• [Housing, Heating, & Happiness]

    S&M Files, Episode 3: December 2, 1999
    English Life: Housing, Heating, and Happiness

    Now that I’ve been in England more than one week, intending on
    being a permanent resident, I feel I have the right to make
    cryptic, cynical pronouncements about life in England. Enjoy this
    humorous and somewhat barbed rebuttal to Stephen’s earlier

    We were fortunate that Stephen’s cousin Julian offered to
    put us up for the first two weeks after our arrival here in
    Brighton. Of course, if one is to believe Stephen’s account of
    Julian’s apartment, perhaps the offer wasn’t all that fortunate
    after all. :-P Myself, however, being made of far sterner stuff than
    Stephen, I found Julian’s apartment to be perfectly fine for a
    cheap place to live. Now, you might not think that a £600/month
    place is a “cheap” place to live but, given the housing situation
    here in Brighton at the moment, and the fact that Julian has a
    3-bedroom, 3-storey house, £600/month is almost reasonable. Cheap is
    what enables us (and Julian!) to save so splendidly on heating.
    After all, if the heating doesn’t actually function, then you can’t
    spend a fortune on electricity attempting to use it, right? Cheap
    is also what enables us to almost never have to vacuum. When the
    carpet throughout the house is the colour of dirty sand, you just
    don’t easily notice the dirt on it. Ahhhh! The luxuries of
    the bachelor apartment!

    For a cheap place, though, it has large windows everywhere,
    single-paned to be sure, but large windows nonetheless. The walls
    and ceiling even bear evidence of recent painting too. What more could a
    bachelor ask for? Cable, mobile phones, PlayStations, VCRs,
    stereo equipment, and sound editing equipment apparently. The
    sandy floor in the living room (or lounge, as the locals
    refer to it) is festooned with high-tech music equipment, two
    televisions, a PlayStation, and a digital equipment cordless
    telephone (DECT phone). This is very amusing when you consider
    that the actual inhabitants of this flat spend far less time
    here than we do. Maybe they’ve figured out how to use this
    stuff remotely?

    I hope that the picture I paint of Julian’s flat is neither too
    contemptuous nor unflattering. I rather like it except for the heating and
    the carpet. I had secret plans to sell all of Julian’s stuff and just take
    over the place in order to solve our housing problem. I figure that any
    place that is not home to more than 20 species of bugs (unlike some other
    places in which I lived) is a fine place to stay. Any place where the roof
    doesn’t leak into the walls is also a fine place to stay. Any place where
    turning on the microwave doesn’t interfere with television reception
    because of ‘noisy power’ is a fine place to stay. If you manage to not
    have all these problems in one place then you’ve found a fantastic place to
    stay, even if it doesn’t back onto a ravine!

    For some reason, completely unfathomable to me, Stephen decided that
    finding a place of our own in which to live wasn’t that high of a
    priority. After all, what can you do with your own personal place:
    open a bank account, have proof of address to get cell phones, have a
    place to forward your business calls to, have a place to put all
    of your stuff coming by container from Canada, have a place to
    sleep after your relatives boot you out on the street? Those don’t
    sound all that important, right? Well, apparently they weren’t
    to Stephen but luckily I convinced him that we absolutely needed to
    find our own place to stay as we could only stay with Julian for
    two weeks and then with Anna, a friend from Sussex University, for
    the month of December.

    Finding a place to stay in Brighton lately necessitates a lot of
    visiting estate agencies. Apparently, since the last time I was
    in Brighton two years ago, lots of people in the London area hit
    upon the clever idea to move to Brighton because they could commute
    faster from here via train into London than they could navigate
    about London. The result of their cleverness is that the demand
    for housing in southeast England, especially Brighton, has skyrocketed,
    pushing prices for housing up and seriously impacting the amount of
    housing available. For us this meant that we could visit an estate
    agency in the afternoon, peruse their daily list of available
    properties, and discover that 2/3rds of them were already gone by
    the time we’d arrived at the agency. The turnover of rental properties
    is really high.

