Friday, 8 November 2013

Sharing Houses, Sharing Toilet Paper, Sharing Lives

My living arrangements have (more or less) always been (relatively) successful. I lived in the same house all my life (moved there when I was still a babe in arms), until the day I moved to Nottingham in order for my university career to commence. And since then I’ve lived in quite a few different, interesting set ups.

2009-2010: Halls.

Most students remember Freshers year as being the most fun, most ‘jokes’ year of their little lives. Not me. I never was, and never aspired to be a BNOC (Big Name On Campus. I know, I know, some people are so embarrassing), so the competitive chanting on buses about necrophilia, the drinking ‘Carny Cocktail’ out of reps’ dirty underwear, the downing smoothies made of 8 Big Macs, and the being locked in underground bunkers for 48 hours in order to make it onto the netball team was all a bit lost on me. I did have an absolutely lovely time, but in my own, atypical way. I was placed in halls that were made up entirely of international students, who had all been there 2 weeks by the time I moved in, and had already decided that they had no intention of hanging out either outside of the library, or with anyone English. I’ll never forget the night I tentatively knocked on my neighbour’s door (from what I’d heard through the wall he seemed like a fun time. He spent his down time listening to one Chinese pop song over and over and over again and singing along at the top of his lungs) to ask him if he wanted to come out with us (by this time I’d made a few pals, and we’d decided to cling onto each other for dear life.) Looking completely taken aback to find me standing at his door, my neighbour asked me to repeat my request a number of times (I did, each time slightly less hopefully). When he finally understood that I wasn’t asking him for money or to sign a petition, but merely asking for the pleasure of his company, he giggled nervously, shook his head, and said, ‘erm... no... No thank you.’
I never bothered asking again. I don’t think we ever even spoke again, actually.
But that’s the way Freshers goes. In the first week you introduce yourself to 200 people, forget 198 names, go out with at most 15 of them, and by week 2 you’re already ignoring 10 of those 15 when you bump into them on campus. Well, that’s what happened to me anyway. I know people who still now know everyone on their course’s names, their parents’ names, their date of births, who they’re sleeping with and every detail of their LinkedIn profiles (C.H., I’m looking at you!)
That’s all a bit too much effort for me.
So I found my little clique (little being the key word)- a Chinese princess with a penchant for taking minute by minute photos of our every move (J.Z.); a history student from Essex who lived on the floor below (who I had a bit of a thing for); a hypochondriac, gay drama queen with a persecution complex who lived two floors up from us (who I never could quite decide if I liked, but now, in hindsight, realise I actually detested); and a sweet girl obsessed with flower print anything who lived opposite me and could hear every single thing that happened in my room (not that it was ever outrageously juicy), even if both our doors were closed.
Ignoring the slow start, this living arrangement worked. I had my own space, with friends a few doors away, but still had the knowledge that if any of them got on my nerves I could close my door and not have to deal with them.
And we had fun.
We really did.
Me and history boy got on like a house on fire- we would do our weekly shops together, study together, and we even had a very, very fleeting romance. Which ruined things. Of course. Then we drifted apart. But that was okay.
Flower girl left after one term for family reasons.
Hypo drama bitch left (my life) after one term too. Not for family reasons. More for being-an-annoying-prick reasons.
But J.Z.? Well, me and J.Z. shared midnight hospital visits, awkward encounters with the police, boy troubles, family problems and everything in between. She stayed for the duration, and we became each other’s life partners, spending every waking moment together. Which leads me to...
2010-2011: Dream House. (This is what we nicknamed it. Not because it was particularly dreamy; it was a very normal two bedroom place. It gained this name more because of all the ‘inhabitable slums’ we’d visited before. After one such visit J.Z. actually wailed in despair, ‘how can I be wearing Prada shoes in such a shithole?!’ So.) 

