“Well I guess we are very different because I was always raised to help people.” It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’ve spent months living with your flatmate’s surprise Thai wife, dealt with her bags of rotting meat (“But they’re a delicacy!”) on pretty much every kitchen surface and suffered through weekends of death-stares and silent treatment, it’s surprising what can tip you over the edge.
Especially if what prompted the remark -- yelled, full force -- was your suggestion that there probably wasn’t really room for seven more people to move into your three-bed house.
I moved to London with my boyfriend right after university. I was 21 and had the typical kind of aims: get a mega-bucks job right off the bat and go out a lot. I also wanted a nice place to live. I’m from the countryside originally and much as I like to pretend it hasn't, some of my dad’s paranoia about city life has definitely seeped in. I might not go so far as carrying my money around in my socks to outsmart would-be pickpockets like he does, but I was sure that living in a rough neighbourhood wasn’t the best plan.
So we settled on a bit of northwest London which is pretty central, meaning, of course, that finding a flat which didn’t clean out all our wages (I didn’t manage the mega bucks plan) was hard. Especially as we wanted something clean, bright and bigger than a shoebox -- basically anti-student accommodation.
After a long and tedious hunt, we found a three-bed maisonette. The previous occupants were moving out so wanted to shift it quickly. Paul* had rented the biggest room and Darren* had the other two. We took one of Darren’s and he was pretty cool, letting us chose who took the other because we’d be sharing with them. But Paul just wanted his space let as soon as possible, which is how we ended up living with Marcus*.
On the whole, I don’t agree with judging people on appearances, but a 45-year-old American with a scratchy ginger beard, those glasses that turn into shades in bright sunlight and seemingly only one jacket was not my dream roommate.
At a push I could cope with the age, but Marcus was weird. A bonafide oddball, and not just because he was choosing to flat-share with three people 20 years younger than him who thought being grown-up meant spending more than a fiver on a bottle of wine.
He was strange in many, many ways. Background details were scarce, but there was the hint of money made from some Silicon Valley-type thing I didn’t understand and a need to “try new things” by moving to the UK. We thought he probably did a flat-share because he wanted to make friends, but then he spent every night locked away in his room.
Originally I suspected that was because he didn’t fancy my reality TV diet, but after the rattle of empty beer cans being surreptitiously stuffed into the bin on a morning happened once too often I realized he was drinking on his own. Each to their own and I love booze, but after he accidentally left his door open and I saw him passed out on the floor following a session, I started to feel uncomfortable. Especially as he was a bit sleazy when drunk.
On top of that, he snuck around. Maybe he didn’t especially mean to, but he had an uncanny ability of being able to turn up right behind you. I won’t go so far as to say he tip-toed but… sometimes I wondered. He also liked to lounge around in his dressing gown which weirded me out, plus he’d sit watching TV from the kitchen (we had a serving hatch into the living room) rather than coming in and sitting on the sofa. So weird, especially when you didn’t realize he was there.
So, when he told us he going on vacation to Thailand, I was over the moon. I felt like I could relax more in the flat without him there. I was more comfortable. He said he was going for a couple of weeks, but four weeks later, he still wasn’t back. I thought it was odd, but I was enjoying him being gone so didn’t really care. Until he got back, accompanied by his wife. Who was about 30. And didn’t speak any English. And moved in with us.
Looking back I should have said something then, or at the very least pulled a passive aggressive ringing-the-landlord-in-secret move. But I didn’t because when you’re 21 and someone who’s like your dad does something they seem to think is completely fine and normal, it’s confusing. Plus Marcus initially said his wife would only be with us for a bit.
That turned out to be completely untrue. She moved in good and proper, treating it completely as her home apart from in the most important way -- she didn’t pay anything. She used all the hot water with her lengthy baths and zapped the electricity because she was at home all day, but she never stumped up any cash to top up the metres (we had to pre-pay so we couldn’t do a runner and leave unpaid bills behind). Marcus didn’t either, even when I expressly asked.
And the cooking… to this day I don’t eat Thai food. “It’s a Thai cookout!” was Marcus’ stock phrase, and the one which soon made me want to put my head in an oven. Basically what that meant was his wife had four or so of her friends over and they were going to spend all day and evening making food. Fine you’d think, but it meant we could never make dinner AND had to put up with her stuff everywhere. Literally every surface covered in either ingredients, dirty dishes, prepared food or (my personal fave) bags of rotting meat. It was seasoned and left out to, well I don’t know what really. Rot? It stank.
On top of this, Marcus’ wife spoke no English. That made things awkward -- it’s bad enough having a stranger descend on you, but it’s next level when you can’t even make an attempt to get to know each other. Double the cringe factor because Marcus couldn’t speak her language either. So their relationship tended to be her slamming around the kitchen bagging up her rancid meat and him smiling inanely.
Well that was it ten per cent of the time. The other ninety was them arguing. Which is apparently easy to do even if you can’t exchange barbed comments. Awkward doesn’t come close.
This ticked along for, amazingly, four months, with me simmering with increasingly intense resentment. What 21-year-old wants to be paying for their own utility bills, let alone someone else’s? But it boiled over one day when I came home from work and couldn’t get the door open. I shoved it hard and felt something give the other side, eventually managing to squeeze in through a miniscule gap (remember having slim 21-year-old hips?) to be greeted by a mountain of suitcases, holdalls and bin bags.
Initially I had a little whoop because I presumed Marcus had realized living in a flat-share with your Thai wife at 45 was freaky. But then he appeared and it transpired I had got things very, very wrong. Seven of his wife’s friends had been kicked out of their home “through no fault of their own.” So, kindly, Marcus had offered up our flat for them. To move in to kind of indefinitely it seemed.
This was my trigger point, the moment where I just couldn’t cope any more. “Are you f**king serious?” I think it went, followed by me explaining in painstaking detail how much of a nightmare housemate he was and how rude, creepy and just weird it was that he’d brought a wife back from holiday and moved her in. On reflection I probably should have been a bit calmer, but whatever.
So this is what prompted the “Well I guess we are very different because I was always raised to help people,” comment, which was, as I pointed out, a ridiculous thing to say when his wife had pretty much been living off my charity for the last four months.
The seven friends didn’t stay, and pretty soon afterward the lease was up and we all moved on. But not before he asked us if we’d all like to move to another flat together. Maybe I wasn’t as mean as I thought.
*Name has been changed.