I’m a freelance writer in my late 20s and I live in a warehouse space with 17 other people – mainly an assortment of musicians, DJs, artists and the like.
It’s not for the faint hearted, I’ll give you that; the parties have been known to go on for days, if you’re not good at sleeping you’re going to struggle. And if you like a clean kitchen, yeah, it’s not for you. But here are some reasons I like living here.
i) To avoid urban loneliness; I’m not great at being on my own.
ii) The housing crisis means I simply can’t afford to live/work space anywhere else anyway.
iii) I write articles about subcultures, clubbing culture and fringe social phenomenon. It’s my only skill. I can crack on in the gig economy but I’m pretty much unemployable otherwise. So, I need somewhere with enough space to live and work for as cheap as possible within the context of the shitshow that is the London rental market.
iv) There’s a sense of freedom, you can be loud and smoke and pretty much do what you want.
v) I’ve met some fascinating and interesting people: This place is a hub of characters, many of whom have become closer than family.
“This place is a hub of characters, many of whom have become closer than family”
In between lengthy debates about conspiracy theories, DIY gigs and alcohol-drenched mid-week pub quizzes, you learn a lot of valuable life lessons when you find yourself here. Here’s one I always try to stick to (and I’ve gotten progressively better at it over two years): If something isn’t worth giving a fuck about, just get over it immediately. Also, while you’re at it, just get over yourself because nobody cares.
Here’s how this particular life lesson played out for me. Someone has put their food on your shelf in the fridge. You’ve only used your carton of milk once and there isn’t much left. Someone on a particularly cumbersome cocktail of psychedelics defecated in a shower at the last big party.
Half the people surrounding you constantly create and play a wholly eclectic and totally unrelated bundle of loud music; live post-punk, heavy drum and bass, live cosmic funk guitar and harsh industrial techno reverberates across the space from every direction, consuming the air like oxygen or a million bouncy balls rebounding off every surface.
On top of that racket, someone is grinding metal to make decorative kitchen knives. All that divides the rooms are flimsy plasterboard walls, so loud sex in the morning sometimes acts as an alarm clock. Strangers knock on your front door on a Friday evening convinced that the place is a nightclub. I mean, yes, the place was like a club last weekend, and now you’re looking at an apocalyptic floor glittering with a galaxy of empty beer cans that need to be recycled.
Some of these things will piss most people off, but consider this: Is it really worth getting upset about? Is it worth even caring about? Sure, this insane assemblage of music is blending together to create a theatre of unpalatable bombastic noise—like an amalgamation of thousands of trainers being washed in a huge washing machine and a terrible, off-rhythm drumming circle performed by a hundred rowdy infants. Now, you can get angry or upset about this or you can just crack on with your day. Your choice, because this is all just part of the (albeit wild) ride.
Another good thing about living in a thoroughly chaotic set-up like this is that it makes you fucking resilient. For example, I used to detest the idea of having a mouse in the house. A mouse! Vermin, living among us, sharing our food and space and amenities. One of my housemates told me he once woke up and stood on a mouse, which to be fair does sound extremely gross. But now I think they are nothing more than cute little pets, probably to be somewhat discouraged but certainly not to be hounded or despised. Because let me tell you this, reader, once you’ve had bedbugs, nothing (not even finding a deceased mouse in a long-forgotten slow cooker on the top of the kitchen unit, or discovering that all the toilet seats are broken after every party, or, hell, even if you found out that your spouse of three decades had been engaged in a lengthy affair with a member of your family) will ever be worse.
Bedbugs are really bad, seriously bad. People cry. People squirm. And it’s the thought of the vampiric critters scuttling across your body whilst you sleep, feeding off your blood like elusive, microscopic demons. Inducing widespread terror in not only housemates but also their partners and guests, they move in the shadows of the night and leave only a trail of ruby-coloured rashes and blisters as a trace. (FYI—never consider taking used furniture off the street in London, there is always a reason a “perfectly good” sofa has been dumped there. Trust me.)
Then, of course, any little itch or sudden tingle and it’s bedbugs. It’s all bed bugs: bedbugs, bedbugs, bedbugs—is all you can think. Any sensation at all = bedbugs crawling over your resting body about to slurp your blood like a child with a McDonald’s milkshake.
Of course, most of the time it’s actually nothing at all: One evening—during a time that the bedbug hysteria was reaching its climax and the pest exterminator (known universally as ‘The Bedbug Man’) had been around to spray everything with foul-smelling chemicals, like, six times – I was trying to get some sleep. Then, suddenly, I could feel a tiny brush over my forearm. It’s them. Horrified, I swiftly turned on my bedside lamp to find that was just the corner of my duvet, very lightly resting upon my arm. I was scared of my duvet cover, that’s what it had come to. That’s what bedbugs can do to a man.
So, build your resilience folks! If you can get over a bedbug infestation, there’s not much in the world that fazes you, the world is yours. Come at me, life.
Simon Doherty is a freelance journalist
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