Life with Lodgers… part three

As you will have realised, I didn’t write a blog last week – what with it being launch week for The Book of Eve, and because of all the problems I had with Amazon glitching out for the whole of the launch weekend so that no one in America could find my book – I simply ran out of time and energy. I apologise for this.

This week, I will try to complete my story of all the lodgers I have had over the years. We had reached March 2013, Creepy Liver Guy had thankfully moved out and I had reactivated the add for the room, hoping for more choice this time.

The add went live on the Saturday morning, by the afternoon there were at least twenty applicants, some of which looked possible contenders. I began to make appointments and things were looking good. A few days later, I received a request to come and view the room from a young Canadian teacher. He even sent me a photo with his application – a very smiley guy wearing a bobble hat. I liked him already.

He came to view the room a couple of days later and the moment I opened the front door, I knew he was the one. You get a feel for it, an instinct that you are going to be able to co-exist with this person just fine. I showed him the room. Now, being a basement room, the ceiling is not the highest and he was a very tall young man, so as he was walking around the top of his bobble hat was brushing against it.

We went into the kitchen to chat, and he asked me what I thought of a certain character in Dr Who, and that was it really. He did ask if we had Sky. Now, at the time we didn’t, but I had been thinking about getting it, and as he was explaining it was because he was a huge Game of Thrones fan, I decided that I would see about getting it as soon as possible.

A week later, Mr B moved in. I remember it was a shocking day weather-wise, snow was belting down and all the in and out tracked grimy slush all over the carpet – but it couldn’t be helped.

Right from the word go, I got on incredibly well with Mr B. An awkward and gangly young man, he was shy and diffident, but our shared love of sci-fi, fantasy, and documentaries soon made us fast friends.

He was a Maths and English teacher over here for two years because there was a real lack of work for teachers in Canada at the time. He was polite and sweet, liked tea, and baked muffins and cakes, knitted me a coffee pot warmer, and was just a nice person to live with.

Most evenings he would watch TV with us. He introduced me to Game of Thrones, which I loved. I introduced him to the wonderful historian Lucy Worsley and we avidly watched everything she did on BBC4. We also enjoyed watching Only Connect – the hardest quiz on British TV – and would feel ridiculously smug if we managed to get a single question right.

And then of course, there was Dr Who. At the time we were passionate about that show in my house. We never missed an episode, and we watched old episodes whenever we could find them. In 2013, the show was at the peak of its popularity and as it was its fiftieth anniversary, the BBC pushed the boat out with many anniversary features, including a special film that was going to be shown at the cinema – so of course, we all went.

As Christmas approached, I discovered Mr B had never been to a Pantomime. In fact, had never even heard of that staunch British festive tradition. We bought tickets for the three of us to go and beforehand I tried to prepare him for what was in store.

ME:  Right, it’s a fun show for all the family usually based on a traditional fairy tale or story. This year it’s Aladdin, but it could be Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Dick Whittington, Mother Goose, anything like that.

HIM: Okay, I see.

ME:  Hold on, I’m easing you in gently here. There are lots of songs and lots of dancing. There may be explosions on stage, and sweets – or possibly slime – will be randomly hurled at the audience.

HIM: Right.

ME:  There will be a character who talks to the audience, and will usually ask them to warn him every time the monster/bear/beast of some kind comes onto the stage by shouting IT’S BEHIND YOU as loudly as they can. He will then creep slowly round and the monster will creep around him at the same time – thus necessitating frequent screaming of IT’S BEHIND YOU.

HIM: I see.

ME:  You probably don’t, but you will.

HIM: ??

ME:  There will be an over the top villain, and every time they appear on the stage, the audience has to boo and hiss as loudly as possible.

HIM: Boo and hiss?! At the actor?!

ME:  Trust me, he’ll be very upset if you don’t.

HIM: Oka-a-ay.

ME:  Halfway through the show, they will stop and call out the names of children in the audience who have birthdays. More sweets will be thrown, and happy birthday will be sung.

HIM: Ahh, that’s nice.

ME:  They usually get a pair of kids up on stage at some point to lead the audience in a sing off against each other – this is because some big set change is happening behind the curtain.

HIM: A sing off?

ME:  That’s when one half of the audience have to sing a song as loudly as possible. Then the other half have to sing, and they judge who sang the loudest.

HIM: Does everyone have to sing?

ME:  YES! (eye him beadily) EVERYONE must sing. It is the law!

HIM: (Gulps) Okay. Does the side that sings the loudest win anything?

