Small talk at the cuckoo’s nest

Carlito gets up around midday and spends most afternoons curled up in his hoodie watching Shakira videos on his phone. I often wonder what he does for a living or why he moved here. While he lies on the living room sofa nursing a diabetic coma from excess coca cola consumption, I suspect he expends most of his energy at the in-drawn breath of dark somewhere in Soho or Vauxhall.

I barely spoke to him during my brief tenure at Bow Towers. Having made the wrong move on returning from Lisbon, I made little effort to ingratiate myself into the flat dynamic.

At times it felt sectioned inside an old folks’ home such were the prudish rituals of Carlito’s live-in-uncle. With my resentment brewing, I made a vow of silence to get me through the remaining weeks.

Living in his mouse box drenched in cheap aftershave and wires, I never got a chance to say goodbye to Carlito. But before I set off for pastures new, I bumped into him in the lift as we floated towards the asylum. It’s been hot recently, its been very hot indeed and after lamely bringing up my inability to sleep, we began chatting as our lives overlapped in this babel of frustrated wills.

Carrying my second large water bottle of the day, I enthusiastically approved of his fitness routine, and with the sun acting like an inferno, we chirped like finches on a telephone wire; discussing free weights, crunches, running and health-related neuroses.

But for all our friendly fitness talk, he seemed somewhat lost to me, like a child hidden in a cupboard in a far away land. I still have no idea what he does for a living or why he moved here to be with his uncle. As like a finch on a wire, it’s all the better to be seen and heard, and fly away as fast as you can.

 

 

Double room for rent near Old Street

One of the benefits of working independently is the freedom to have absurd flat viewings. Like this morning when a muscly tattooed Polish chef, who couldn’t speak a distinguishable word of English, and his Irish brother-in-law came round to see my flat.

Standing together in Greg’s old bedsit, an austere collection of second-hand furniture and sunlight, I politely explained my role and responsibilities. My lips were parroting the same old lines, a puffing collection of melancholy sighs and amusing asides.

Has it really come to this?

With his industrial strength tattoos and rock warrior attire, I instinctively felt Marius’s future lay elsewhere. A skittish energy filled the room as he sat down, like a naughty child entering a doctor’s waiting room without any toys.

Immediately detecting my unease, the Irish chaperone gave bizarre assurances on how ‘sweet and clean’ his brother-in-law was. That he would be a great flatmate and I would barely notice him at all.

‘You seem like a good bloke Daniel, we just need to get him settled for a month before we find something more permanent.’

Marius’s painted biceps became more pervasive as he nodded along with his mentor’s sermon. At this point I began to feel sorry for the guy, like he was being auctioned off to anyone desperate enough to take him.

‘What a great place Daniel’s place has here…wouldn’t it be great to live so close to the canal?’

We then all shook hands at the front door and promised to get in touch the following morning to confirm. Of course, none of us did. Flat viewings oscillate from white lies to abject desperation in my experience. A mini-series of half-truths and lips sharpened from making judgements.

Arnold Circus

Arnold Circus Des BlenkinsoppAuthor’s Note

Life is not supposed to be confined to one place and living in an N1 council estate, I sometimes long to move on and write about something new. If that turns out to be case, then it certainly won’t be in Arnold Circus, Shoreditch but you’ll have to keep reading to find out why. This place I prefer to keep to myself. I do hope this will mean something to someone one day though. Until then I hereby present a re-published story about a fairytale council estate in Shoreditch.

***

For most Londoners I know, the term ‘ex-council’ is a pejorative expressed with a wry shrug. Cheek by jowl people move here and live in council estates under the loving supervision of private landlords. It’s a necessity rather than a choice and if you don’t like it, then move to Leeds.

Everyone dreams about their ideal home and as a self-declared dreamer and social climber, I’d love a two-bedroom flat in Arnold Circus. Designed by Victorian philanthropists for the respectful working-classes, Arnold Circus is one of the most beautiful and fascinating council estates in Britain.