    One of the first places we examined was a 1-bedroom apartment that
    had sea views from its windows. I think the 1-bedroom part of the
    apartment description was being overly generous. When the agent
    showed us the bedroom, I couldn’t resist commenting that I’d seen
    walk-in closets that were larger. The “bedroom” was just wide
    enough to fit a single bed into and then be able to walk in the
    narrow aisle created between the bed and the wall to the window.
    The rest of the apartment was likewise small, even if it did feature
    an “electric shower.” This device, not intended, I’m sure, for
    auto-erotic stimulation, heats up your shower water to the desired
    temperature using electricity, thus eliminating the need for a
    hot water tank which never has enough water anyway.

    On another day, we were able to view two potential places.
    The first was a relatively modern apartment with two bedrooms,
    partially furnished. There wasn’t anything much exciting about it
    except that it may have had cable and it cost £700/month! It was
    neat, cheerful and bright, but BORING and expensive. Definitely not

    The other place we were to scope out the agent was reluctant to show us.
    Apparently they’d had trouble renting out the place and it had stood empty
    since the end of August. The property in question was a converted mews.
    For those of us not in the know (like me!), a mews was a place where horses
    and carriages were stored and often featured a space for the grooms and
    horseboys to live above the horses and carriages. The original building
    was constructed in 1860 and featured “unusual decor”. This sounded more
    like it. We were far more enthused than the hesitant agent. I loved
    it from the moment we stepped in, even if it did smell somewhat musty.
    Lots of brick. Lots of wood. Lots of windows. Lots of stairs. Every
    single room was on a different level than the others. There was a bedroom
    upstairs with two beds, a lounge at the front of the house, a small
    sitting room with french doors out to a sunken garden, a small, efficient
    modern kitchen, a bathroom with a nice deep tub, and the dining room.

    It was the dining room that featured the odd decor. The two walls of the
    dining room had been papered from floor to ceiling in a gold wallpaper that
    had yellow flowers and vines crawling up it. It sounds rather odd but
    given the light in the house and how what little light there was reflected
    off the gold paper, it worked wonders to lighten up an otherwise quite
    dark area of the house, despite the number of windows. The house did
    have windows but they all face west and most of the house was down from
    street level. It was, however, a mere block from the sea. If we looked
    around the corner from the mews, we could see the sea. We could definitely
    hear the gulls.

    I loved it. I had to have it, even if the place was furnished was already
    well furnished with antiques and rugs and wall hangings and we had a big
    whack of stuff arriving from Canada. The agents had recently reduced the
    price from £650/month to £600/month in an attempt to get
    the place rented out. We had to have it. We pestered the agents
    daily. We would have pestered them hourly if I had thought it would
    have helped. They provided us with a set of three two-page forms. One set
    for each of us and the third set for somebody who would act as a guarantor
    in case we decided to skip town. Having only just arrived from Canada, we
    of course didn’t have any UK credit history which is what they wanted to
    check. We had to provide details of our jobs, our places where we lived,
    personal references, and get all this stuff from our guarantor, too.
    Again, Stephen’s relatives came to our rescue, with Maggie providing the
    needed guarantor reference. Indeed, she turned out to be a Class A
    guarantor, just in case anybody else needs one in the future. Even
    with her all checked out pure as the driven snow, they still gave us
    grief. Stephen’s personal reference turned out to be out of the country
    and they were going to hold us up just on that even though everything
    else had worked out. After several anxious days, we were finally given
    the keys after we gave them £1450 (or more than $3600 CDN)! That’s
    almost enough to have a down payment on a house in Edmonton. This was only
    the deposit and the first month’s rent and we only have the house until
    August. I guess we’ll do the whole thing over or maybe consider buying.
    It’s almost as cheap if we could come up with the 15% deposit. <sigh>

    Well, at least we’re housed now. Stephen can concentrate on his
    number one priority: making us rich so we can afford to shell out
    $1500/month in rent. (:


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