diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 13, 2011

It's ten years ago this week since I decided to move to London. I'd just landed a new job here, indeed just signed the contract, and it seemed ludicrous to commute in every day from East Anglia when I could live far closer. This was the moment, this was the time to finally relocate to the greatest city on earth.

But where to live? There was a lot of London to choose from, and I was worried I might end up in the wrong bit. For some reason I decided to head East, I can't quite remember why, but I suspect it was because I already lived that side of town. Or maybe because the East had character and heritage. Or, most likely, because it was cheap. You remember 2001, property wasn't quite so utterly unaffordable back then. I was only looking to rent, because there was no guarantee I'd still be around in a decade's time. But surely I'd find some place somewhere, for two hundred and something pounds a week, and then I could be a proper Londoner at last.

I took the opportunity to take several free tours of the East End in the company of some of the capital's finest estate agents. First I met David, a cheery rotund bloke in a suit, who drove me down the road to property 1. The toilet was a disgrace, the bath had no shower and the sofa was so retro-hideous it wouldn't have been out of place at Abigail's Party. We moved on. Property number 2 was on the Hackney Road, squished on a single-storey behind a row of shops. We entered down a narrow corridor to where the existing tenant was waiting in midday gloom. All I can remember is how dreary it was, and how terribly small, and how quickly I decided this absolutely wasn't for me. I think the entire row of shops has since been demolished. Normally that would sadden me, but in this case I'll make an exception.

So off I went to another estate agent out Stratford way, back when this was the grim end of town and not an up-and-coming Olympic neighbourhood. Here I met Ben, a sharply-dressed Arsenal fan, who said he had two very different flats to show me. He wasn't kidding. Property number 3 was in the Lumiere Building, up the Romford Road on the way to Manor Park. He took me up to the sixth floor where I couldn't quite get excited by the view out of the window, nor imagine how all my stuff would fit inside the apartment's compact walls. I might have been tempted had the place been better located (the GOBLIN line to Barking was dire in those days), but wasn't convinced. So Ben drove me on to property 4 in Canning Town, which was an area of London I really didn't know at all. Once I saw the estate I rapidly deduced I didn't want to know it any better. The flat was the lower half of a tumbledown terrace, apparently mid-renovation, but from its ghastly state it was clear the landlord didn't give a damn. And neither did I.

James was next, with a flat to flog on the long loop round the Isle of Dogs. Property number 5 was the most impressive of all. Brand spanking new, in a yuppie-oriented block of flats, and featuring its very own balcony overlooking the River Thames. Wow, utterly shiny-wow. Except the location was possibly too far down the Isle of Dogs, and I didn't really need two bathrooms, and the rent was beyond the upper limit of what I thought I could afford. So I passed up on James and went back to David and put down a deposit on property number 1.

And I'm still living here 10 years later. The toilet, it turned out, only needed a damned good clean. The showerlessness I've got used to, which probably explains why I always make such a mess of trying to use other people's. And as for the sofa, well, if I'm ever planning a themed 1970s party then the furniture's already in fancy dress. Ten years in Bow, ten years in the same job, my life's been comfortably stable ever since. It's amazing quite how much one's life can change on a Friday afternoon, mid August, thanks to a signature on a single sheet of paper.

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