Great Expectations: or learning to live without your toes


Dog not included.


The other morning, groggy headed and bleary eyed, I opened my front door to head off to work and was greeted by a blast of cold air and a flooded drain. Wrapping my coat tightly around me, I locked my door and, head held high, stepped defiantly over the sewage and stomped off towards the tube. Inside, though, I was seething.

The drain was the latest in a recent onslaught of problems with my new-ish London home. It would be added to the increasingly long list of ‘Things to mention to the landlord’, along with faulty oven, damp and the lack of central heating.

I allow myself a blissful few minutes when I step into the shower, close my eyes and dream of the day when the list stops being my life and starts being an amusing dinner party anecdote. That’s usually when my housemate turns on the kitchen tap and I’m hit by a jet of freezing water and a cold, hard dose of reality. My bank account is, alas, five figures short of a Pinterest palace and I – like countless other overly-ambitious, financially-challenged youths – will have to put up with what I can get.

In the past three months, I’ve become a lot better at dealing with a less-than-perfect rental situation. In the spirit of sharing, here are a few of the things that have saved me from crying and stuffing ice cream in my mouth whilst browsing the property pages of the Evening Standard.

  • Live with someone who’ll have your back.
    Unless you’ve gone straight into a hotshot city job and are a few months’ salary away from buying your own summer house in St Tropez (which, depressingly, could apply to a large chunk of my university cohort), you’re not going to afford to live on your own. You’ll need at least one flatmate and you better make them a good’un.

    As well as needing someone who do their share of the washing up/cleaning/wine buying, you will also want someone who will have your back when dealing with the landlord. There’s nothing worse than turning to your flatmate for support during a difficult conversation, only to find that they’ve scarpered into their bedroom because they can’t stand the awkwardness. Safety in numbers.

  • Ignoring something won’t make it go away.
    When you get home after a crappy day at work, all you want is a bottle of wine, a block of cheddar and an episode of Gilmore Girls (just me?). What you definitely do not want is to discover that your electricity is about to run out (yes, we have a top-up card system. No, it is not a good idea) and that the landlords (who are the only ones who can buy the top-up cards – told you it wasn’t a good idea) are out for the evening.

    Tempting as it may be to play ‘electric chicken’ (less fun than it sounds) and cross your fingers it will last until morning, chances are you’ll end up plunged into darkness just as your laptop is about to die and will have to sit there, Gilmore Girl-less, trying to warm up your frozen fingers so that you can dial your landlord’s number and beg him to come home.

  • Don’t ask, don’t get.
    Traditionally, I’m not so good at conflict. When I sense that a situation is taking a turn for the confrontational, I’m the first one to wave a white flag and offer to take everyone out for coffee. However, I am ready to admit that this approach will not serve you well in a rental situation. Of course, it’s important to keep landlord-tenant relationship amiable and I’m not saying that you bang on their door and yell at them until they agree to paint your walls a different colour, but neither should you suffer problems in silence.

    If you feel awkward about bringing something up, remember that you’re almost certainly paying them an indecent amount of money to live in their property. In return, they have to keep it to a suitable standard.

  • Know when it’s time to call in the big guns.
    An important part of learning to be an adult is taking responsibility for yourself and confronting issues head on. Another part of being an adult, though, is knowing when to ask for help. There are some problems that you can – and should – solve on your own. Then again, there are other problems that you could solve on your own, if given a large expanse of time, an endless supply of coffee and an instruction manual, but that your mum could solve standing on her head whilst mentally answering emails, choosing what to make for dinner and giving you advice on your love life.

    Sometimes, being an adult means admitting that you need your mummy. In one day, my mum managed to rid my flat of black mould (after scaring my flatmate and I witless about how the spores are giving us tuberculosis or something), stop the carpet from smelling, whisk me away to Ikea and turn my bedroom into something from a Pinterest board, all the while regaling us with horror stories about her first London flat so that we didn’t feel too woefully inadequate.

  • Put down the credit card and pick up your phone.
    If you have ever watched a single episode of Friends or Sex and the City, chances are you harbour dreams of a beautifully furnished, spacious yet cosy cosmopolitan home where you can welcome friends for classy dinners and snuggle up on Sundays with your bengal kitten. In reality, you’re probably living in a pre-furnished flat (owning furniture is totally a Future Me thing), filled with pieces that the landlords deemed not nice enough to keep for themselves. Never fear! You can minimise the hideousness without spending a penny.

    Put out a cry for help to your friends and family and ask them for cast-offs. Chances are, their taste will be a lot closer to your own than that of a person you’ve only just met. My flatmate and I picked up two great carpets, some side lamps, a lambswool throw, glassware and an enormous box of spices from our parents alone. If your loved ones let you down, there’s always Gumtree.

  • Make the most of what you have.
    When we were looking for somewhere to live, my flatmate and I held out for a place with a living room and decent-sized kitchen. Our flat has a great, L-shaped kitchen-living room-dining room. In that respect, we got lucky. It’s our job to make the most of it by eating at the dining table and spending evenings on the sofa rather than hiding in our rooms.

    We’ve even made a Sunday night routine: one of us will cook a comforting dish and we’ll eat it whilst watching a movie on the huge TV our landlord has loaned us. It’s hard to be dissatisfied with life when you’re scoffing macaroni cheese and watching Heath Ledger dance to ‘Golden Years’.

  • Reflect on how far you’ve come.
    When you’re bogged down by a sea of problems with your flat, it’s easy to have a go at yourself. Maybe if you’d kept looking you would have found somewhere better. Maybe you should have taken a higher paid job. Maybe you should have lived in a different city. Maybe you should move. After a while, your head becomes like a scratched record: ‘Maybe’, ‘Should’, ‘Maybe’, ‘Should’.

    It took an alumni email from my old university and the subsequent nostalgia trip to give my self-pitying subconscious a well-needed slap in the face. My post-graduation aims were to get a job I enjoyed and to move to London. I now have a job I enjoy. I live in London. So far that’s a solid two out of two. Not so shabby after all.


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