Column 16: House, 21st February 2003
We’re over half-way through the year now, and if you’re in halls it’s probably time to think about who you want to live with in a flat next year. Or, if you’re already in a flat, it’s time to think about whether you want to put up with your current flatmates for another bloody year. If they never do any cleaning so the house looks like a skip, if play their music so loudly that your eardrums sometimes burst the second you come in, and if they smell like pigs, how do you tell them that you’d rather live elsewhere without hurting their feelings? How do you tell them that you’d rather live in a shed in Peckham with a herd of wildebeest? How do you imply that you’d find it easier to sleep in a blazing fireworks factory? Within a few months, your diplomacy skills will have reached a new high.
Once you’ve found your flatmates, you’ve got to find your flat. I’m not sure it’s worth actually looking round anywhere – whichever flat you end up in, it will be dingy, slightly smelly and the shower will be rubbish. There will be two possible central heating settings – off, which will freeze the balls off an Eskimo, or on, which will melt rocks. And whatever problem you have, wherever your flat is, the landlord will be about as easy-going and approachable as Satan when he’s got a bit of a headache.
You could avoid this trouble by reapplying to halls. You get to stay in a carefree, childlike state for another year where your room gets hoovered for you while you lie in on a weekday morning. You get to meet a whole new batch of weirdos, and you have none of the hassles of dealing with BT or London Electricity. In a flat you have to take responsibility for everything – you can’t place the blame for any damage on anybody else. That means if you’re a little careless, for example you leave a candle unattended and don’t turn the gas hob off properly, you can’t say it was all that bloke-down-the-corridor’s fault – you’ll have to face the wrath of the landlord yourself.
You’ll be able to tell when he or she is coming – you’ll hear the music from The Omen, and a shiver will run down your spine as you hear the hellish wail coming closer. There will be three loud knocks at the door. You’ll open it, and it will make a horrible creaking noise. There will be a flash of lightning and the terrifying, deep voice of the underworld will demand to know why the lovely three-bedroomed flat they rented out to you now has only two bedrooms and an enormous hole in the ceiling. You’ll probably lose your deposit.
But at least in a flat you won’t get woken up at 4am by some drunken pillock who’s set the fire alarm off because they’re too stupid to operate a toaster. You may be visited by the Devil himself in a flat, but at least he’ll knock first. When you’re suddenly awoken from your slumber in halls by something that sounds like 50,000 babies with megaphones being poured into a car crusher, you may think Judgement Day itself has arrived without warning, and if you haven’t got a strong heart you may indeed be on your way to meet your maker. That might be preferable to standing outside freezing in your dressing gown at dawn, though, while the warden tries to remember the code to turn the alarm off. You may find yourself longing for the day you graduate.