Arnold Circus Lady Aga

With its red brick tenements individually named after villages on the River Thames and connected by leafy boulevards that extend from a central communal bandstand, Arnold Circus is like a real-time painting fashioned from the rubble of dismantled slums.

Arnold Circus Andrea Vail

This Victorian model village has a fairytale quality that surpasses anything you may find in London’s richer neighbourhoods. What is really inspiring is how street design and architecture can improve people’s lives. It’s like every footstep you make has been accounted for on a map. Indeed there aren’t many council estates registered by English Heritage for their special historic interest.

Still home to thousands of social tenants and a few private professionals, I will never rent, let alone, own a flat in Arnold Circus. But for while I still live in East London it will remain my favourite conduit – a gateway to better things.

Arnold Circus Bandstand

With the rich green canopies sheltering bourgeois dog walkers and teen gangs, it feels like my footsteps become brush strokes whenever I walk through Arnold Circus. Like I’m subconsciously taking part in someone else’s painting. A snapshot of consciousness amidst the overgrown ferns and rising Plane trees.

Arnold Circus is a bona fide masterpiece in urban planning and all I am is a passing visitor, a solitary figure traversing on foot.

Up a Gumtree

Gumtree has played a part in most people’s lives since its conception in 2000. Providing the great British public with many of its essential needs for well over a decade – whether it’s a new shed, one night stand or an unhinged flatmate, the online classified website has it all. On forming part of our digital furniture like television adverts and BBC weathermen did in the 1980s, the website provides a universal portal for people to share, trade and form new relationships. Embraced by the illiterate and super educated alike, Gumtree has cut through social and racial differences and provides a welcoming home for everyone in society.

Modern flatshares are almost entirely reliant on the success of a classified ad. What I have noticed is the clear discrimination working-class men face in trying to find a place to stay on Gumtree. The majority of the London flatshare adverts state they are after ‘female professionals’ or if gender is not an issue then professionals or students may only apply. Where is the guy who works in the crisp factory going to live? Is a ‘professional girl’ in a call centre working as a customer service representative a more desirable member of society than a hard working plumber on 35k a year?

Sticking to our own kind is entirely natural and women in particular have to be careful. Gumtree is a feral website and provides an anonymous forum for the dispossessed, lonely and members of society that nobody else cares about. Usually they are male but not exclusively. Gumtree has also exposed a shocking increase in illiteracy levels in this country. This poor guy certainly didn’t use a spell checker before replying to my flat advert in 2008.

hi there

i just wants to know if ur room is still avilbell,so i can halla at ya and c if u avbel to rent me one of those room witch going to be free by 12th of march.well i am studint n i allredy have my acommodation booked till 10th of march so i tink if ur room is going 2 be free n if u dunt have any problem with having 21 years old studint around,Every ting going 2 be allright.if u dunt mind ill going 2 leave u my number so u can get back 2 me.

Sean

Suffice to say my room was not ‘avilbell’ to Sean but after meeting a series of freaks, misfits and miscreants from across Europe and being rejected by all of them. Desperation takes hold and you have to take leave of your prejudices in order to pay the rent. As a result I have shared a living space with a motley crew of bizarre characters courtesy of Gumtree. For while the silent majority have been lovely, friendly and thoroughly decent people; like the American House of Representatives, the lunatic fringe always seems to have a disproportionate influence on any flatshare experience.

Some of my flatshare highlights have included a homophobic cleaning Nazi, a manically depressed doctor and one insanely hairy Georgian. All of these characters proved to be insufferable over time. It usually takes about a month before the hidden nuances of these professionals are fully exposed. For like George Orwell in his book ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, I too have met “eccentric people – people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent”. Alas there is now a familiar place for the eccentric and ill-balanced to find a communal home, but I can’t help wish they would stick to buying a garden shed.