London room

I live in a shared house in London. I don’t know any one who doesn’t. Most of the people I know have moved in houses already inhabited with strangers. Then we make friends, or not. It seems easier to just find a room in the kind of house you like than getting together with friends, decide to look for the same kind of accommodation and then once found, distribute the very different bedrooms among the, in principle, similar people.

The minimum term of renting is in theory six months. In reality I have had to move out of houses within weeks some times. In this house, there are people who have lived continuously for more than ten years, so in my view it is a truly luxurious house. No heating, with temperamental water heater, dry rot. But in all, a luxury by London renting market’s standards. Definitely.

My bedroom is about six square feet. There is a blocked chimney. Now it is forbidden to burn wood in the houses, apparently. So it is useless space I can only fill with my rubbish bin. On either side of the chimney, a set of shelves. Just next to that whole wall, the bed to the left, then my desk against the window, which faces a patio. Beside the bed there is just space for my chair and an electric radiator before the wardrobe.

There is another radiator in the bathroom, but most of my housemates heat it up by leaving the hot water in the tube for long enough for the steam to spread all over the room – which is twice as big as my own bedroom. I use another technique.

There is no shower and never has been. Just the bath, with two separate taps, one for the hot, one for the cold water. I bought a shower extension shortly after moving in but the boiler is so temperamental (read old?) that it is impossible to mix cold and hot water as it comes.

Now I use a clean bucket to mix up the water until I make it warm. Then I use a smaller bucket to throw the water over me and that is my shower. If I am quick enough, my skin keeps a reasonable temperature before the January air filtering through the bathroom window catches it.

And yet this is the most luxurious place I have lived in my entire London life. Because it is a Housing Cooperative.

Some years ago, councils in London found that they had so many run-down properties, for which they did not have the money to repair, they started to offer them to squatters, as council flats, on the condition that they would fix them. Some of those properties were so big no single squatter could take them so houses like this were taken over by co-operatives.

Then those co-operatives became big enough to be able to buy or rent better places. So houses like mine continued to be run-down, with minor repairs. After all those years, the wall against which the bath rests, from my window looks like a belly threatening to burst out.

But we do not have a landlord visiting or harassing us. We manage our housing through meetings. And we are aware that the council may and will recall this property eventually, and we will be thrown to the private market again, where it is not uncommon to be evicted weeks after signing the contract even if there is no rent arrears, maybe just because the landlord has changed their minds or does weird things that put enough pressure to get out.

And this is the house I come back to. I was told Palestine would feel like a dream afterwards. But it is not a dream, it doesn’t feel nor seem like a dream, just something that has happened, something that has changed me because all experiences change us especially if we learn from them, but it does not feel like a dream.

They told me to continue to watch the same tv, even rubbish tv, as I was watching before going there. They told us many things that would help with the possible trauma that we could have. I don’t particularly feel a trauma but having official permission to continue to watch things like Desperate Housewives feels good. Total lack of guilt for the pleasure of pretty faces and bodies telling a funny, nice, sometimes unlikely story, yet some other times so painfully real and poignant.

I am back. In this bedroom. This is today, and tomorrow it is my first day of work. Night uploader at a national newspaper. Is it not the dream of any journalism student, to get a job in a national newspaper? Only for ten months though. Otherwise they would have to do me a proper work contract instead of being freelance.