Things have to start somewhere. Or otherwise they wouldn’t start.
On paper it seemed like an uncommonly good deal. Everything we wanted at a price we could afford without even palpitating into a financial sweat. That ought to have screamed bullshit like a spontaneously combusting cow. The last time this happened the house had a hole in the roof. Not a leaking roof. An entire hole. A chance to observe the stars as you sleep. Al fresco midnight snacks without having to step outside. I fear the estate agents on that occasion really didn’t do themselves justice and make the most of it rather than begrudgingly admitting it ‘needed some work.’ Yeah, we had asked to only see places that didn’t need work.
This was a new four bedroom detached house. Come again? It was with a heady, if stupid, sense of optimism that I rolled up outside. Now it looked a bit on a small side for a four bedroom house, but appearances can be deceptive. Possibly it had some TARDIS-like innards.
It didn’t. Of course it didn’t because TARDIS is made-up thing and houses aren’t. There was a certain fiction, as I was about to discover.
The living room was fine. Open plan, reasonable size, enough to rotate a cat without needing to notify the RSPCA. There was even a small office that might better have been called a storeroom, but perfect for industrious midgets with minimalist office furniture needs. The thought counts and there were those promised four bedrooms upstairs. Plenty of office space for those more grown-up industries. Let’s go see. We squeezed upstairs, a motion uncomfortably similar to peristalsis, all the way to the second floor. A decent master bedroom and en-suite. Not huge, but then unless you’re a tall person with a love of Twister or have a very literally acrobatic sex life how much space do you need? That left the growing topological quandary of the middle floor that somehow had to contain the three remaining bedrooms into a floor area that only fitted the one bedroom on the top floor.
They didn’t lie about the number of bedrooms. One might have fitted a double bed if you didn’t want to breath out while standing next to it. The second wasn’t long enough in any dimension to fit any kind of bed, unless you fancied sleeping at a quirky angle from the horizontal. The third was a small cupboard with a window. At least wardrobes have Narnia. This might have held a couple of pairs of shoes.
The house squeezed us out into the street with a pop. As a postscript, I was cycling past several months later and I saw a couple having a row as they tried to squeeze a double bed through the front door. The only way they’d be getting that upstairs would be by taking the roof off and using a helicopter. No amount of optimism will undo physical reality. Believe me, I’ve tried. Presumably the people who needed four bedrooms had also cruelly underestimated the eventual size of their children.
The second viewing looked more realistic. A little of the shine wore off I stood outside. There was that certain patina of years’ of omitted maintenance. It could be fixed. Admittedly the furious growling from behind the kitchen door as we approach gave us a little cause for concern. The estate agent reached out gingerly to knock like it was the door itself growling. Whatever was behind was audibly more Cerberus than Fido. Fortunately the hellhound didn’t answer the door. Less fortunately the owner did. She looked like she’d been dragged through the proverbial hedge backwards. The forwards and backwards some more until the appropriate state of disarray had been achieved. With a vague explanatory mumble, the dog dragged her off, probably to eat schoolchildren or other snacks.
The guardian of the door out of the way, we were free to enter. There’s was a distinct whiff of cigarette smoke already. By whiff, I meant the kind of full-on olfactory punch in the nose you’d get standing next door to a developing world chemical plant. Inside, it was the full-on nicotine palace. The estate agent’s skyscraper heels sudden seemed a practical choice. She was elevated high enough to escape the carpet which clung to feet with a stickily disturbing kind of amour. The walls had a an accretion of luteinous hydrocarbon thick enough to be mined. Every surface lustily clung to you. The reek made grown men cry. Me too. The agent was tottering back towards the open door her skin already a pallid, anoxic grey. ‘Did I want to see more?’ she gasped. I wanted to run to a place with free-range oxygen. Which was unlikely since my blood had probably already turned the colour of ash and every step threatened to pull up the carpet behind me. By the time I staggered outside of the door I expected t to find the carpet had risen up behind me like some great, reeking foetid beast. Outside, the agent wobbled on her heels, and I wobbled on my feet. If we’d stayed in a moment longer, we’d have both been caught like bugs in amber. Future generations would have studied us. Really, it was like being inside some installation of a smoker’s lung. A medical charity should have bought it as an exhibit. A fantastic voyage inside a smoker’s lung. I took the smell of cigarettes with me as a souvenir.
At this point it could only get better. Right?
The next one had cracks. Not little cracks. Big ones. Fault lines. The San Andreas stretched across the kitchen ceiling and beyond. Walls looked like they’d upset rhinos. Needs some plaster work? And a seismographic survey. Dear estate agent, I appreciate such things may look different from your elevated vantage point, but seriously if I can see through or into walls and I’m not blessed with x-ray vision, then something is wrong with this house. I think we were lucky to get out of it before it came down on top of us.