Magazine article The Spectator

Share Hell

Magazine article The Spectator

Share Hell

Article excerpt

Flatmates

OVER the last five years I've had the pleasure of renting out rooms to friends and friends of friends to help pay for my mortgage. After eight or nine different flatmates, I've become something of an authority. Sharing your home with someone should not be taken lightly, and it's a good idea to make some background checks first. Here are just some of the many points worth considering.

Male or female? In general, boys are easier to deal with than girls. Mention a niggling but banal worry to a girl (`Might you possibly, maybe, remember to turn the oven off next time you cook?'), and she will take it as a personal insult. She may become aggressive and bitchy, or, far worse, tearful and withdrawn, greeting you with frosty silences. A boy, on the other hand, takes it on the chin - although, in reality, your request has probably gone in one ear and straight out the other. Girls are also more territorial than boys, desperate for their own 'space' and tending always to use the same 'special' mug/plate, etc. Or perhaps I've just never caught one of my male flatmates marking out his territory at night.

Smoker or non-smoker? This obviously doesn't apply if you are a non-smoker. If you're a smoker like me, it's likely that a non-smoker won't want to come within an inch of your nicotine-stained corridors. You'll have no choice but to settle for a smoker. Welcome to anxious weekends away, wondering, as you turn the corner into your street on your return, whether you'll be greeted by a smouldering pile of rubble. Welcome, too, to sleepless nights. If you don't ban smoking in the bedroom, you'll be waiting up for hours until your flatmate has gone to sleep, and then you'll find yourself hanging around outside the door, sniffing for burning smells. You may even end up sneaking into their bedroom to make sure nothing is beginning to smoulder. Or you could settle for some extra smoke alarms - about three outside their door should suffice if you're really paranoid. And then there are the desperate, furtive spot searches of the carpet for any tell-tale burn marks whenever your flatmate goes out. Tip: go for a roll-up smoker. At least the cigarettes go out if left in the ashtray when the smoker falls asleep. Alternatively, now may be the perfect time to give up smoking.

Botanist? Your home may look verdantly glorious with all its foliage while you're there, but at some point you're going to need to take a holiday. Simple written instructions will be of no help. Even the most well-educated-seeming flatmates will manage to translate `Please do NOT water the orchid AT ALL' as `Please drench the poor thing as soon as I set foot outside the door'. You could ask a reliable neighbour to come in, but you risk putting your flatmate's nose out of joint. (NB: this can be a good ousting tactic.) Or you could just resign yourself to going away only in the winter when your house plants won't mind, and concrete over the garden.

Bathroom habits? Here's where girls definitely come out on top. You will be surprised how many bathroom products boys actually have. And they will have no compunction about moving your shampoo from its special place to be replaced by their razors/shower gel/Body Shop face packs. You will most certainly have to live with bits of shaved beard in the sink, and probably not be able to use the bathroom at all on Sundays. Another advantage to female flatmates is that they usually know what cleaning liquid, cloths and bleach all do, and why they are in the bathroom in the first place. …

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