ME:  Glory – and maybe more sweets thrown at them, or possibly slime. Although the kids on stage get given gift bags.

HIM: Okay.

ME:  Oh, and the principal boy – so in this case Aladdin, will be played by a woman.

HIM: Why?

ME:  He just is!

HIM: I see.

ME:  And there will always be an elderly female character – in Aladdin it will be Widow Twanky, his mother – but it could be Snow’s White’s elderly nurse, the cook in Dick Whittington, someone like that, in Cinderella there are two such characters, the Ugly Sisters. Anyway, this is a comedic character played by a man to comic effect. He will wear ridiculous clothes, including huge comedy breasts, garish make-up, big funny bloomers that will be flashed to the audience at every opportunity, and will make numerous saucy and inuendo laden jokes and comments. This is the Pantomime Dame and they are crucial to the show.

HIM: But why…?

ME:  Don’t ask. It’s traditional. So, that’s pantomime.

HIM: …..

ME:  …..

HIM: And this is what passes for entertainment in this country?

ME:  Trust me. You’ll love it.

And he did! Right from the clash of the first cymbal as the curtains drew back and dozens of brightly dressed characters pranced onto the stage and tried to convince us that we were in old Peking, right through to the triumphant wedding scene finale where Aladdin marries his Princess Jasmin, he loved every single funny moment of it.

He laughed, he clapped, he caught sweets, he joined in with the singing and produced a very impressive baritone voice from somewhere within his skinny frame, he yelled IT’S BEHIND YOU with the rest of us, and booed and hissed every time the evil wizard slithered on stage. It was a brilliant evening.

Any British readers will probably now be experiencing a moment of nostalgia for all the pantomimes they were taken to in the past. Traditionally held only at Christmas, I always used to take Miss F at the beginning of December. It kicked off the festive season nicely, and got me in the right mindset that yes, Christmas was coming. Sadly, with the current situation, pantomimes will not be happening this year.

To all my non-UK readers, if ever you are in Britain and you get the chance to go to a pantomime, go! The bigger productions in the larger cities are very swish and are usually packed with stars from TV. But the shows that are put on in the smaller towns and even villages are not without their charm. In fact, I’ve always found that in a smaller theatre it’s more intimate. The characters come down from the stage and mingle and interact with the audience much more than in a massive theatre seating thousands. Plus, in a smaller theatre, you’re more likely to catch some of those sweets I told you about!

Mr B lived with us for about eighteen months, and I grew very fond of him. In fact, we are still in touch on social media, sometimes chat through messenger, and the odd parcel and card occasionally wings its way over the Atlantic at Christmas time.

One very funny thing that happened during his stay though, involved Miss F. She was ten when he moved in and was at that age of no filter and blurting out whatever was in her head. Anyway, one evening we were sitting there watching TV together with Mr B, when out of nowhere, Miss F turns to me and asks.

MISS F: Mummy, what’s a wanker?

I nearly spat out my drink. I felt my eyes go huge as I stared at my innocent child.

ME:       Umm, where did you hear that word, darling?

MISS F: Oh, some of the boys at school were shouting it at each other in the playground. I’ve never heard of it before, so I wondered what it meant.

ME:        Umm, oka-a-ay.

Out of the corner of my eye I could just see Mr B’s knees, they were shaking and I’m sure I heard a snort of barely suppressed laughter coming from his corner. Carefully picking my words, I said.

ME:       I’ll explain it to you later, when you go up to bed.

So, we finished watching the programme and then I took her upstairs, tucked her up in bed, sat down and told her exactly what that word meant. She was silent for a while thinking about it, then she went bright red all over.

MISS F: I said that word in front of Mr B.

ME:      Yes, you did. (I cheerfully agreed) Maybe in future, instead of blurting things out in front of other people, you’ll ask me when we’re alone.

And from that day on, she always did!

We were very sad when Mr B left, but he was returning to Canada and that is the way of lodgers – just when you manage to housebreak one, they leave, and you have to start all over again. So, up went the add again, and this time we went with a sweet young girl called Miss E.

She was a wedding dress seamstress at a studio in town, she was polite and quiet and loved Disney. She went home to her parents every Friday and didn’t come back until Sunday evening. She was perfect. She stayed until mid-July and then suddenly, out of the blue, announced she was leaving. Her best friend was moving to the area and had asked her to share a flat with her, so that was it, she was off.

It did leave me in a bit of a quandary though. Because I had assumed she was staying for at least a year – as she had told me she was on many occasions – I had actually arranged for Miss F and I to go away on a very rare holiday mid-August believing that Miss E would be still living with us. She was a very sensible and trustworthy person and I had no qualms about leaving her in charge of the house and the cat whilst we were gone.