This was my second year home, and I lived there very happily with J.Z. We were basically a same sex, platonic married couple, and it was cosy and fun and girly and cute. We’d sing duets together, spend two hours getting ready for nights out, get takeout and eat it off each other’s laps, roll around on the floor when we were stressed over exams and coursework, and shop a bit more frequently than our student loan necessarily allowed. We never fought over things like the washing up (she washed, I dried), who bought the toilet paper last, or how long to have the heating on for. One time we went to a house party around the corner from us in an all male house. As we were led into the kitchen to get drinks we noticed that there was a photo of each of the boys on the different cupboards. Thinking, ‘ha! These boys are kooky! What larks!’, we asked them what the story behind the photos was.
‘Is it a way of documenting who’s slept with the most girls?’ we asked.
‘Do you put them up when it’s someone’s birthday?’
‘Do you just prefer having photos of each other up rather than posters?’
‘Well, why the fuck are they up there then?!’
Wish I’d never asked. It turned out that the photos indicated who’s cupboard was who’s. In disbelief I opened one, only to find that each jar and pot and bottle inside was individually labelled with its owner’s name (just to be extra safe, I guess.) THAT’S NO WAY TO LIVE.
So after that particular experience I relished my own little home and housemate even more.
Another thing that brought me and J.Z. even closer was the other person who lived in our house: Bezza (officially known to her friends as Beryl). A frail old lovey who lived on the top floor, and had lived on that same floor for most of her adult life. We had separate entrances of course, and we even started out as something like friends.
J.Z. could never quite understand what I saw in Bez, proclaiming, ‘she’s a twat.’ But I like older people; they have more stories to tell. Bez would come down sometimes to ask me to help with things like her telephone, and we’d sit in the kitchen and drink tea, while she told me accounts of all the places she’d travelled and how in love with her hubby (R.I.P.) she’d been (and still was.) Meanwhile, J.Z. would come in every now and then, rolling her eyes the whole time, and managing a ‘hi Cheryl’ (‘BERYL, J, HER NAME IS BERYL!’) at an absolute push. Poor Bez, she didn’t deserve such an icy reception.
The phonecalls started out very politely- ‘Silvia? Would you mind turning that music down a tad?’
‘Sure Beryl, no problem!’
Pretty quickly they became more frequent and pedantic.
‘Silvia? Could you get someone to mow your lawn? It looks like we live in a slum.’
‘Oh... right... erm, yeah, okay.’
Once she’d got comfortable with me, the calls really escalated.
‘Silvia, it’s really not on that you’re putting other people’s rubbish in your wheelie bin. You do know that that’s against the law?’
‘Beryl, that’s actually just our rubbish, you know...’
‘I find it hard to believe that just two of you have produced that much rubbish...’ (Why the fuck are you rifling through our bins?! I thought you could barely make it down the stairs!)
Another time she called me and forbade us to take showers after 10pm.
One morning I left the house to go to uni and noticed something wasn’t quite right. From the corner of my eye, I could see that our wheelie bin had been graffitied. With tippex. In shaky, old-woman handwriting, ‘STUDENTS’ had been scrawled on the lid. This meant war.
I stopped answering Beryl’s calls.
Ignored her completely.
Oh. Right.
Beryl didn’t carry out her threat, and she calmed down after that outburst. Me and J.Z. really thought we’d turned a corner. Beryl had stopped banging on the floor every time me and J.Z. talked or moved or breathed, she’d stopped calling me, and she’d even stopped peering out her window every time we walked up the garden path (let me tell you, that is CREEPY on winter nights.)
She was a little mouse for ages. Absolutely ages.
Calmly working on an essay in my bedroom one afternoon (which was at the front of the house, looking out onto the street), I noticed there was a palaver going on outside. Flashing lights, police cars, police officers, just loads of police everywhere.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. That little bitch. Beryl had obviously given us a false sense of security and called the police about us after all when we least expected it. What. a. waste. of. police. time. Honestly. The sad old bat.
I was in the house on my own, and really had to psych myself up to go outside and explain to an officer that everything had been blown out of proportion.
I took a deep breath and made my way over to a police car.
‘Hey, look... about Beryl...’
‘Do you know her well?’ the police officer interrupted me.
‘Yeah, she’s my neighbour.’
‘When did you last hear from her?’
My heart sank as I realised that the last time I’d heard from her was when she’d screamed down the phone at me about the noise. I started to tell him that it was over a week ago, but that honestly she’d exaggerated the whole thing...
‘Yeah, I think she’d been dead quite a few days up there,’ he said.
I had a really bad few hours. I even cried. However, the feeling that we’d driven her to an early grave was soon erased when J.Z. got home.
‘J, Beryl’s dead.’
‘Aw, sad. What are we having for dinner?’ (Please do bear in mind that J.Z.’s not made of stone; she’s simply Asian.)
Getting back to the matter in hand, the only time me and J.Z. ever had a real problem was when she started seeing this Australian tosser, who was never very nice to her, and always left her in floods of tears, with me picking up the pieces. Now, I don’t mind doing that; I don’t mind at all. That’s my job as a friend. BUT, he used to wear white. backless. mules. With a bit of a platform.
I mean, everyone is entitled to their own style- lord knows I’m a fan of the occasional orthopedic-looking shoe, but here I had to draw the line. The shoes were just salt in the wound.
So when he started coming round 4, 5, 6 times a week, me and J.Z. had a discussion. It ended with her declaring that I didn’t want her to be happy, and with me announcing that she was being compeletely unreasonable and selfish.
Less than two hours later we’d come to an agreement and were in her bed, snuggling, drinking tea and watching TOWIE. That’s how we worked. And we worked very well.

