 27 to date sharing accommodation (most of it an actual room) with someone. I had waited for too long to have all that free space and all that precious peace and quiet to myself. And now that I got it, I am not likely to let go in a rush. No matter how big the burden of rent on my bank account.
It is not all that clear-cut, however. On days when my rent seriously squeezes my monthly budget, I start fantasising about how I could let a corner of my living room to a hypothetical “flatmate” and free up this or that much cash for my travels instead. How it would be so nice to split my council tax in two. Or to get that flatmate to charge my power key (prepaid electricity device – a UK thing, don’t ask) at the Costcutter downstairs. Or to share those mundane household duties with someone. I fired my Lithuanian cleaner the minute I stopped being an investment banker, and it is not easy being a full-time traveller, photography enthusiast, blogger – and a housekeeper – at the same time. Oh, and I also work at a City-based bank in the time I have left. One can see that I am seriously struggling here.
What brings me back to reality though is the sympathy for the unlucky person who might end up sharing a flat with me. Modesty aside – I would make a terrible flatmate. For a start, I tend to sing. At any moment in time, there is some song playing in my mind and bursting to come out. I sing all the time – in the office, in the streets, on my bicycle and in the swimming pool. My flat is therefore one big stage full of songs performed in a careful selection of foreign languages with varying degree of (low) skill. You have been warned. It is difficult enough to be my neighbour – let alone a flatmate.
Alright, I hear you say. Surely some singing could do no harm, especially if the flat is large enough and the walls are soundproof? Well, perhaps I should mention that I tend to dance, too. Dance around the entire flat. And, if my singing has at least been mastered somewhat in all those church choirs I have been part of, absolutely no-one ever taught me to dance. Dancing moves most similar to mine most commonly feature in TV programmes on exotic tribal cultures. Watch them once, and you’ll understand just how much fun it is. And as soon as your downstairs neighbours start knocking on the door, you will know that you hit the rhythm just right.
Leave your mess outside, please. Oh, and your TV, too.
Cleanliness is another important aspect of flat sharing. And more often than not, your cleanliness standards will differ from whoever you are sharing with. I hate to disappoint anyone – but the living areas that I face have to be shining. I always struggled to understand how one can go to work in the morning without leaving the flat in perfect order and all surfaces freshly wiped. I don’t think I would be able to sit through the day in the office knowing that my home in the meantime was messy. Since no sane person in the world seems to be sharing my pain, I would surely be the only one of the two in the house cleaning – and driving my poor flatmate mad at that.
And what about entertainment? In a city like London, it is truly sad that many of us spend so much time watching television. Is there really no other way to pass an evening? A TV set in the house is disgraceful. As a matter of fact, I have never owned one and do not think I ever will. What an electricity-consuming, BBC-subsidising time waster! I wonder what could be worse than sharing a home with a person whose first impulse would be reaching for the remote control. Surely as bad as sharing with someone who’d be walking into the room when you’re not there and turning the darn thing off. And again. And again.
Wash, iron, learn
While a TV set in the house is an emphatic taboo, washing machines are indeed welcome in all shapes and sizes. I even wonder sometimes if I should buy a second one. It remains a mystery to most how a household of one can sustain such impressive amounts of continuous laundry – but my washing machine seems to be on all the time. It just never stops. And when it reaches the end of the washing cycle, it gets so loud that one can almost see a helicopter flying around the kitchen. Truly I tell you, my washing machine is not to be messed with.
Love the laundry, love the ironing. What can be better than unfolding one’s elegantly spacious ironing board in the middle of the living room and giving oneself away to the timeless activity? I adore the actual ironing almost as much as being able to listen to language audio resources while doing the manual work. Yes, I am always revising a variety of unintuitive languages I used to speak at some point in the past – the latest such being Greek and Norwegian. The procedure is self-explanatory; I play my mp3 files over and over again, repeating out loud after the voice on the speaker. I am not wasting any time there. To be honest, I think a flatmate with a good sense of humour would even enjoy watching me doing what I am best in. Ironing and reciting words in a foreign language, that is.
Jokes aside though; one’s daily routine is a very serious matter. I am yet to meet a person whose sleep hours would match mine. My target lights-out hour is 11pm; the alarm goes off irrevocably at 6am and means serious action. I only have the time for a quick brush-up of the kitchen and the living room, an Eastern European breakfast (read: porridge) a few songs and a short wake-up dance – just in time before the neighbours are awake enough to complain. Anyone interrupting the holy process will be crushed without warning.
Finally, the real problem between the hypothetical flatmate and me would be guests. Some of my friends seem to be running a hotel business – there is always some kind of visitor at their place. That’s all flowers, as long as somebody else’s guest is not occupying the sofa in my living room. As if the facts that (a) London’s dwelling density is among the highest in the world and (b) the UK has the fifth smallest homes in Europe were not enough – one has to squeeze in a bit further to accommodate endlessly passing tourists. Please do not get me wrong; I happily welcome best buddies to my humble abode every now and then. I just absolutely refuse to understand how one can let a remote acquaintance into their home – even if for a short period of time. And don’t even mention that “couch-surfing” insanity. The concept is absolutely beyond me.
I have said it all. Wanna be flatmates, anyone?