Farewell, magnolia-coloured walls. So long, somebody else's lamp shades. Since I've lived in rented properties for all my adult life, when I finally move into my first purchased property later this month, I'll be leaving behind quite an inventory of irritations. It'll be goodbye to ancient carpets; sub-standard TV aerials; boilers-on-the-blink; stacks of plastic boxes because there are never enough cupboards; teetering towers of books because there are never enough shelves; neglected damp patches on the wall; stacks of dusty post addressed to long-departed tenants, or people who never even existed.
Most of all, I'll be breaking off one of my most enduring relationships – though the faces have changed over the years. I shall no longer have a landlord.
It's a curiously grand title, isn't it? The "land", as such, need only be 60 square metres of inner-city brickwork to provide a steady stipend. And "lord" is a big word for somebody who sets up a standing order and buggers off to Thailand. But my goodness, how royally I have served their mortgage repayments since signing my first tenancy contract in 1997, in the foothills of what would become the UK's housing boom, a mountainous ascent of prices over a decade that would find more and more trying their hand at being landlord – a good few of them fundamentally unsuited to the role.
In Britain, perhaps erroneously, we don't expect landlords to be interested in their tenants. Of the 14 men and women whose properties I've rented, I have only met a handful in person. It has rarely been a happy occasion. Landlord No 1 was a patrician sort, who seemed downright resentful that I should occupy his mushroomy basement flat.
Landlord No 3 denied all knowledge that our flat in Victoria had previously been used as a brothel, despite the desperate-sounding men who buzzed the intercom at night, asking for massages. Of my encounters with Nos 6 and 7, I remember awkward words in a hallway, frosty demands for money, and truculent refusals to remove ugly inherited furniture they'd hoped to store in my tiny home.
It turned out better than I'd thought with Landlord No 12, who had been informed by the man living across the street that we had cut an entirely new doorway through a bedroom wall (my flatmates were architects and brought their work home). We invited him round to view the new doorway, gave him a glass of wine, agreed to a raise in the monthly rent, and he went away happy.
Essentially, the tenant pays to keep the landlord silent, and at bay. I've been amazed over the years at how little some landlords consider the experience of their tenants. At the end of each contract, you simply take your deposit and go; there's no feedback for the landlord to learn what you thought of living in his magnolia-painted flat, no visitors' book, no TripAdvisor ("We simply loved how the sunshine came into the kitchen in the morning, but, to be honest, thought that six months to fix the washing machine is below standard for the £1,500-a-month category.") By the same token, you can't recommend a good one, like No 14, my current landlord, who is a paragon of courtesy and efficiency.
Now a drastic shortage of mortgages is due to squeeze the rental supply once again, raising prices and making it a landlord's market. Although I'm happier in our current flat than anywhere else I've been, I'm glad to move on. There could be so much more to letting out housing than mere passive investment; if tenants had more say, were encouraged to stay longer and allowed to properly decorate homes, maybe we could live with renting. It's good enough for the majority of continental Europeans.
But as long as regulations are loose and anybody can let out six months' living space in a bland property in which the occupier never really feels at home, renting will always feel second-best.
Secret of youth is in the dental detail
What do Asil Nadir, the cast of The Expendables and Cliff Richard have in common? They all sport, to my eye, teeth that belong to far younger men. A set of white sparkling gnashers, set in a face grizzled either by too many summers in the Med or contorted by plastic surgery, has become the ultimate status symbol for a senior man of the world. Nadir's, in particular, are pearly-white specimens showcasing the best, one presumes, that Cypriot dentistry can offer. Cliff's curiously triangular torso and "manscaped" chest hair have been much remarked-upon, but anybody can get waxed and worked-out; it's the expensive, ever-youthful teeth that show he's really made it. Ditto the entire cast of Sylvester Stallone's all-star action movie, from Arnie and Bruce to Dolph and Jet (Jason Statham probably still has his own), who all display preternaturally perfect grimaces as the boats/planes/pop-up Central American dictators explode around them. As Statham says, in one of many clichéd lines in the movie, "What's wrong with this picture?"
Let's all celebrate September
Rejoice, for it's the best month of the year! The best month for eating (oysters, blackberries, game birds). The best for culture (new exhibitions, better television, better movies, wall-to-wall spectator sport, some of it not cricket). The most pleasant time to go on holiday, to shop for clothes, to walk in the street without being jostled by children (they're safely back at school). For the unlucky minority who work in politics, it is conference season, and they'll make plenty of noise about how important that is. The rest of us will be too busy enjoying ourselves to notice.Reuse content