2011-2012: France Part I.
The year I moved to France. The first time. 
The first 7 months I was there I worked in a school in the South in the middle of nowhere. It was a tiny town and when I found out that I’d been placed there I cried for 2 days straight (I’ve never been one to take life changes lightly.)
I arrived, having no living arrangements in place, and with very dubious French skills. I stayed in a hotel until I found my little home (thankfully the ladies who worked in the estate agent's were patient little angels.) But when I did find it I was perfectly content there.
It was an 'apartment' (more of a large studio) that had started its life as a waiting room for a law firm. A law firm which I had to walk through every day in order to get to my front door. Mais ca va. Aside from an awful few weeks when I had an infestation of wood louse, and a tiny bit of homesickness until my American soul sistah (L.T.) arrived on the scene, I was happy and comfortable.
Then I moved to Paris.
The less said about this nunnery I lived in the better. Here's a little something to refresh your memory if you really must insist:
Honestly, the only way I got through that ordeal was by topping and tailing with my Parisian pals as often as possible.

2012-2013: Church Street, The Wonder Years.

In my final year of university I was nervous. All of my close friends had done 3 year courses. Meaning that by the time I got back from France all of my pals had graduated. Who was I going to live with??
With visions of moving back into halls and dealing with unfriendly international students all over again, I received a message from G.B., a friend from first year, who told me that she’d arranged to live in a house with some people she knew, and did I want to join?
Yes, I wanted to join.
Thank god for G.B.
She was going to move in with three Scousers (who I vaguely knew) and another girl who I’d met a few times. They seemed like a nice group of people and as we set up a group Facebook message and started to chat I knew we’d all get on.
By the time we moved into the house (which was really grim, but we made into our home) the housemates had changed somewhat. Two people had to drop out, and we found another girl through an advertisement. It ended up being me, G.B., C.M. (who I knew through a night out, where we’d been ‘playfully‘ fighting in the snow, until we looked down and the snow was red. I’d ripped off her toenail. Great first impression...), J.G. (‘a weedy little Scouse boy’ as he likes to describe himself), and R.H., a Yorkshire girl, who (ignoring the cliche) drinks endless cups of tea. Four girls, one boy.
J.G. is not gay (I can vouch for that); all that this set-up meant for him is that he very quickly realised that living with loads of girls is less pillow fights in lingerie, more grubby dressing gowns, muzzy cream and in sync periods. Poor mite.
From the very first week there were absolutely no boundaries. We were all up in each other’s shit at all times. And we loved it. I’d smile at the thought of going home after a shit day to a house full of my mates. We did everything together: nights out, meal times, the walk into uni, the twice daily trips to Sainsbury’s, movie nights, the gym, holidays, weekends away... We were inseparable. And we only got closer.
We weren’t just housemates; we were really, really good friends. And we still are.
J.G. in particular- we followed each other around like puppies. Me and him had a lot of classes together, so we’d often spend whole days together, going home together and not leaving each other’s sides even then. (We liked each other's company so much in fact, that he's now my boyfriend. But that's another story...)
Once again, in this house, the usual issues that people have when they live together weren’t ever issues. None of us are stinges, so money was always handled with a ‘it’ll come back around to you eventually’ mentality, and housework was... never really handled.
It was blissful.       

2013-2014: Now.
This is where I reside. Right. Now.
I wouldn't dare complain. It's utterly beautiful. But it's not my own.
I keep bumping into a baldy middle aged man in the hall, and I know he's probably just as uncomfortable about it as I am.
There's no wandering around in my pants; there's no playing my music loud; there's definitely no guests (not that I have anyone I could even ask over just yet. But I'm working on it!)
So I sucked it up and sent an email to A.V. and P.P. (I know, I'm a wimp) to ask if I could help them look for an apartment for me.
Turns out, if you don't ask, you don't bloody get!
They said yes. They told me the budget, told me to go on some viewings, and told me to not pick anywhere grim.
So, once again, the flat search begins.
Wish me luck!

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