That was less than a month away – it didn’t seem long enough to find a new lodger and establish that same level of trust to go away and leave them for a week alone in our house. But there was nothing I could do about it, other than activate the add again and hope.

We ran it for a week. We had a few viewings. I didn’t click with any of them. We ran it for another week. This second crop of potential lodgers were even worse. I neither liked nor felt I could trust any of them.

In despair on the third Saturday, I activated the add again. Less than thirty minutes later, I had a reply. A very cheery and personable sounding lady sent me a message.

Love the sound of the room. Please can I come and have a look?

Of course, when?

Now?

Oh, okay!

Quickly, I dashed about and tidied up. The room had been viewing ready for two weeks now, so it was fine. My phone rang, she was walking up the road, which house were we? So, I went outside and saw a shock of bright red hair walking up the street pushing a bike and beaming from ear to ear. She waved vigorously when she saw me, as if she’d known me all my life, and the grin grew broader.

And so, Miss S came into our lives.

Slightly older than me, this was no scatterbrain teenager who would be incapable of following basic security and safety protocols whilst in charge of the house, and as we chatted, I knew I’d found the right one. Two days later she moved in. A week later we went on holiday.

She lived with us for nine months, during which time I was introduced to the weird and wonderful world of totally organic, free range, vegan cooking. Some of it looked great, some, not so great. A haphazard and messy cook, she would take over the kitchen with abandon and create great piles of washing up. She never did learn how to stack a dishwasher properly, and I was always going to unload it only to find upturned bowls floating with some sort of veggie broth.

Then there was the time she dropped a large bag of turmeric in the kitchen and for weeks we were finding bright yellow stains in unexpected places.

But, on the whole, she was one of our more successful lodgers and I was genuinely sorry when she met someone and within a couple of months was moving in with him. I really did wish her well, and wanted her to be happy, but there was something about this man that didn’t sit right with me. Maybe it was something about the eyes, maybe it was the way he was with her, maybe it was some sort of instinct, who knows.

So, Miss S moved out and we were once again looking for a lodger. The add was activated, and an American in his thirties moved in. He had separated from his wife and needed a safe and peaceful space to gather his thoughts and sort out his life. I felt sorry for him, and he seemed okay, but within three days of moving in I knew I had made a dreadful mistake.

Used to being the alpha male in his own home, he simply couldn’t adjust to the fact that living in shared accommodation with only one bathroom between three of us meant that strict morning bathroom slots had to be established and adhered to. He would go into the bathroom whenever he damn well pleased and take as long as he wanted, with no thought to us waiting outside. He made us late for school and work three times, before I sat him down and tried to drum it into his head that he had to stick to the slot he’d requested, that he couldn’t take our slots and hog the bathroom for almost an hour every morning!

He was incredibly untidy in the bathroom and the kitchen. Bristles and toothpaste all around the sink for me to clean up. All his washing up simply left on the draining board for me to put in the dishwasher because he “hadn’t had time before he went to work”! Well, guess what buddy, neither do I!

He was incapable of closing cupboards and drawers. Now, I only have a small kitchen, so if someone has left all the cupboards and drawers wide open it’s not only untidy to look at, but it reduces space in the kitchen drastically. I would walk into the kitchen after he’d been there and start kicking them shut. It was intensely annoying.

He would stink out the bathroom every day, and frequently left nasties in the toilet which I had to take a stick to, in order to try and get rid of it! Heaven only knows what he was eating to produce things of that size and density!

It just wasn’t working. I like to think I can get on with most people, and years of taking in lodgers has taught me to tolerate most behaviour. But he and I clashed personality wise right from the get-go.

I remember when I was trying again to get it through his selfish skull that he simply couldn’t steal my bathroom slot in the morning, because it was making Miss F late for school and me late for work. He looked at me, and said…

“If you would only open your heart to Jesus and let him live in there. You would be a much calmer and happier person. You seem such a stressed and even violent person to me.”

Seriously, if I’d had a gun, I would have shot him!

Eventually, things got so bad he left me note asking that I conduct any future contact with him as written correspondence. So, I wrote him a letter politely giving him one month to get the hell out of my house. He was gone by the end of the week.

So, the add was activated again. Things weren’t so desperate this time. My long-term boss had retired and made me redundant, so I’d received a small redundancy pay-out. Not a massive amount, but enough so we could take our time finding a lodger and be choosey this time.

