Reading time: 5 mins
By Christiana Kim
House hunting in London is a monumental ball-ache, so I often took the first place I found. Being “chosen” out of a candidate pool of 50+ people seemed like an amazing achievement. This is a story about why you should never take the first place you’re offered.
The idea of paying £700 for a tiny room that holds no more than a double bed and a closet the width of your own shoulders is ridiculous in any city but here. But I dealt with it, because I bought into the whole “London lyf” thing.
The location of this particular flat was perfect – A slimy estate agent would call it a “hidden gem in the heart of Hoxton”. I could stumble home from Shoreditch and Dalston in a matter of minutes. When I was feeling lethargic and needed fatty fried food, the chicken shop, which had been in the national news twice (once for a stabbing, once for a shooting), was on the doorstep of my house. I could literally walk there in my pajamas.
Max was a seemingly normal, twenty-something professional who lived happily in a four-bedroom council estate flat with all female housemates. He seemed really accommodating during my ten-minute housemate interview.
On my moving day, I had four big suitcases, messily stacked into a cab, which the driver refused to help me unload. I struggled to carry them from the road to our flat. I was slowly making my way with the last suitcase when Max appeared in the corridor, armed with zero intention of helping but with plenty of small chat I had no time for.
I stayed to be polite, with my last suitcase still in my hand. Within ten minutes, I had more information about Max than I ever cared to know – including his suspicion that he may have bipolar disorder, how he has anxiety issues and how his dad never approved of him because he wasn’t a rugged manly man, like his rugged manly man brothers.
Whilst I am highly sympathetic to people who are somewhat ‘strange’ (a kindred spirit!), it was a lot of information to be sharing with a new flat-mate who he’d spent a total of an hour of his life with.
Despite this, we had pleasant banter and sometimes had dinner together in the living room. The other girls were often out, so on more than one occasion, we would hang out and watch TV together.
Max revealed that his ultimate dream would be to teach English in China. However, he lamented the fact that he would require a university degree to be able to teach there, and was really bitter about not meeting this prerequisite. Being a firm believer in ACHIEVING YOUR DREAMS (especially an attainable goal like his), I encouraged him to find alternative pathways. Surely there were some companies who would be flexible on this? Or maybe he could do an additional teaching course to improve his chances? But he gave me a torrent of excuses, and I quickly learnt that he was content in his misery that his dreams would simply not come true.
It was the same with his current job as an office administrator at a giant corporate retailer. He hated it – found it to be a dead end, felt that he was “trapped”. I asked if he had thought about other career paths, because Administrator is a great position to leap into other career choices. Maybe he could talk to his manager about other opportunities within the very large company he worked for?
Yet again, he shut me down. “There’s no point!” he despaired. His boss ‘hated’ him, they thought he was ‘lazy’, and he had no time to take on new tasks in his job. This was the point that I gave up. There’s no helping people who don’t want to help themselves.
Some mornings on the weekend, I would wake up to a high pitched wail of children, like the singing of a creepy lullaby in a horror film. At first I brushed it off as one of the neighbor’s kids. On one occasion, I got out of bed to investigate and skulked downstairs. There, in the living room, at 8am on a Sunday, Max sat on the couch with an old CD player, singing along in falsetto to a children’s nursery rhyme in Mandarin.
Yet Max had a problem with other people making noise. Our next door neighbours were tracksuit-wearing proper East Londoners with dreams of their own. Through our shared wall, I could often hear the heavy down beats of a hip hop track as they rapped along city names and the occasional rhythmic grunts “UH” and “Yeah”. They were real authentic bedroom producers, and whilst I wasn’t the biggest fan of their work, I applauded them for pursuing something they loved.
Max couldn’t stand it. He would hear the dull thuds of the drumbeat on constant repeat and he would immediately come running into my room to complain about it. When I suggested that we go over to ask them to reduce their production hours to 10pm on weeknights, he balked at the idea. He hated confrontation. In the end, I went over to our neighbours for both our sake (Max was annoying me, not them) and politely asked if they could turn it down.
“No problems luv, let us know anytime it’s too much yeah?”
They were more than accommodating and were true to their word. The music stopped at 10pm sharp, but unfortunately for Max, the bedroom producers continued to be dedicated to their art and would create sick beatz every day until their curfew.
It was one lovely June evening. The Australian hipsters who also lived on the ground floor were sprawled across our shared front lawn, in a sun-filled afternoon grass-circle session. The tranquility was broken by the arrival of Max, when he came home from work to find the hardworking producers’ music flowing into the garden.
The moment he entered the house, he let out a long, angry, high-pitched scream. This startled the Australians out of their indie trance into a sitting and staring-at-us position. Having thought that someone was likely being stabbed (it WAS London after all), I ran downstairs, wishing I had gone to that self-defense class I saw on Facebook the week before. It was a stupid decision either way – because if it was indeed a murderer, I would have been immediately stabbed, and since it wasn’t (only Max’s rage), I had to feign empathy and listen to his tirade on inconsiderate people and their incessant noisemaking. All that time, I was thinking about how the Australians will forever label us as the “Crazy Guy Flat” and thus I would never be accepted as one of them.
I started looking for a new flat after this incident. I took my damn time being picky about options, seeing as how I hurried into this house and this situation. Never. Again.
The week after the scream incident, Max and I were doing the dishes in the kitchen, after separately eating dinner (I ate my food in my room at this point). Again, the now familiar drum track started. Suddenly, there was a plate flying through the air, screaming and the sounds of clanging and smashing against the tiles. “FUUUUUUUCK! WHEN THE FUCK ARE THEY GOING TO FUCKING STOOOOOOP!” He fell to the floor and sobbed. It was all quite dramatic.
I silently picked up the larger pieces of the broken plate, and retreated back into my room.
The next day, after a successful viewing of what was to become my best house in London, I informed Max that I would be leaving when the lease ended at the end of the month, maybe even earlier. He seemed surprised. “I was hoping we could all renew the lease and stay in the house” he said. Nope.
As I was lugging my four large suitcases back into another unwilling taxi, I sincerely hoped that the new replacement housemates would gift him a pair of quality noise cancelling headphones.