“Hello mate” he burped, greeting me on the doorstep of a 7-bedroom house in Brighton, smelling of Carling and looking like a Harry Enfield caricature of a cowboy builder. His clothes were splattered in paint and his smile indicated he had been visited by the Tooth Fairy so often he was probably having that cheeky pint of Carling with her. I didn’t know whether to smile back or offer to play ‘Candle In The Wind’ on his gnashers.
This was, potentially, my new landlord. He could have been the person entrusted with my sumo-sized deposit, in charge of making my tenancy a happy and agreeable term. You know something’s up when the first three things that a landlord tells you are accompanied with the words “sorry” and “it’s not usually like this”. The first was fair comment, as Brighton’s binmen have reacted unkindly to having a £4k wage cut. Brighton is approaching a sort of seaside dystopia, with rubbish piling up in the streets. One creative type taped a bin shit with cardboard notices asking “please take your trash home!” A passing pedant was seen stuffing a crisp packet in the tiny gap between duct tape and bin, saying they’ve got “rubbish!” not vulgar, Americanized “trash!”
I was willing to let the mounds of rubbish go. The interior however, was another matter. It was a proper, old-fashioned Victorian terraced house but one which has clearly suffered decades of student abuse. If distressed houses had a helpline, you’d need the most experienced member of staff dealing with the call. Even then, there would probably be no stopping it jumping off the nearest cliff. Cracks ran up and down the wall, making it look like an Underground map made entirely of Jubilee lines.
There was a musty smell emanating from the very walls themselves and the threadbare carpet looked like a decade’s old welcome mat. The six current occupants seemed to be oblivious to my presence. From each room, the faint tinkle of music was seeping under the rattling doors. Clearly, this was an extremely social house. As I entered the kitchen, which would struggle to accommodate a family of friendly bacteria let alone six adults, I finally came across one of my potential housemates.
“Chris, this is Ryan” the landlord wheezed and Ryan gave me a cursory nod before disappearing behind a fridge door, emerging ten seconds later wiping his upper lip of milk. As the fridge door slammed shut I saw the semi-skimmed cow juice he had been slurping. There was no identifying markers or other cartons. He was drinking from the communal milk while a guest eyed up a double bedroom upstairs.
Ryan cut the most pale figure. I wasn’t even sure if he was standing in front of me, such was his ghostly white pallor. As he headed back to his room he told his landlord he was “going out tonight” for Pablo’s leaving party. Ryan said this with all the excitement of a parish clerk reading the minutes from a previous meeting. He couldn’t have made it clearer that he would rather be eating enchiladas off the perma-stained flooring than seeing Pablo off.
“Who’s Pablo then?” I asked.
“Pablo’s great mate” he began, flicking globules of warm beer spit in my direction. “Yeah, he’s a real livewire. Actually he’s my longest tenant”.
“How long has he been with you then?” At this point I expected the answer to pre-date the Millennium, alongside a blow-by-blow analysis of his upbringing in the grimy house, the first room he came across in 1993 after boarding a plane from Madrid in search of a new life. But no.
“About eighteen months mate” he casually replied, with a confidence that he clearly hoped would be encouraging, as if having the tenant turnover of a geriatric ward is the sign of a happy living community. With Ryan’s marble white complexion, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was an imprint on the mortal world, having left the confines of his hellish house days after arriving in favour of somewhere more convivial, like an abattoir.
We climbed the stairs to the second floor and he pointed me into the bathroom, an assortment of random colours and styles with a healthy dose of damp in the far corner, an unpleasant shade of teal.
“I will be putting an extractor fan in shortly” the landlord said, clearly not finding time in his busy schedule in the past ten years of his ownership of the house to do that very thing. At this point I knew for certain I wouldn’t be living there. If I wasn’t put off by the abundant fruit flies buzzing around the rubbish in the garden, or the kitchen which would have made a coffin feel spacious, or the walls which seemed to be solely supported by a thin layer of wallpaper, not architectural security, I was certainly put off by the fact I didn’t like the landlord. He was a shyster, a charlatan, a bleedin’ rogue. If he was recast in classic literature, he’d be a knave from a Dickens novel, made successful from his exploitation of others. He wouldn’t ask for “more porridge, Sir”, he’d steal it off the other orphans, add a kilo of sawdust and pass on the result at a ludicrously inflated rate.
If I was being polite, I’d call the bedroom ‘poky’. It was a loft conversion, so the ceiling was heavily sloped, meaning that taking one step inside necessitates a bowing of the neck: given six months I’d be walking around as if I was facing a permanent gale-force wind. There was a double bed manoeuvred into the far side of the room (I say ‘far side’… When the far side is within arm’s reach, it surely cannot be described thusly) but it was cosy in the extreme.
Happily, I’m not too naïve. The location was perfect so if I was a little less cynical I might have chewed off, if not a limb, then at least an appendage to live there. Just for giggles, I asked which deposit scheme he made use of. I was met with a predictable barrage of sighs and tuts. “It’s more hassle for you and it’s more hassle for me” he opined, preferring a system of mutual trust and a bit of paperwork which his “best mate” could rustle up if he was feeling generous. You really couldn’t make it up.
Admittedly I am a newbie to the world of deposits, landlords and rent but I’m trying not to get taken for a ride. During my student years I stayed at home, spending the couple of thousand pounds saved on those essential amenities of modern life: records and premium cider. I suppose witnessing the dire pits of sub-‘Young Ones’ revoltery prepares me well because everything I see from now will seem like paradise. A linen closet which is colder than an Arctic tundra, surrounded by cohabitants who make Norman Bates look like a Balamory character, would be a marked improvement. The search continues.