We went up the narrowest stairs I had ever seen, he unlocked the door and we were in what can only be described as a platform with a kitchen on the side. Another staircase descended from the other side of the platform to a bedroom with a whiff of mould. The bathroom was obviously a broom cupboard at some point and had NO WINDOWS. “It’s a cool space, right” the landlord said, I’m not sure if he was trying to convince me or him. I thanked him for showing it to me and before I left he warned me to not take too long to express interest, “flats in London go really quickly”. I was incredulous that anyone would rent this unbelievable dump. Little did I know then…
When I left Greece back in 2002 the housing situation in Athens was bearable and the economy was going through it’s pre-Olympics golden phase. I was renting a one bed flat in the centre of the city comfortably with a salary of a lowly tech writer. On top of that it’s a country that has earthquakes and so buildings are built with that in mind. There is concrete for example, real walls and relatively new buildings. London does not suffer from earthquakes and it protects its architectural character with a vengeance. While that is visually pleasing it also means that living in a house built 250 years ago is not rare – on the contrary, to the British psyche it is actually desirable. I assure you that most continental Europeans are horrified.
You have to understand something about my early years in London. I had very little money. Because, let’s face it, there are nice houses everywhere, but one needs to be able to pay for them. London however has a particularly challenging problem with housing since the demand has historically outstripped supply – it’s a landlord’s game. Rents are *insane* by any standard.
In every London borough the average rent for a one-bedroom house or flat on the private market is at least 34% of median pre-tax pay in London. The average across the capital is that a one-bedroom dwelling cost the equivalent of almost half (45.3%) the gross-median pay in London.London’s Poverty Profile report 2021
And obviously we all had to live with housemates. Even when you have bought your house – through some random crazy ass luck or the bank of mum and dad – it still makes sense to live with housemates cause even if a mortgage is less expensive than rent, it’s still expensive.
If you haven’t lived in this city, it mind sound as if I talk about money (and the lack of it) quite a lot but you also have to understand that this is the main thing that really is on the mind of most younger Londoners. The city is CRAZY expensive and you know if you’ve made it or not every day. Can you afford to take the bus only or the tube too? How many times a month can you take an Uber? Can you afford to live with less than 3 other housemates? Can you afford an ensuite room in your house? Can you shop anywhere other than Asda and Lidl? Is it at all possible to go to a posh bar more than once a month? Can you eat at any restaurant that’s not a chain restaurant? How many months are you going to be saving to go to *that* concert? Do you work in the creative industries in which case you are resigned to a life of pot noodles unless your big break comes along? And so on.
Let me assure you, once you have had to take THREE BUSES to get somewhere because you have the appropriate tube fare in your bank account but you can’t withdraw it cause the ATM won’t give you four pounds, you never forget it.
And rent is BY FAR your biggest expense. And what’s enraging is that in most cases, you pay A LOT for very little.
Once, through a combination of sheer luck and a kindly landlord I managed to find an INCREDIBLE house with real concrete walls, a garden and plenty of space for very reasonable money in Chalk Farm. This house was basically the dream. Three housemates or two couples could easily share the house which is what we did for a couple of years.
There was one thing that was incredibly madenning about this house. It had… seriously… I kid you not, a WALL TO WALL CARPET IN THE BATHROOM HUGGING THE TOILET ITSELF. I’ve never been more disgusted and yet, we LIVED with that disaster zone of bacteria and infection for years. Because when you can live in a house in Chalk Farm with a garden for 500 quid a month you shut the fuck up and load up on athlete’s foot cream.
The house where I spent most years in London was in Tottenham which is… an interesting area. In true London fashion you didn’t want to be there 20 years ago and now you are internally slapping yourself that you didn’t have the presence of mind to buy a house there back then. Anyhow. This was the first house I stayed with people I did not know and honestly it was a REVELATION. I spent some incredibly happy times in my tiny loft room (with en suite bathroom, I had clearly made it). Housemates came and went, the main bathroom stank to high heaven and I was glad I didn’t have to use it but it was quiet, convenient, bizarrely cool and cheap. Another 500 quid a month – the ensuite being possible because Chalk Farm is zone 2 and Tottenham is zone 3.
For the last few years Antonis and I have been living in an owned house very close to the very edge of London – the border being the M25. It’s not accurate but it works.
Do you want to know what is the single most satisfying thing about living in a house we own.
With real nails.
So. There you have it.
- Grexit/ Brexit
- The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach
- The night bus
- Words save our lives… sometimes
- The rest is noise
- How not to bite your nails in the Officials’ Box
- Always have a sister
- Greek London
- This green and pleasant land
- The bridge of aspiration
- The knight in well travelled armor
- Carpets in the toilet and other adventures in housing
- Moments in Art
- The NHS hunger games
- In nocte consilium
- The friends we found, the friends we lost
- Blogging tips for beginners
- Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child
- γνῶθι σεαυτόν
- How to leave London