All the Comforts of Home

I finally finished decorating and cleaning the basement room this week. The new mattress was delivered Friday and the bed dressed in all brand-new bedding. The finishing touches are all done – an attractive art poster in the stairwell, a peg rack for the lodger to hang coats and bags on, and a new bedside lamp. The room is all ready for occupation, so I edited and reactivated the ad Saturday morning. Now, we wait, and see what response we get.

Poster of Times Square to add some character

When I was on the website I had a quick look through the list of people looking for rooms locally and it seemed to me that the list was shorter than usual – but this is only people who have registered with the website. A lot of people simply use it to search for rooms and they do not want potential landlords bombarding them with details of their rooms, so there could be many more people out there looking for a beautiful double room right in the heart of town.

Of those that were looking, one or two seemed promising, so I sent them the link to my ad. There were a couple of people who initially seemed okay, but on closer inspection were either smokers (hard no from me), had pets or children they wanted to bring along (also a no), or wanted more than I’m offering – private bathroom, balcony, own parking space – for £500 a month all in, good luck with that! But then this is what’s happened before, I’ve seen someone who looks okay, but they want the moon all wrapped up with a pretty bow on top, so I don’t bother contacting them and then they contact me anyway, so we’ll have to wait and see.

It made me think back to all those people who have trooped through my home looking to maybe live in it that I, for one reason or another, have said no to. Way back in the early days, a young man contacted me about the room because his sister had just moved back to the area and was looking for somewhere. We had a lovely chat on the phone, and he was so amiable and jolly that I almost offered his sister the room on the spot.

Almost, but not quite – luckily.

It was arranged they would come around at the weekend to view it but as soon as I opened the door to them, I knew it was a no. Despite him assuring me she wasn’t a smoker, she absolutely reeked of cigarettes! Why do people do this? The ad states quite clearly, no smokers, yet still they try. I think smokers genuinely have no clue how much they stink to non-smokers. Don’t try to deny it mate, I could smell you through the door.

Anyway, not only that but she was so old! And I don’t mean in years because she might have been younger than me in that respect, no, I mean in attitude and outlook. From the greying hair in a bun, down to the sensible shoes, the pursed disapproving mouth and the deep frown lines on her brow and around her mouth, I knew this was someone who would be no fun to share with. She looked around the place and nodded in approval.

Yes, she stated in a heavy German accent – apparently that’s where she’d been living for twenty years – This will suit me very nicely, I’ll take it!

As if it was her choice. I cleared my throat.

Umm, there is the small matter of the fact I quite clearly stated in the ad no smokers, your brother assured me you weren’t a smoker, and yet I can smell cigarettes on you. So…

She fixed me with a baleful glare.

I promise you, I will always smoke in the garden, so you will never smell cigarettes in the house.

No, I won’t, I thought, because you are never coming in again!

Making use of dead space – a peg rack for coats and bags

That’s another thing with smokers, they sometimes assume that although the ad states No Smokers, what it really means is No Smoking in the house. Nope. I mean NO SMOKERS, as in you! You smell. If you smoke then it permeates your clothes, your hair, your skin. Even if you never light up in the house, you’ll still make it stink with your own odour.

Also, if I’m not here, and it’s freezing cold and pouring with rain are you seriously going to go out into the garden to smoke? No, of course you’re not, you’re going to sneakily smoke in the room and hope I never find out. And that will make the room stink, will discolour the ceiling, and is also a fire risk. So, sorry guys, but no smokers, means you!

I wonder how many will try and sneak under the wire this time!

There’s also the no pets’ clause. As you know, I love animals, but I don’t particularly want other peoples pets in the house. Possibly a goldfish in a small bowl might be acceptable but other than that, no. Again, it states clearly in the ad no pets, but either people can’t read or assume that it must only apply to other people, because nobody in their right minds could possibly object to their little furry, feathered, scaled buddy.

There was the girl who wanted to bring a cageful of rats. No. The one who had a pet python – absolutely not! Any number of people who wanted to bring cats with them. It wouldn’t be fair on my poor little cat who is terrified of other felines, and also, I don’t know how clean and housetrained other people’s cats might be. Really don’t want to find the furniture shredded, hairballs everywhere, and cat wee on the carpet.

Pretty lamp and nice new bedding

One of the funniest was the woman who telephoned me – back in the days when I had to advertise in the local paper and put my phone number down for method of contact. The conversation went something like this.

HER: I just wanted to check that there would always be someone in the house during the day?

ME:  Umm, not really, why?

HER: Well, I have to go to work, and my little dog will need letting out three times a day.

ME:  Your dog, but…

HER: Yes, it’s absolutely essential this is done otherwise he will pee in the house.

