Living in the Private Sector

Looking back on my time in halls, I can say with confidence that it was an exhilarating, frustrating, joyful and tiring experience – all at the same time. I was seriously going to miss the curious sense of belonging felt by all of us who just so happened to use the same kitchen. Yes, we had grated against each other occasionally but then, human beings being the odd bundle of quirks and habits that we are, that was inevitable. But the end of year hurtled closer and with it came the question of where we were all going to live?

The first question, of course, was with whom? Most people I knew had, seemingly within minutes of arriving, settled the matter of their future flatmates – myself included. In the blink of an eye, however, most of these plans seemed to become unstuck as we became pressed to make definite decisions and I found myself in desperate need of flatmates before the end of term. Thankfully, a friend of mine from UCL stepped in – offering me a place in his prospective flat share with three others who I only knew in passing. With nothing else on the table I gladly accepted and we cast around for a reasonably priced rented flat with reasonable commuting distance to the centre. Unfortunately, so was everybody else and every property we examined was snapped up in a flash.

By the time we had a reasonable opening, I was out of the country. On a very choppy line up in the mountains of northern Greece, I was told that they had tracked down somewhere in Shepherd’s Bush for under 150 per week and needed my answer and holding deposit ASAP. Seeing very little option otherwise, I accepted – but wondered gloomily just what kind of place I was moving in to.

Three months later, on a beautiful September morning, I started to move my things in. On the outside, the aging ex-council property seemed to have confirmed my worries but when I stepped indoors, I was pleasantly surprised. It seemed spacious, clean and well-kempt and after divvying up the rooms we set about personalising them as far as possible.

Today the place hardly seems recognisable, and not just because it is a great deal messier. One of the unexpected joys of the flat has been in furnishing it with a strange assortment of objects – ranging from a projector of dubious origin and a set of fairy lights that inexplicably decorate our living room wall. Puzzlingly, for a flat full of guys, the issue we have argued about most has often been cleaning. Although we conform to the stereotype of having a generally untidy flat, this has not been for lack of trying – endless rotas and passive aggressive notes testify to our endless battle to keep a clean house.

Unlike in halls, there is no escaping responsibility. If the fridge has been raided then the culprit is never far away. As a result, there is an open desire for fairness and compromise with no-one wanting to rock the boat. Utilities are a fair example – we all find it equally annoying to wake up and discover there is no money on the gas meter and plod down the road in our slippers to top it up at the corner shop. The solution – the ultimate arbiter of rock, paper, scissors. Which is fair … I think?

Perhaps the part I love the most the flat share, though, is the knowledge that whatever the time of day or night there is always someone around to have a beer or watch a film with. At the same time, I know that I can just as easily work in monastic solitude without fear of being disturbed. The two seem to balance each other out and the high likelihood for spontaneous flat activity means that I never have to worry much about being bored.

Moving into private housing feels like the natural evolution from being in halls. Ultimately it helps students to learn the universally valuable lesson of how to live with other people and in a much more intense way than in halls.