Thirty Thousand Streets

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I walked into the kitchen of my flat the other week to observe that the plates were on the march again; columns of greasy crocks winding across the hinterlands of the worktop toward the cooker like Hannibal's elephants traversing the alps, daubed in a Pollock-esque crust of dried pasta sauce.

I sighed, the first nascent stirrings of a headache throbbing at my temples.

It's not the big things that annoy you when you live with people, I find. Alright it is, but it's also more persistently the little domestic foibles and quirks that drive me to distraction. I'm fairly tolerant, and can co-exist contentedly with any amount of opinion, vice and idiosyncratic behaviour, but so help me god, if someone leaves the tv on standby again I'm going to get on some Michael Douglas in 'Falling Down' type shit.

I think I'm getting a little irritable in my old age, and ideally, would really like to get a place of my own. While I think all my housemates are wonderful people, co-habiting is a process of acquiescence and tacit agreement that sometimes seems more like an unspoken war of attrition, with shifting alliances forged along lines of opinion, over all too familiar flashpoints.

Cleaning is one example. I don't see why anyone is too busy to spend ten seconds washing a plate, but then, most of my housemates at some time or another seem to disagree with this, and would rather deal with it 'some other time'. Of course everyone denies doing this, and ostentatiously huff and puff when the plates stack up, yet nonetheless think nothing of dashing spent crocks into the sink to lurk for days like crocodiles beneath the greasy water.

Heating is another common bone of contention. Now it's getting colder the heating is constantly on, and our flat sometimes feels the engine room of The Bismarck, so stifling is the temperature. I sometimes come home and fling open windows just to get the air moving, which is a sure sign I think, in November, that it's getting hot in herre (thanks, Nelly). Then again, I'm the kind of person who'd rather wear a sweater than turn up the heat, wheras some people are only content if they can walk round their home in a t-shirt in January.

Maybe I should look at the bigger picture, and consider all this as terraforming on a macrocosmic scale; a contribution to global warming that will, in the long game, engineer a warmer world for us all. Hell, by 2050 London will probably resemble some Ballardesque dystopia, where Iguanas compete for space alongside the pigeons on the South Bank.

The biggest source of my grumpiness these days however is the guy who has the room next to mine; part of whose ritual of going to bed is to switch on his tv immediately prior to sleep, (and he generally drops off within twenty minutes) leaving the set to quack away to itself like the teacher in Charlie Brown.

Part pf my problem here is that I do suffer from degrees of insomnia these days, and it takes very little to stop me dropping off. I freely admit this is slightly neurotic as London is hardly an oasis of calm, yet whilst I can somehow tolerate the distant external sounds of traffic, sirens, gunshots and shouts and screams that Camberwell generates, any incessent persistent sound, no matter how quiet, is the aural equivalent of the Chinese water torture to me, which I just fixate upon to distraction.

Selfishly enough, I don't even mind up to about one o'clock when I do go to bed, but after that, I really wish people would pull the plug on all local forms of media. I simply don't want to lie awake guessing whether that tinny sound I'm hearing through the wall is the soud of someone not watching golf, or someone not watching some crappy game-show.

Quite a few times I've actually crept into his room to switch it off (which is weird). The sight of my partially clothed housemate snoring like a beached porpoise snared in the folds of his duvet is a sight I could willingly forfeit at the best of times, never mind at half two on a Thursday morning.

A couple of times he's woken up/been awake, and I've asked him if he'll turn it down/off which he willingly does, and this happened last night. He was a bit funny with me this morning though (didn't acknowledge me on the landing) and I think he thinks I'm being unreasonable ("it's not loud etc").

I am hence, going to have to talk to him about it, and him being a reasonable guy, I'm sure he'll understand. I don't really want to though, and would much prefer it if he'd just take the fucking hint and turn it off.

In this respect living alone sounds immensely attractive as you can dispense with this kind of banal diplomacy, and don't have to convene meetings about trivia such as who's buying the toilet roll with anyone except yourself. At the minute flatsharing is getting to be as tedious as an Eastenders storyline, only unfortunately not relegated to four half hour slots weekly (and the omnibus on Sundays of course). Basically I want to go and live in a cave (and no, not The Hermit's Cave on this ocassion).

God I sound like an irritable bastard don't I? And there's the rub. I'm no domestic god. I'm sure I'm a pain in the arse to live with, and sometimes in the end living with other people just seems to hold a mirror up to your own petty madness and general crankiness, which my personal vanity would much rather avoid. I'd like to pretend I can get on with everybody, all of the time, but it just isn't true.

Satre said: "Hell is other people" (or something similar). My maxim might be: "I love people, I just couldn't eat them all".

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