ME:  But the ad clearly states no pets.

HER: Yes, I know, but he’s a dog!

ME:  …….

HER: …….

ME:  I’m really sorry, but no pets, means, no pets. Goodbye.

And then there’s the no couples’ clause. It’s not a huge house. There is only one bathroom to be shared between us and the lodger. An extra person would put an unbearable strain on the facilities. Although I don’t mind the odd stayover of a regular partner or friend, I’m firm on the no couples living here permanently. Once or twice in the past, I’ve had lodgers who have been nice, respectful, and considerate people – until they got serious about someone – and then they changed into selfish, inconsiderate sods who couldn’t understand why I didn’t love this person as much as they did and not want them in my house ALL THE TIME.

I got sick of never being able to use the bathroom because the girlfriend was having yet another epic shower. Of her clothes always being in the washing machine. Of not being able to cook our dinner because the lodger is making a special candlelit meal for her honey bunny, oh, and if I could keep out of the way all evening that would be wonderful! Well, seeing as I do need to get to the bathroom and the kitchen, that’s not really possible.

No matter how nice the couple are, nor how friendly, the dynamics of the house shift when there’s a couple in residence, in that their needs and wants seem to outweigh the needs and wishes of the single person – me! Many is the time I’d find myself apologising for going through to use my own kitchen. Which is not really on. There is also the financial consideration – a couple use twice the utilities for the same rent as a single person is paying.

Lots of storage!

But still whenever I advertise the room, I am inundated with requests from couples. The best one I ever had occurred a few years ago when there was a surfeit of people looking for rooms, and not enough lodgings to go around, so I basically had my pick of lodgers. This couple saw my ad and sent me an e-mail. Now, you tell me why I didn’t want them.

Both Polish, both only 19, both unemployed, she was five months pregnant so in four months time there was going to be a new-born squeezed into a room intended for sole occupancy. Imagine that! A baby screaming the place down. The washing machine constantly in use. Nappies everywhere. The ripe smell of baby sick and poo. A kitchen cluttered with all the detritus that goes with a baby.

It gets better. At the time I was only charging £350 per month which was a fair and reasonable rate for everything you got with the room. But they didn’t consider this a fair amount, and told me so, in no uncertain terms. You are being a greedy capitalist, they informed me. We will pay you £190 a month and you should consider that plenty. £190 a month? For rent, rates, utilities, insurance, TV licence and unlimited broadband, plus all your cleaning products. What planet are you living on? Furious, I had enormous fun composing a blistering email, then deleted it and instead sent them one merely stating that the rent was £350, the room was for sole occupancy, I did not wish to have a baby living in my home, and if they could find somewhere to rent for only £190 a month, then please let me know where it is and I will move in there myself!

They did not reply, and I often wonder what happened to them.

Then there have been no end of creepy guys that made me very uncomfortable and I certainly didn’t want them anywhere near me, let alone my young daughter. A guy who had such bad body odour that my eyes were watering, and the house reeked of him for hours afterwards. Any number of young Asian men who stunk of stale curry – not how I want my house to smell. A very odd nurse who asked if she could have a fridge and hotplate in her room so she could cook and eat all her meals in it, so she could absolutely minimise the contact she had with us as she liked to be left alone. Oka-a-ay. Not planning on pushing my company on the lodger, but living in close quarters you need someone you can exchange pleasantries with when you bump into them in the kitchen, and as for cooking in the basement, umm, no!

There was a rather desperate middle-aged man who wanted the room so badly he bombarded me with texts and emails for a whole week, even sending me pictures of himself in various poses. Umm, please stop doing that or I will call the police!

It’s a spacious and comfortable room

There have been people who thought it was up to them whether they got the room or not. Afraid not, sunshine, this is our home and if we are made to feel uncomfortable by you, or we don’t believe we will get along with you, then I’ll run the ad for another week rather than settle for someone who simply isn’t right.

Am I being too fussy?

Well, I look at it this way. If we weren’t living in the house, if this was a rental property that wasn’t also our home, then other than a no smoking clause and higher damages deposit to cover any possible pet destruction, I wouldn’t be so picky about a lodger.

But this is our home. This is where we live and sleep. This is where my teenage daughter is left alone for hours on end. I must be able to trust the lodger. I have her safety at stake, and that of myself. We also have to like the person, share a few common interests, and have the same levels of cleanliness. At the end of the day, I am this person’s landlady. I am not their servant or their slave, and I’m certainly not their mum. It is not my job to pick up after them, clean up after them, or have to scrub the toilet after them, or pick their hairs out of the bath.

Really love this poster!