But life has a funny way of turning. Within two days we had a lovely young teacher come to view the room. Mr V was personable, funny, and clicked with both Miss F and I straight away. Just one problem. It was April when he came to view the room, but he wouldn’t need it until the middle of August just before the new school year began.

Miss F and I discussed it. We really liked him, so we decided that we’d rather wait for him. I could just about afford to go rent free for a few months. It would be tight, but worth it to get just the right lodger. So, it was arranged. Mr V signed a contract and paid a deposit to secure the room that he would forfeit if he reneged on the deal.

A week went by, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the room lying empty, not producing any rent for us. Then I wondered if a short term let would be possible. I went onto the website and searched. Yes, short term lets were not only possible, but apparently very desirable for some people.

I reworded the add and reactivated it as a short term let for three months. Four hours later we had a new lodger!

Mr K was a businessman who was relocating to the area as he was taking over the local branch of the company he worked for. He would be moving into his own property, but it was going to take about three months to sort things out. He didn’t really want to live in a hotel – too impersonal and too expensive. What I was offering was perfect.

And he was perfect. I have seriously never before had a lodger who had such a low carbon footprint in the house. He was hardly ever here. He rose early – before even I was up – showered and was gone. He ate all of his meals out, didn’t come home until late in the evening, and was gone all weekend visiting his family in Essex.

Occasionally, when he got home from work, I’d make us a cup of tea and we’d chat. He was a nice guy, just worked way too hard, and didn’t seem to have much of a personal life. But, because I hadn’t expected to receive any rent money for that period, what he paid was extra and covered the cost of landscaping my garden.

Mid-August came around all too quickly. Mr K moved out on the Sunday morning, I cleaned the room although it barely needed it, and Mr V moved in on the Monday. Right from the word go he became like a member of the family. He was funny and obliging. He cleaned up after himself. Liked the same films and shows that we did, and lived with us for almost two years, before, of course, he met the love of his life and moved out.

Now, remember Miss S? The turmeric spilling lady who had moved out to live with the guy I had concerns about. Turns out I was spot on. He revealed his true colours soon after they moved in together, and that relationship quickly soured and poor Miss S was forced into renting rooms in not very nice houses. Anyway, we had remained friends and she had often popped round for a coffee or even a glass of wine. The last time she had visited, she had told me how unhappy she was in her current lodgings, so when Mr V handed in his notice I sent her a message inviting her for coffee and a “chat”.

Coincidentally, we had booked to go on holiday again assuming that Mr V would still be there to look after the house and feed the cat. But he moved out three weeks before our holiday date, so I was stuck with the same problem of finding a trustworthy lodger in a short space of time.

Yep, you’ve guessed it. Mr V moved out and Miss S moved back in. It was only going to be for eight or so months, I knew that from the start. She was going travelling the following year and would be leaving the UK for good. But that was fine, it bought me eight months and meant we could go on holiday with an easy mind that someone we trusted was in our home.

Eight months later, as arranged, Miss S moved out and we reactivated the add. Now, it had been over three years since I’d last looked for a lodger, and this time hardly anyone applied for the room. Eventually, we took on a young Romanian man who seemed okay. He told me he worked evenings, but as I told you about in my last blog – that turned out to be a lie.

In many ways, Mr D was an unsatisfactory lodger – we barely ever saw him, and he certainly made no attempt to become part of the family. But he always paid his rent on time, and perhaps it was nice to be separate from the lodger for a change.

And now he is gone. I am left with a basement room that needs airing out and redecorating. He has ruined the mattress and I have a strong suspicion that the insurance company are not going to clean or replace it. When the agent came to inspect the mattress, he was shocked at the sheer amount of stains there were and asked if I was sure that a mattress protector had been used? Well, I said yes, because two mattress protectors are provided with the room, but whether Mr D used them all the time or not is a mystery. The agent asked what the stains were and how old they were, but of course, I couldn’t answer those questions either.

He then went away to write his report and I have to wait a week or so for them to let me know whether they will clean it, or whether a new mattress will be coming out of Mr D’s damages deposit. Luckily, I get excellent staff discount, so it won’t cost him as much as it normally would.

The smell and feel of damp have gone from the room – two weeks of having the window open at every opportunity and having a dehumidifier on has certainly done the trick. All that is left for me to do is a deep clean, give the whole room a coat of paint, and await the decision about the mattress. Then the add will be reactivated, and the whole cycle will start all over again.

I wonder who we’ll get next.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Take care of yourselves and I’ll catch up with you all next Sunday.

Julia Blake

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