I’ve been taking in lodgers for sixteen years now, and although in the beginning I found it awkward discussing matters such as rent, cleaning schedules, and toilet habits, now I get it all said in interview. One lodger commented how impressed they were by my business-like, matter of fact approach. This is the rent. This is what you get for it. This is what I expect from you. These are the basic rules of the house. Be clean. Tidy up after yourself. Don’t take anyone else’s bathroom time. Make sure you secure the front door every time you come in or go out. No loud noise after midnight. Wake me up and I’ll kill you, and, if you’re a bloke put the bloody loo seat down. Because although you may not always feel like sitting down, we never feel like standing up!

I think it pays to get all these matters out in the open and stated clearly right from the word go, then if someone has any issues with the rules, they can look for somewhere else to live.

So, the room is ready, the advert has been tweaked and reactivated, so now we wait. I have stated in the ad that the room has been empty for over a month and during that time it has been thoroughly cleaned and redecorated. That the mattress, pillows, and duvet are all brand new, as is all the bedding. I think if I were looking to rent a room in someone else’s house during a global pandemic then I would be reassured by this. I am also going to insist that masks be worn during initial interviews and I have placed a bottle of hand sanitiser by the front door, because it pays to be careful.

Speaking of masks, rules have now changed, and I and my work colleagues have to wear our masks for the whole time we are at work unless we are in the toilet or are alone in the canteen. Although we had to wear them before, because we work in a large shop and our desks are over six foot apart, so long as we abided by social distancing we could take our masks off when there were no customers in the shop. Now, there is no respite at all apart from a scant twenty-minute lunch break. It’s horrible. I hate having to wear a mask all day. I do it because I have to, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Leaving the shop at night, that mask is ripped off as I’m walking out the door, yet it takes over an hour for the feeling of it to leave my face.

No matter how nice the mask, wearing it for eight hours is no fun!

I wish we knew what was going to happen. I have a feeling we’ll be back into some sort of lockdown soon, and I’ve begun adding a few extra items onto each week’s shop – not stockpiling, just sensibly stocking up on essential goods.

The mad rush of sales seems to have died down at work, and I suspect it’s because everyone is uncertain of what the future might hold. If we go back into lockdown, will the furlough be as generous? Will there even be a furlough, or will we all be thrown under the bus? Will food prices go up again? We’re coming into winter so energy bills will be higher. Will businesses survive another lockdown, or will there be a depression with many losing their jobs? All these concerns I think are making people think twice about spending that holiday money sitting in their accounts. Better to keep it there – just in case.

This downturn in the economy is hitting close to home as well. Although the restaurant where Miss F works part-time has reopened and she has done the odd shift, usually they contact her at the last minute to tell her there simply haven’t been the bookings, so they don’t need her. She was the last to be hired, is on a zero hour’s contract, and lives the furthest away – so it’s always her they cancel first. Which is fair enough. Most of her colleagues are older and rely on their wages, whereas they know she still lives at home and is supported by me. Yes, she’s saving the money for driving lessons and university next year, and it’s nice to have her own income to buy what she wants. But she doesn’t need her wages to live on.

Both her evening shift on Friday and her lunchtime shift on Saturday were cancelled, but to be honest, we were a little relieved about this. It’s blowing a gale here and the country roads I have to take to reach the restaurant aren’t pleasant in this kind of weather.

My shifts have also all been changed this month, and after over a year of working Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, they have been mixed up all over the place. But at least that means I have today and Monday off, which is nice. As I’m now caught up with the basement and all my other household chores, I am going to try and dedicate both those days to some pretty intensive writing. As I explained last week, time is running out and if I wish to publish book eleven this year, I seriously need to get a wiggle on.

Anyway, that’s you up to date with the week’s events and I look forward to chatting with your again next Sunday. You never know, I may have a new lodger by then, so fingers crossed.

Take care.

Julia Blake

4 thoughts on “All the Comforts of Home

  1. So entertaining! You do need to be “fussy” because as you said it is your home, where you and your daughter live. Being a landlady has certainly brought you in contact with how strange people can be. By now you have a lot of experience. The young couple having a baby were so outrageous! They seemed spoiled with no grip on reality. And accommodating a couple is undoable for your situation. I wonder what that nurse was up to? It’s fine not to want to be an imposition, another to live secretly in your room hidden away like a hermit. That so many people felt it was their decision as to whether they got the room or not is unbelievable. And you are right, smokers don’t realize they smell and they never only smoke outside; even in warm weather, let alone in the cold. The smell permeates anyway, whether they smoke outside or not. The room looks great by the way. Good size, cheerful, clean and great storage. You’ll keep us updated on who your new lodger will be. Hope you find a truly sweet person.
    Yes, uncertain times! We are all still a bit anxious! But I think you will find someone fairly quickly to move in. Enjoyed!

    Liked by 1 person

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